Singer Glen Campbell dies at 81

Glen Campbell, 81, a guitar prodigy and ballad singer who dominated the polished, string-swelling country-politan sound of the late 1960s and 1970s and cultivated a clean-cut image at odds with his once-stormy personal life, died Tuesday in Nashville.

His publicist confirmed the death to the Associated Press.

Mr. Campbell announced he had Alzheimer’s disease in 2011 and performed what he called the Glen Campbell Goodbye Tour shortly thereafter.

In 2015, he won his sixth and final Grammy Award, honored for the best country song, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” which he co-wrote for a documentary about his life and deteriorating health.

In a career that spanned six decades, Mr. Campbell made dozens of albums, sold more than 40 million records, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

At a time when the grittier “outlaw” movement of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson was on the rise, Mr. Campbell vaulted to fame as an unabashed sentimentalist whose songs were aimed squarely at the American heartland.

His best-known recordings included John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind” (which became his theme song) and Larry Weiss’ “Rhinestone Cowboy.” His most frequent collaborator was songwriter Jimmy Webb, who provided expressive, wistful hits such as “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Galveston,” and “Wichita Lineman.”

“My approach is simplicity,” Mr. Campbell told Time magazine in 1969. “If I can just make a 40-year-old housewife put down her dish towel and say ‘Oh!’- why then, man, I’ve got it made.”

Mr. Campbell was 4 when an uncle bought him a $5 mail-order guitar from a Sears Roebuck catalog. He taught himself to play as an escape from sharecropping, explaining, “Picking a guitar was a lot easier than picking cotton.”

He grew to admire the Belgian-born jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, whom he called “the most awesome player I ever heard.”

Without any formal training, Mr. Campbell became by the early 1960s part of the so-called Wrecking Crew of Los Angeles, studio musicians who were known for their versatility and skill.

He played rhythm guitar on more than 500 jazz, pop, rock, and country records, backing entertainers such as Frank Sinatra, Nat “King” Cole, Elvis Presley, Merle Haggard, and the Beach Boys.

When Beach Boy Brian Wilson had a nervous breakdown in 1965, the band asked Mr. Campbell to fill in on tour. Singing falsetto and playing bass, he got his first taste of crowd frenzy.

“Right after one concert,” he told the New York Times, “the Beach Boys ran for the cars like mad, but I didn’t care. I took my time, figuring nobody would pay any attention to me, since I wasn’t really a Beach Boy. Well, I want to tell you, they jumped on me with all four feet – started yankin’ my hair, stole my watch, tore off my shirt. From then on, I was the first one in the car.”

Mr. Campbell broke through as a solo act in 1967 with a flurry of Grammy Awards for “Gentle on My Mind.”

Strapping, clean-cut, farm-boy handsome, and with an easygoing charisma, he was soon in demand as a television guest star.

Through a friendship with comedian Tommy Smothers, Mr. Campbell cohosted The Summer Brothers Smothers Show on CBS in 1968. He acquitted himself so smoothly – despite his aversion to the program’s liberal politics – that the network hired Mr. Campbell to hosted a variety show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, which aired from 1969 to 1972.

He also was cast as a supporting actor in the John Wayne movie True Grit (1969), whose theme song he sang.

Mr. Campbell said the demands of celebrity and a series of troubled marriages led to his prodigious drinking and cocaine use.

“I didn’t hold back in those days,” he told the London Independent, recalling how he trashed hotel suites and got into other messes.

His most-chronicled escapade was his tumultuous relationship with country and pop singer Tanya Tucker, who projected a wildcat, man-eating persona and, at 22, was half Mr. Campbell’s age.

They performed the national anthem together at the 1980 Republican National Convention. The next year, their tawdry row outside a hotel near Shreveport, La., attracted the attention of local authorities and then the media.

In 1982, Mr. Campbell wed his fourth wife. He announced that he was a born-again Christian and that he had given up drugs and drinking. He had a relapse in 2003, when he was arrested for a hit-and-run incident in Phoenix after plowing his BMW into another car. He later pleaded guilty to drunken driving and was sentenced to 10 days in prison.

His marriages to Diane Kirk, Billie Jean Nunley, and Sarah Barg Davis – the former wife of singer Mac Davis – ended in divorce. In 1982, he wed Kimberly Woolen, a dancer at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

Survivors include a daughter from his first marriage; three children from his second marriage; a son from his third marriage; and three children from his fourth marriage. A son from his first marriage died in infancy.

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