Glen Campbell: Inside an icon's farewell album and tour
Glen Campbell died at 81 years old, it was announced on Aug. 8, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Ahead, a look back at EW’s interview with Campbell in 2011 to mark the ocassion of his farewell tour.
Sitting in the kitchen of his spacious Malibu home, Glen Campbell is explaining how golf made him realize how much he loves his day job. “I can get that thing in my hand and I can’t hit it every time,” he says of his often frustrating trips to the links. “And it really ticks me off. But I can go out there and play guitar.”
He can say that again. In a career that’s spanned more than 50 years, Campbell has evolved from sought-after session musician to country-pop superstar with hits like “Wichita Lineman” and “Rhinestone Cowboy,” while moonlighting as an actor (1969’s True Grit) and a variety-show host (The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour). Now, two months after revealing that he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the Arkansas-bred legend is writing his final musical chapter, releasing the stunningly vulnerable album Ghost on the Canvas and embarking on what he’s calling his Goodbye Tour. “Age is a word — I’m 75 and I feel like a kid,” he says, before quoting one of his old friend Roger Miller’s favorite lines: “I can still jump as high, but I can’t stay up as long.”
Though Campbell — who lives with Kim, his wife of almost 30 years — maintains a gentle and sunny disposition, he has trouble answering direct questions or remembering events of the past: Within five minutes of discussing a recent concert at a resort in Biloxi, Mississippi, he asks Kim, who’s sitting nearby, “Was that in Alabama in that big hotel?” Campbell began to notice lapses in his memory while recording Ghost last year. “On a few little things, he got stories confused and his wife would correct him,” says Chris Isaak, who contributes vocals and guitar to “In My Arms,” the album’s most rollicking track. “But if I was going to have to lose a few memories or lose my ability to sing and play, I’d rather be able to sing and play. That voice of his and that guitar of his, those are gifts that nobody has.”
Indeed, while he may not be able to remember the word Alzheimer’s, Campbell remains a musical perfectionist. “He’s a real fanatical guy regarding lyrics and rhythm,” says Ghost producer Julian Raymond. “‘It’s gotta be faster, I don’t like that lyric.’ He knows what he wants.” His soaring tenor and showy guitar licks haven’t faded either. “There’s a magical thing that happens when he walks on stage,” Kim says. “All of a sudden it’s like bam, he’s Glen Campbell, and it kicks in. I don’t know if it’s muscle memory, but it’s just natural to him.” Still, he’ll have a teleprompter on tour for those moments when lyrics escape him. “They’re not perfect shows,” says Kim. “There’s a few mess-ups here and there. But he always tells the audience, ‘If you do it perfect…'”
“They’ll want it every time,” Glen finishes with a laugh. Perfect has long been an elusive word for Campbell, whose career highs were offset by alcohol abuse and three divorces. But as he prepares to bid his fans farewell, he finally seems at peace. “God gives everybody a chance,” he says. “It took me a long time to pick up on that. I’ve just been blessed — I don’t know what else I can say.”