You might know him from his ubiquitous, inescapable hit, “Rhinestone Cowboy.” Or, perhaps, your favorite artist, be it Tom Jones or R.E.M., Shawn Colvin or Johnny Cash cover another hit of his, “Wichita Lineman.” Regardless of how you knew him. Glen Campbell, a legend in country and pop music, has lost his battle with Alzheimer’s Disease on Tuesday. He was 81.
Campbell moved out to Los Angeles in 1960 to become a session musician. He excelled at this job, backing artists ranging from Dean Martin to the Monkees, Elvis Presley to Frank Sinatra. His skill landed him a job as a replacement for the reclusive Brian Wilson on the Beach Boys tour of late 1964-early 1965. He would later play on their seminal Pet Sounds album.
His success as a session musician led him to a career as a recording artist in his own right in 1961. However, it wasn’t until 1966’s Burning Bridges that Campbell caught the ear of country music listeners. He’d follow it up with hits such as Gentle on My Mind, By the Time I Get To Phoenix and the aforementioned Wichita Lineman. He would win five Grammys during this period.
In 1975, he achieved his biggest success with a cover of Rhinestone Cowboy, a song about persevering against great odds, motivated by the chance at great success. The song shot up to the top of the pop and country charts and served as the inspiration for the Sylvester Stallone/Dolly Parton film, Rhinestone.
As many successful recording artist did at the time, Campbell dabbled in film. His most notable role was in 1969’s True Grit. He starred opposite John Wayne and Kim Darby as the ultimately doomed Texas Ranger La Boeuf. Matt Damon would play the role in the 2010 sequel. Campbell also had roles in films such as Uphill All the Way, Norwood, The Cool Ones, and provided a voice for the animated film, Rock-A-Doodle.
In early 2011, Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, although it wouldn’t be until June of that year until he made that diagnosis public. That same year, he would embark on his final tour, aptly dubbed his “Goodbye Tour.” The 151-show tour was documented in the 2014 documentary, Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me. An original song Campbell co-wrote for the film, “I’m Not Going To Miss You,” was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song.