Ask Glen Campbell about his memory loss, or point out that he has a tendency to repeat himself, and he’ll reply without skipping a beat, “Oh yeah, I’m forgetful. God just cleared a lot of things out. It was crowded up there!” Indeed, the Grammy-winning country singer behind such iconic hits as “Wichita Lineman,” “Gentle on My Mind” and “Rhinestone Cowboy” has collected a lifetime of memories-not to mention a devoted fan following. It was for the sake of his fans that Campbell, 75, and his fourth wife, Kim, 53, a former Radio City Rockette, felt compelled to reveal his struggle with Alzheimer’s disease in June. The diagnosis “was something I always feared but never wanted to hear,” admits Kim, who had begun to notice her husband’s sporadic memory lapses over the last several years.
With his ailing health in mind, Campbell took to the studio two years ago to begin writing Ghost on the Canvas, an album that will likely be his last of over 70 studio recordings. “Glen wanted to say a lot of things,” says producer Julian Raymond, who co-wrote the album, which came out Aug. 30. “He’s so talented-he’s got perfect pitch, but as that started deteriorating it would make him frustrated.”
Despite these challenges, he has remained steadfast in his desire for one last opportunity to see his fans. Backed by a support system of musicians, including four of his children-Ashley, 24, Shannon, 26, Cal, 28, and Debby, 55-Campbell began a farewell tour in July. “I’ve got the kids, and it’s so great to see them playing in my band,” says Campbell. “It’s a lot of fun.” Adds Ashley: “Sometimes I sit down with him and we sing old songs-I know all the songs he knew growing up in the South, and that seems to help him.”
Now performing with the aid of a teleprompter, Campbell relies on over 50 years of performance experience to get him through the moments his memory may fail. “He’s really an inspiring case, because many people with the degree of memory loss that he has would not be able to do what he is doing,” says Dr. Hart Cohen, the singer’s neurologist. “He loves to perform, and that has not been hampered by this disease.” Says Campbell: “I’ve just been the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. I still love making music and I still love performing for my fans.”