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Summer 2016


Glen Campbell and Alzheimer's Disease

by Connie McMullen

I'll Be Me

I first saw Glen Campbell perform at John Ascuaga's Nugget in the 1970s. He was a mega star, and as he performed classics like "Galveston," "Rhinestone Cowboy," "The Wichita Lineman," women screamed when he reached out for their hands moving from one table top to another out in the audience. He was handsome, agile, fit, and sang flawlessly. He was a tremendous talent, and I was trilled to watch him perform.

Glen Campbell in concert January 25, 2004 in Texas.
Glen Campbell in concert January 25, 2004 in Texas.

I recently watched a documentary featuring Campbell and his courageous day-to-day struggle living with Alzheimer's disease. The documentary follows Campbell, his relationships with family and friends, performing live in concert, and dealing with the diagnosis as the disease progresses.

In 2011, Campbell revealed at age 75 he had Alzheimer's disease and announced a series of farwell concerts. "l'll Be Me", directed by James Keach, is a behind-the-scenes look at one person's struggle with an incurable disease. It is simply one of the best-documented personal stories of a legendary artist coping with dementia publicly. The viewer is treated to performances on-stage, as Campbell struggles to get through routine music he has played several years now comes with difficulty, a result of the disease's progression.

"I'll Be Me" is heart breaking, yet a tribute to one of the greatest country music artists of all time. His family opens their hearts and lives to give the world a true look at how difficult the disease is for loved ones trying to accept what is happening to a husband, parent, friend. From testifying on Capitol Hill in a public hearing before Congress broadcast live on national television to creating the documentary for millions of families to watch so they too can accept that they are not alone, "I'll Be Me" is a true gift.

Alzheimer's takes Campbell through mood swings, anger, tears, arguments, and forgiveness. It is gripping and gut retchingly emotional, and never ending for those trying to care for him. Personal habits such as bathing, toileting, getting dressed are a major undertaking. Coping with the depression is a struggle for him, and seconds later he is agitated, frustrated, and then confused.

"I'll Be Me" is one of the best tributes given to mankind in attempts to understand what happens to the brain, in the course of the journey traveled through the beginning to the end, every stage of Alzheimer's disease.

"For as long as I've been around, I'm happy to be anywhere," he tells an audience, as he begins "Gentle On My Mind." He still plays guitar and sings on key, but the family knows when he is breaking the routine of a performance, questioning if the show will be his last on tour. But for Campbell the risks are his choice, something he wants to do in the final days, and as long as he can perform, the family and band will support him in the effort. "It is the best time of my life," his daughter adds during filming.

Campbell's last show was performed in Napa, California, November 30, 2012. A new song titled "I'm Not Gonna Miss You," was recorded in January 2013, shortly after Campbell stopped performing publically. Today, at 80 years, in the twilight of the disease, Campbell needs 24-hour professional care he receives in a memory care facility in Nashville. His wife of 34 years, Kim Woolen, and family still by his side.

During his 50 years in show business, Glen Campbell released more than 70 albums. He has sold 45 million records and accumulated 12 Recording Industry Association of America Gold albums, four Platinum albums and one Double-platinum album. He placed a total of 80 different songs on either the Billboard Country Chart, Billboard Hot 100, or the Adult Contemporary Chart, of which 29 made the top 10 of those charts. Campbell's hits include his recordings of John Hartford's "Gentle on My Mind"; Jimmy Webb's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix", "Wichita Lineman", and "Galveston"; Larry Weiss's "Rhinestone Cowboy"; and Allen Toussaint's "Southern Nights".