Glen Campbell's Third Marriage Is on the Rocks, but Young Tanya Tucker Cushions the Fall

By David Sheff
June 30, 1980 12:00 PM

I gave God a prayer…and He gave me Tanya Tucker.

Glen Campbell

Well, the Rhinestone Cowboy may or may not have a hotline to the Deity, but if all 44-year-old men got such response, there surely would be no atheists in midlife. At 21, God’s gift to Glen is country music’s sassiest siren, a blue-eyed blonde whose glued-on jumpsuits can scarcely contain her reciprocal affections. “I truly love him,” says Tanya, who has been Glen’s constant companion since February. Of course, she adds with a wink, “I kinda felt bad that Glen didn’t steal me from somebody.”

The sly reference is to Campbell’s ricochet romance with his departed third wife, Sarah Davis, who was married to colleague Mac Davis before she and Glen started dating. “Those stories were cruel,” Campbell now protests. “I didn’t steal my best friend’s wife. They were already apart, and anyway Mac and I were never friends. I played golf with him some is all. People were very rude and stupid concerning that whole thing.”

The next question is how rude people will be over what could be the next Campbell cause célèbre. The Republicans, perhaps unwittingly, have booked the torrid Glen-and-Tanya twosome to open their 1980 National Convention July 14 with an all-network duet of the National Anthem. The singers are supporting Ronald Reagan because, as Campbell figures, “Any man who is 69 without gray hairs must know something.” Whether the Grand Old Party will regret spotlighting Glen and the lady he delightedly characterizes as “a raunchy young broad,” of course, is another matter. But never mind, says Tanya: “Our voices blend so well that it’s almost sinful not to work together.”

In the past two months they have blended in Vegas (where Glen wowed his fans by pulling a surprised Tanya onstage) and Monte Carlo (he had a TV taping), goofed off in Paris and Geneva and visited Glen’s parents in Arkansas. Tanya was too polite to correct them when they introduced her as his new Mrs. “I am enjoying life more than I ever have,” grins Campbell. “I don’t care if she’s 50 or 15. She’s the woman I want to be with.”

As for the woman he’s no longer with, Glen half jokes, “Sarah said ‘I do’ and never did.” His in-law problem with Sarah’s mom probably didn’t help. “That woman was conniving, always playing me against Sarah,” charges Campbell. “If it weren’t for her, maybe we would still be together. There can’t be two people running a household, especially if one of them ain’t supposed to be there in the first place.” Glen says he kicked his mother-in-law out once, but relented after Sarah pleaded for her return. “Finally, when I told that woman she was interfering with my life too much and had to go, Sarah said, ‘If she goes, I go,’ ” continues Campbell. “I said, ‘No one is to supersede me in my house. Leave.’ Sarah said, ‘But this is my house too.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, but I am the head thereof.’ There was no argument. No shouting and screaming. The next day I read it in the papers: SARAH FILES FOR DIVORCE.” The split came, sadly, just three weeks after Sarah had given birth to their first child, Dillon Ian Campbell. “It’s too bad,” sums up Glen, who has seen the boy only once since they parted. “Sarah is a nice woman and a good mother. But I’ll stay as far away from that mother-in-law as I can.”

Both Glen and Sarah deny published reports that she is demanding $3 million and threatening to spill embarrassing marital secrets, but Campbell has put their Holmby Hills mansion (where Sarah still lives) on the market for $3.8 million. “I’ll give Sarah whatever she’s entitled to,” says Glen, who previously coughed up $5 million when his 16-year second marriage ended in 1975. “I don’t want to cause her problems. She’s got enough of them.” Sarah, meanwhile, has sought comfort, but not a reconciliation, with ex-hubbie Mac Davis. (When she heard that Glen’s romantic prayers had been answered, Sarah scathingly riposted, “Well, I gave God a prayer, too, and he let Glen find Tanya Tucker.”)

But how did Tanya enter the do-si-do? Well, she had gotten Glen’s autograph at the Grand Ole Opry back in 1972 (an event he’d forgotten) and carried his photo in her wallet as a teenager. “I was afraid to call,” says Tanya of their first serious get-together in February. “I didn’t know who had left who.” So a friend left a message with Glen’s service, and he called back. As Tanya recollects it, “I said, ‘I heard that you and Sarah are separated. I’m really concerned and I want to know if there’s anything I can do for you.’ Glen said, ‘Yeah, come over and let’s sing some songs together.’ ”

That first time, Glen cautions, “We just talked. No sex. She’s an incredible human being. She’s very savvy and at the same time has the innocence of a child. We just locked horns. Finally I said, ‘What are you doing the rest of your life?’ She said, ‘Nothin’.’ Suddenly I was with someone who was really carin’, and I was carin’ back. I’ve been married all my life,” Glen goes on. “I can’t play the bachelor role. I’m a homebody at heart.”

