On August 8th, legendary country music star Glen Campbell passed away after a long fight with Alzheimer’s disease. For many boomers, Campbell was the epitome of the country music superstar, taking the genre to incredible heights in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Among his many Top 40 hits were “Rhinestone Cowboy”, “Galveston” and “Gentle On My Mind”. He is a five-time winner of musician of the year, he has eight Grammy awards to his name and was awarded a Lifetime Achievement award in 2012. But it isn’t just his music legacy that should be remembered. In his final years, Campbell bravely gave the world a frank, real and uplifting look at what a life with Alzheimer’s is like.
Campbell learned of his illness shortly after completing what would be his final studio album. He was planning on going on tour when he was given the diagnosis. As a result, he album tour turned into his farewell tour. Similar to Gord Downie’s recent farewell tour following a terminal diagnosis, Campbell decided he was going to enjoy his passion and share it with other for as long as he possibly could. Alzheimer’s is a terrifying disease for many, but it’s hard to imagine the fear a musician must feel when met with a disease that robs them of their ability remember their own lyrics or even communicate words coherently. Campbell set aside such and took the stage. What’s more, he opened up his struggle with the disease for others to see.
While on his farewell tour, Campbell had a documentary crew follow along to chronicle his final bow from the stage and ultimately his mental decline from the disease. The film, Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, is harrowing at times, never shying away from the devastating moments of Campbell trying to remember who loved ones are, but it is also an uplifting and informative exploration of life with Alzheimer’s. Campbell never loses his dignity, his good spirits or his passion throughout the struggle, never letting it be the forefront of his life. He surrounds himself his loved ones (several of his children are in his back-up band) and never wastes a minute lamenting his current state. It is also an eye-opening account of caregiving to someone suffering through Alzheimer’s with his family being a constant presence by his side through it all.
Alzheimer’s is a disease we still know very little about and can be devastating to anyone who is affected by it, but through his bravery Glen Campbell allowed us all to see that even with such an affliction, you can still find ways to just be you.