Glen Campbell, who had a slew of hits in the 1960s and ’70s and earned an Oscar nom for Best Song from the 2014 docu Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, died today.
He was 81.
He had struggled with Alzheimer’s since 2011.
Campbell, who toured with the Beach Boys for a while when Brian Wilson was ailing in the mid-’60s, also hosted a CBS variety show called The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. Debuting as a midseason replacement in January 1969, the series ran until June 1972 and featured such sidemen as Dom DeLuise, Jerry Reed and Mike Curb.
In a career that spanned six decades, Campbell made dozens of albums, sold more than 40 million records and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
He announced he had Alzheimer’s disease in 2011 and performed what he called the Glen Campbell Goodbye Tour shortly thereafter. In 2015, he won his sixth and final Grammy Award, honored for best country song “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” which he co-wrote for a documentary about his life and deteriorating health.
"It is with the heaviest of hearts that we announce the passing of our beloved husband, father, grandfather, and legendary singer and guitarist, Glen Travis Campbell, at the age of 81, following his long and courageous battle with Alzheimer's disease," the singer's family said in a statement.
Campbell was a rare breed in the music business, with various careers as a top-level studio guitarist, chart-topping singer and hit television host.
According to The Tenneassean, each member of Campbell's family played guitar, and he received a $5 Sears & Roebuck guitar when he was 4 years old. By 6, he was a prodigy, internalizing music that ranged from simple country to sophisticated jazz. As a teenager, he dropped out of school in the 10th grade, left Arkansas and played in a New Mexico-based band led by his uncle, Dick Bills. He also married first wife Diane Kirk, though that marriage lasted fewer than three years.
While playing an Albuquerque club called the Hitching Post, Campbell met Billie Nunley, who soon became his second wife. The newlyweds left for California in 1960, riding to Los Angeles in a 1957 Chevrolet with $300 and a small trailer full of meager belongings. Campbell found work playing in rock groups including The Champs, a band that included Jim Seals and Dash Crofts, who would later become the hit-making duo Seals & Crofts.
Campbell's guitar acumen and versatility made him an essential player on Los Angeles' thriving recording scene in the 1960s, and he contributed to sessions for Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Rick Nelson, The Mamas and The Papas, Merle Haggard and many more. Campbell couldn’t read music, but he quickly became a respected, first-call player. He played on Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas,” The Monkees’ “Im’ a Believer,” Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” and more. He played 12-string guitar on the Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B.,” and toured with the Beach Boys in 1965, as a replacement for the band’s troubled and reclusive leader, Brian Wilson.
Campbell was invited to join the Beach Boys as a full-time member in 1965, but he declined that opportunity. By then, he was set on establishing a solo career of his own.
After recording a minor hit in 1961 with "Turn Around - Look at Me" for small, independent Crest Records, Campbell had signed with Capitol Records, releasing "Big Bluegrass Special" by "The Green River Boys Featuring Glen Campbell" in late 1962. His early albums received little in the way of attention or acclaim, but he broke into the mainstream in 1967, at first with the Top 20 country hit “Burning Bridges” but most notably with a nimble version of his friend John Hartford's drifter's masterpiece, "Gentle On My Mind."
"Gentle On My Mind" did not ascend to the top of the "Billboard" country charts, but it was performing rights organization BMI's most-played song of 1969 and 1970. In 1999, BMI ranked “Gentle” as the second most-played country song of the century, and the 16th most-played song of the century in any genre.