So far neither of them is planning a wedding, but Campbell notes that they share a love of “simple things, like fishing and hunting and getting away.” Not to mention an aching knowledge of the music world’s pressures. “I’ve said prayers, ‘Please do not let me get involved with women who are not in this business,’ ” Glen recounts. “They just don’t understand my head. Now I’m dating one of the finest female talents that God lets draw breath. I can be totally honest with Tanya and she with me.” Chimes in Tucker: “Right now we’re sharing things that I’ve never, ever shared with anyone.”

Their shared Southern roots certainly couldn’t be deeper. Born in Seminole, Texas, Tanya grew up in Wilcox, Ariz., where her father, Beau (now her manager), “did everything from selling junk iron to core drilling.” At the age of 9 she walked up to singer Mel Tillis at a county fair. “We talked and I said, ‘Well, I’m a singer and I want to get started.’ He listened to me blurt one out and said, ‘My God!’ ” Impressed by her precociously powerful pipes, Tillis had Tanya sing eight songs in his show that night. When she was 13, her showbiz sun came up with Delta Dawn, which hit No. 1 on the country charts. She quit school in the middle of the ninth grade and scored a run of biggies like “Would You Lay with Me”, “The Man That Turned My Mama On” and “San Antonio Stroll”. Her recent rock crossover attempts with 1978’s TNT (which won her a Grammy nomination) and last year’s suggestive Tear Me Apart were only partly successful, but she’s not worried. “I’ve still got my best work ahead of me,” says Tanya, who insists she’s sowing fewer oats now than when she was a teenager and slugged whiskey out of the bottle. “I could have turned out a lot worse,” she says, “but I have too much respect for my family.”

Campbell, already a star when Tanya was in kindergarten, was born the seventh son (of eight) among the 12 children of a Billstown, Ark., sharecropper. He grew up picking cotton (“It’s a lot easier pickin’ guitar”) and listening to the Grand Ole Opry whenever his parents could afford radio batteries. A dropout at 14, he played low-life “dancin’ and fightin’ clubs” and toured briefly as a stand-in Beach Boy before shooting to the top with John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind” and Jim Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”. In 1968 Campbell won four Grammys and the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year award. His greatest impact, though, came during the 1969-1972 TV run of The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. “It was barn-burning time, and I didn’t have long hair,” says Glen of the Vietnam-era program that started as a summer replacement for the troubled Smothers Brothers Show. “So moms and dads could watch me and say, ‘There now, be like that boy.’ ” He recorded such signature songs as “Wichita Lineman”, “Galveston” and “Country Boy”, and Glen can currently count 38 LPs (11 gold) and an annual income in the millions.

He bombed only in the movies (“I was so bad in True Grit I made John Wayne look so good he won his first Oscar”) and marriage. His early one at 17 to Diane Kirk lasted three years. Their first baby died, but their second, Debby, 24, is married now and lives in Italy. His second wife, Billie Jean Nunley, a former Albuquerque beautician, bore him three children—Kelli, 18, Travis, 14, and Wesley Kane, 11—but, according to Campbell, went jet-set on him. “She’d call from London and tell the kids to do something. That’s wrong,” says Glen. “All she ever wanted was to socialize anyway.”

As for himself, Campbell claims, “I have realized all my silly little dreams. Success is not getting what you want—it’s enjoying what you have.” His joys include a Cadillac, a vintage T-Bird, a Rolls and the Glen Campbell-Los Angeles Open golf tourney. Tanya herself owns a Nashville horse ranch and an L.A. home. They play tennis together, but Tanya just watches while Glen shoots in the 70s on the links.

This month Campbell has a new LP out, Somethin’ ‘Bout You Baby I Like, and exuberantly joined in on the single Tanya recently cut for the sound track of Burt Reynolds’ upcoming Smokey and the Bandit II. The first Campbell-Tucker TV special, taped on the Mississippi Queen steamboat, will air in November, and more are planned. But Glen isn’t speaking professionally when he vows, “There’s a bond there I’m not going to break. It’s not a question of learning from my mistakes, because this feels totally different to start with. We’re at peace when we’re together.” Tanya agrees with all that, but can’t stop talking a mischievous game. “Who knows what will happen?” she teases. “Tomorrow I may run off with Mac Davis.”