Glen Campbell's Widow Finds Joy Amid the Grief with New Museum Dedicated to Music Legend
The Nashville attraction features treasures from the country icon's life, including his first guitar and a precious love letter to his wife. "I’m glad to share it with everyone," says Kim Campbell
For Glen Campbell’s widow, Kim, deciding to open a museum in his honor came with an emotional price: She knew she had to strip her home bare of the treasures that reminded her of the husband she lost three years ago.
“I’ve had all this memorabilia in my house for 35 years,” Kim told PEOPLE at the museum’s grand opening Thursday in Nashville. “The clothes were hanging in our closet. I always made a special place for the Grammys. When I looked at my walls with all the gold records, I thought, they’re going to be gone. Glen’s gone … They’re going to be gone.”
But Kim, 60, is now finding joy in knowing that “everyone gets to see them.”
And there’s an abundance to see in the new 4,000-square-foot space on Lower Broadway, the city’s honky-tonk epicenter. Through artifacts, videos, music and interactive displays, Campbell’s colorful life and Country Music Hall of Fame career are traced from his impoverished childhood in rural Arkansas to his final battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
The inspiration for the museum, Kim Campbell explains, actually came from the man who built Abe’s Garden, the Nashville memory-care center where her husband spent his last days.
“He got to know Glen, and he just said, ‘He’s just had such an incredible career, and I really think it’s just perfectly appropriate for him to have a place here in the heart of tourism,’” Kim Campbell said, recalling her initial conversation with Abe’s Garden founder Mike Shmerling.
About 18 months ago, she decided to throw herself into the venture. Still in the depths of grief, she soon realized the work was lifting her spirits. “I started going through all the memorabilia and realizing what an impact Glen had on so many lives,” she said. “It started bringing me some comfort and bringing some purpose out of the horrible time we’d just gone through.”
The museum is organized by eras, beginning with Campbell’s earliest years; no doubt the most precious artifact in that display is the master musician’s original guitar. His father, a sharecropper, purchased the three-quarter-size instrument out of a Sears-Roebuck catalog for $5 when Glen, the seventh son of 12 children, was just 4 years old.
“Glen said that once he got that little guitar, he never let it out of his hands,” Kim Campbell said.
Another display, dedicated to Glen Campbell’s early career as an in-demand studio musician, includes the acoustic guitar he played on Frank Sinatra’s classic “Strangers in the Night” and the electric guitar he played on Elvis Presley’s Viva Las Vegas album.
More displays shine spotlights on his platinum-selling collaborations (including "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and "Wichita Lineman") with songwriter Jimmy Webb, his years as the star of the CBS series Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour and his memorable role in the Oscar-winning film True Grit.
Ample space is devoted to Campbell’s passions outside of music, particularly his family life. An intimate look inside the Campbells’ marriage is revealed in a love letter that Campbell penned to his wife for their 25th anniversary.
“You are the most wonderful woman and a dear-dear-friend my lover my hope my light,” he wrote (with scant punctuation) in 2007.
“Glen hadn’t gotten me a card,” Kim Campbell recalled, “so he wrote me one, and it was a total surprise, and it was just so sweet and precious, and it means so much to me. I’m glad to share it with everyone.”
Attention also is paid to Campbell’s bittersweet final years, when he continued to perform and record even as he struggled with the disease that would claim his life. His heroic battle and final concert tour with his and Kim’s three children, all musicians, were captured in the critically acclaimed documentary, Glen Campbell ... I'll Be Me.
“When he got that diagnosis,” Kim Campbell said, “he helped remove the stigma of that disease. With the film, he helped encourage people by saying, keep living your life and doing what you love with the people you love.”
Campbell’s spirit is perhaps best exemplified in the museum’s stage, which his wife added to offer opportunities to new generations of artists. Several display cases are on wheels, so they can be moved aside to create a 130-seat space for singers, songwriters and even comics to perform.
“My concept is to have a variety stage,” Kim Campbell said. “Glen would just love the fact that we’re going to bring new talent to people’s attention.”
The Glen Campbell Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Ticket prices range from $15 to $19. A portion of the proceeds is being donated to Abe’s Garden.