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Glen Campbell

American entertainer, Glen Campbell, was a singer-songwriter who sold more than 45 million records worldwide – he went on to become a successful television presenter. When he was diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s in 2010, he was always very open about it, even making a documentary to help other people living with the condition.


Campbell was born in 1936, in the small community of Billstown, in Arkansas. The seventh son of 12 children, his parents John and Carrie were farmers, scraping a living together by growing cotton, potatoes, corn and watermelons. He started playing the guitar when he was four years old, after his uncle gave him a guitar costing $5 to teach him the basics.

He didn’t have any formal training, but was a talented guitarist, honing his skills by playing music at fairs, on church picnics and singing in the church choir, when he wasn’t working in the cotton fields.


Career success

At the age of 17, Campbell moved to Albuquerque where he joined his uncle’s band, Dick Bills and the Sandia Mountain Boys, playing on his uncle’s radio show and on the local television show, K Circle B Time. In 1958, he formed his own band, the Western Wranglers.

Moving to Los Angeles to find work as a session musician, he played the guitar on a number of recordings by top artists of the day, such as Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys, Ricky Nelson, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, the Monkees, Nancy and Frank Sinatra, Merle Haggard and Phil Spector.

He signed for Capitol Records in 1962 and had a host of hit records, with appearances on television shows from 1964 onwards, including Rod Cameron’s Star Route, ABC’s Shindig and Hollywood Jamboree. He toured with the Beach Boys from December 1964 until early March 1965, after which he enjoyed his biggest solo hit to date, Universal Soldier.

In 1969, he ended the decade with his own TV variety show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. It ran until June 1972 on CBS, using the hit song, Gentle on My Mind, as the theme tune. The show’s scriptwriters included comedy writers Steve Martin and Rob Reiner. In 1971, CBS purged many so-called rural shows, but Goodtime Hour survived because it was doing well in the ratings.


Hit songs

Campbell released a multitude of hit records, including perhaps his most well-known, Rhinestone Cowboy, in 1975, which reached number one in the US charts.

The song has been used in many modern-day TV shows and films, including Daddy Day Care, Desperate Housewives and High School High. It was also the inspiration for the 1984 movie, Rhinestone, starring Dolly Parton and Sylvester Stallone.


Alzheimer’s diagnosis

Winning 10 Grammy Awards for his music, Campbell continued to delight fans with a succession of hit records, television appearances and live tours for almost five decades. He was diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s in 2010, at the age of 74.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. Most people who develop the condition are aged over 65. Changes occur in the brain that cause nerve cells to become damaged, leading to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, which can include confusion, memory loss, mood changes and communication difficulties.

Campbell decided from the onset to go public with his diagnosis, which had been made late in 2010, following the release of his album, Ghost on the Canvas. He embarked on what he called his Goodbye Tour, with three of his eight children joining him in his backing band. His final gig took place on 30th November 2012, in Napa, California.

He recorded his final song, I’m Not Gonna Miss You, in January 2013. He also agreed to a fly-on-the-wall documentary being filmed about his life, entitled Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, which was released on 30th September 2014.

It was revealed he had recorded a final album, Adiós, in recording sessions between 2012 and 2013. Released on 9th June 2017, it became the best-selling country album of 2017 in Great Britain. Campbell died at the age of 81 on 8th August 2017.


Raising awareness

Following Campbell’s death, his doctor, Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centre, spoke out about the star’s decision to go public with his diagnosis.

With 5.5 million American people having Alzheimer’s, his famous patient’s experiences and legacy raised public awareness of the condition, having a “tremendous” effect and showing people how one family dealt with the changes that the diagnosis brought.

Petersen said it was “comforting” for other families to know they were not alone, having somebody like Glen Campbell making such an announcement.

The doctor added, Campbell was a striking example of the dissociation between some memory and verbal skills, as he would often forget his lyrics and needed a teleprompter, yet he never forgot how to play the guitar, even a long guitar solo.

Petersen explained that music stored in the brain from bygone times could stimulate memories and motor functions. Songs from when the person was a teenager could be beneficial and soothing, so that rather than having to give them a sedative if they became agitated, familiar music could be played instead to calm them down.

The doctor said that even when the condition became more advanced, Campbell remained a pleasant person, always polite and cordial and never impolite or irritable at any time. He interprets the documentary as being the singer’s way of telling us that we shouldn’t dwell on what we can’t do but rather focus on what we can.

Although he was affected by the condition, Campbell continued to do what he loved best, surrounded by friends and family and maintaining a high quality of life.

Kinderkey provides specialised bed solutions for people with Alzheimer’s. Our Stellan complex care system can improve the comfort and safety of people who are at risk of falling or climbing out of bed. Please contact us for details of our home visits to assess suitable sleeping solutions.

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