Glen Campbell, the Hollywood-handsome country singer with pop appeal whose long road to success gave special meaning to his best-known song, “Rhinestone Cowboy,” has died. He was 81.
He died Tuesday, according to the Associated Press, citing Campbell’s publicist Sandy Brokaw. No cause was given. Campbell and his wife disclosed in June 2011 that he had Alzheimer’s disease and that his next round of concerts would be a farewell tour.
Campbell’s rendition of “Rhinestone Cowboy” was a crossover hit in 1975, reaching No. 1 on country and pop charts. Though written and first performed by Larry Weiss, the song was so associated with Campbell that it became his nickname and the title of his 1994 autobiography, which described his hardscrabble roots and detailed how fame had led him to alcohol and cocaine, undermined his first three marriages and made him an absentee father.
“There’s been a load of compromising, on the road to my horizon,” he sang,
“But I’m gonna be where the lights are shining on me
Like a rhinestone cowboy
Riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeo.”
In his memoir, written with Tom Carter, Campbell said: “I loved the line confessing compromising in the first verse. I thought it was my autobiography set to song.”
A sharecropper’s son from Arkansas, Campbell eked out a living playing guitar in bands and studios before bursting onto the scene in his 30s.
He won four Grammy Awards in 1967 for performances on “Gentle on My Mind” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” which won the Album of the Year Grammy for 1968. Jimmy Webb, who wrote the title track on “By the Time I get to Phoenix,” also provided Campbell with his next two hits, “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston.”
“He is emblematic of the new winds blowing in from the country,” New York Times critic Robert Shelton wrote in 1968. “He brings sophistication and refinement to his rural ballads and an excellent voice and fluent guitar to more urbane material.”
All told, Campbell made 11 albums certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America for selling 500,000 copies, plus four albums certified platinum for exceeding 1 million, and one album, “Wichita Lineman,” certified double platinum for 2 million in sales.
Musical success led Campbell to television, as host of “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour,” and film, where he acted with John Wayne in the western classic “True Grit” (1969). He toured globally in the 1970s and enjoyed a million-selling album and crossover hit with “Southern Nights” in 1977.
His failed marriages, plus a turbulent romance with Tanya Tucker, offered hints at a troubled private life that included abuse of alcohol and what he called “my personal demon,” cocaine. He said in his autobiography that the “self-imposed mental and spiritual bondage” of his life was in stark contrast to “my public image of the clean-cut, all-American boy next door.”
He kicked his destructive habits in the late 1980s, crediting his evangelical Christian faith and the support of his fourth wife, the former Kimberly Woollen.
A 2003 drunk-driving arrest in Phoenix produced a widely published, unflattering mug shot and a painful reminder for Campbell of the price of addiction. He spent a few days in the Maricopa County Jail and a month in rehabilitation at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California.
Glen Travis Campbell was born on April 22, 1936, in the small town of Billstown, Arkansas, about 100 miles southwest of Little Rock. He was one of 12 children of John Wesley Campbell, a sharecropper, and his wife, Carrie.
He recalled in his autobiography a childhood of such poverty that his family was “just a step above the animals that we ate to stay alive.” He and his brothers would sometimes travel with their father to pick crops as far away as Ohio and Indiana.
Learning on a three-quarters-size guitar he received as a gift, Campbell was performing with his uncle at schools and churches and on local radio by his eighth birthday. He dropped out of high school in 1952 and moved to Albuquerque, where another uncle lived, and where Campbell played at rowdy evening dances and on television.
In Los Angeles, he wrote for a music publisher before becoming a full-time studio musician, backing recording sessions by Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, among others. A guest appearance on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” led to his own music-and-skits show, “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour,” which aired from 1969 to 1972.
Campbell had five children from his first three marriages, all of which ended in divorce. His 15-month romance with Tucker in 1980-1981 was, in the words of a People magazine cover, “the Wildest Love Affair in Showbiz Today.” Both later described their relationship as full of alcohol, cocaine and fighting.
His fourth marriage, to Kimberly, a former Rockette dancer at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, produced three children, all musicians who accompanied their father on his farewell tour.
They also shared the stage at the 2012 Grammy Awards, where Campbell performed “Rhinestone Cowboy” and received a Lifetime Achievement Award.
© Copyright 2021 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.