Country Legend Glen Campbell Dies at 81

Country superstar Glen Campbell, most famous for his songs "Wichita Lineman," "Rhinestone Cowboy," and "Gentle on My Mind" has died at the age of 81.

News of his death was confirmed by a press rep from Universal Music Group.

“More and more, it is understood that you can’t tell the story of American popular music without Glen Campbell,” noted writer David Cantwell.

In 2011, after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Campbell hit the road for a farewell tour. I’ll Be Me, the powerful documentary chronicling that tour and Campbell’s struggle as his condition worsened, premiered in 2014. Campbell sang the title song, which was nominated for an Academy Award, and released his final music video, "I'm Not Gonna Miss You,” to coincide with the release of the film.

“This is a film not just about the life of Glen Campbell, the familiar public figure, or even an insightful look at Alzheimer's, a disease that impacts millions, but ultimately an intimate and life-affirming exploration of life, of family and love in the face of an all too real challenge faced by all too many of us,” observed critic David Wild. “Like the vast majority of us, Glen Campbell has not lived a perfect life, but through it all, this extraordinary musical talent has brought great beauty and soul to our lives thanks to his singular skills as a guitarist, singer, actor, and entertainer.”

Born to sharecropper parents just outside Delight, Arkansas, on April 22, 1936, Campbell was well known for his efforts to unite country and pop for a wide audience. Before hitting it big, though, he worked for several years in the early 1960s in Los Angeles as a session guitarist and vocalist for the likes of Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Merle Haggard. He even served as a temporary member of the Beach Boys for a short period.

Glen Campbell performing in 2004

Glen Campbell performing in 2004

Campbell rose to fame in the late 1960s after landing a string of crossover pop and country hits, including "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Gentle On My Mind," "Galveston," and "Wichita Lineman."

“It hits you like a truck, just how amazing Campbell was at making a song more than a song,” said musician Henry Rollins in LA Weekly. “It’s the same way Sinatra can hold you in a lyric, making you forget to breathe. You live the words as he’s singing them. Glen Campbell was able to do this again and again.”

In 1969, “The Glen Campbell Good-Time Hour,” debuted on CBS and lasted for three seasons. Showcasing Campbell’s all-American boyish good looks and affable personality enabled the musician to broaden his appeal even further. His use of an Ovation guitar on the program also helped propel sales of the young acoustic guitar brand.

“It was the best thing as far as timing — having a product to sell and then having an outlet to advertise the product,” Campbell observed in a 2007 interview with CMT. “All they had to do was press the albums and sell ’em.”

The series, which lasted until 1972, also gave him the opportunity to book as many country acts as he could. His crossover hits, coupled with his TV show’s popularity, allowed him to successfully promote country music to the masses. One recurring guest was banjo player and songwriter, John Hartford who composed the hit "Gentle on My Mind."

“Campbell helped to increase the number of full-time country radio stations, thus strengthening the broadcasting infrastructure essential to the success of country recording artists, record labels, songwriters, publishers and show promoters,” said the Country Music Hall of Fame, which inducted Campbell in 2005.

Over the course of his career, Campbell had 21 Top 40 hits, 27 country Top 10 singles and nine country No. 1 albums. He was also honored with five Grammy Awards, three Grammy Hall of Fame honors and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award; seven Academy of Country Music awards and a 1998 Pioneer Award recognition; three American Music Awards; two Country Music Association Awards; and three Gospel Music Association Dove Awards.

Campbell continues to influence musicians of all stripes today, including country and pop stars Alan Jackson, Jakob Dylan, and Keith Urban. "Growing up across the world, Glen Campbell showed me what country music was," Urban said in the documentary I’ll Be Me.

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