Glen Campbell, country music’s “Rhinestone Cowboy,” died today (Aug. 8) following a long fight against Alzheimer’s disease. He was 81 years old.
“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.
A renowned singer, songwriter and guitarist, Glen had an easy way with a song, effortlessly conveying a wealth of emotion in just a single line or guitar lick. Born April 22, 1936, in Delight, Ark., Glen made his way west to Los Angeles, where he became an in demand studio musician. He was a member of the anonymous but nonetheless legendary Wrecking Crew, a group of players who performed the music on albums by the Byrds, the Monkees and the Beach Boys, among others. Glen, in fact, would join the Beach Boys as a touring musician in the ’60s when the group’s troubled genius Brian Wilson ceased traveling.
But it was with his own solo career that Glen had his greatest success. In 1967, he released the album Gentle on My Mind, the title track of which cracked the Top 40. It was the following year, however, with the release of the albums By the Time I Get to Phoenix and Wichita Lineman, when Glen truly broke out. The title songs of both efforts would result in two of Glen’s biggest hits, with “Wichita Lineman” becoming Glen’s signature song until the release of 1975’s iconic “Rhinestone Cowboy.” It was that song, a crossover No. 1 on both the pop and country charts, that came to define Glen and revitalized his career, following a somewhat fallow period in the early ’70s.
In addition to his musical stardom, Glen also gained attention as a TV personality, hosting The Glen Campbell Good Time Hour variety show from 1969 to 1972. Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, The Monkees and Linda Ronstadt were among the diverse acts who appeared on the series. Glen’s good looks and smooth on-camera persona also helped him land a handful of film roles, most notably opposite John Wayne in 1969’s True Grit.
As the new era of country music dawned in the late ’90s and 2000s, Glen was continually cited by today’s stars as an influence, including most vocally, Keith Urban. In 2005, Glen was elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
In 2008, he released an album of cover songs, Meet Glen Campbell, and the haunting Ghost on the Canvas in 2011. The latter came on the heels of Glen’s admission at age 75 that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He launched a farewell tour that same year and, in 2013, announced that he would no longer tour.
In June, Glen released his final studio album, Adiós, a collection of mainly cover songs by Bob Dylan, Roger Miller, Willie Nelson and others, recorded after his farewell tour.
Glen is survived by his wife, Kim Campbell of Nashville; their three children, Cal, Shannon and Ashley; his children from previous marriages, Debby, Kelli, Travis, Kane, and Dillon; 10 grandchildren, great- and great-great-grandchildren; sisters Barbara, Sandra, and Jane; and brothers John Wallace “Shorty” and Gerald.