When Glen Campbell, 78, received the news about his Alzheimer’s disease in 2011, he was told to “hang up his guitar and prepare for the inevitable.” The singer/songwriter instead decided to embark on a “Goodbye Tour” that was to last 5 weeks. Instead, the tour lasted a year and a half, and Glen Campbell played to sold-out audiences in 151 performances around the country.
That tour, along with the chronicle of Mr. Campbell’s advancing disease, has been captured by the documentary, Glen Campbell . . . I’ll Be Me, which opened this past week across the U.S. Documentarian James Keach captures not only the amazing performances, but also the struggles with his advancing Alzheimer’s disease. However, not only do we see the anger, frustration, and moments of lucidity that are the hallmarks of memory loss disease, we also get to see the triumph of Mr. Campbell’s spirit on stage. Of his film’s subject, Keach has said, “It became not so much the story of Glen Campbell, but the story of the gift that is being taken away from him. And us."
Even if he sometimes forgot the words, the music is so ingrained in this man’s mind, body, and soul, that he could still do this:
For those too young to remember, Glen Campbell is a 6-time Grammy winner, including an Album of the Year in 1967 and is a recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award (2012). He was a session guitarist with the Beach Boys and Elvis Presley and in 1975, his hit “Rhinestone Cowboy” was No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 list. He is back on the list at No. 90 with the film’s "I'm Not Gonna Miss You." It’s his first chart appearance since Sept. 5, 1981—marking a 33-year hiatus.
Since the tour ended, Mr. Campbell’s family, including his wife, Kim Woolen and the couple’s daughter Ashley, 27, were caring for the singer at home until this past April. It was then that the 24-hour care Campbell needed became too much for the family to provide themselves. They decided to place Mr. Campbell in a memory care facility near their home in Nashville, TN. Ms. Woolen told People magazine about the decision. "No one was getting any sleep and we were just struggling every second to keep him safe – we felt like it wasn't safe anymore."
An estimated 5.2 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease in 2014. Most of us know someone or love someone with some form of dementia. We know how difficult it is to watch that person slowly slip away. It used to be that we wouldn’t acknowledge memory loss disease. What was referred to as “old-timer’s disease” was rarely spoken of and it’s sufferers stigmatized. It takes a lot of courage for someone like Glen Campbell, along with his family, to open their lives and share publicly what so many families are experiencing privately.