Alzheimer’s Silences Glen Campbell’s Guitar

Cruel disease has robbed the man behind 'Galveston' and 'Gentle on My Mind' of his musical abilities

by Zachary Leeman | Updated 20 Mar 2017 at 5:05 PM

It’s a heartbreaking tragedy when an artist loses the ability to express himself. Musician Glen Campbell’s wife told The Tennessean this week that her husband has lost his capacity to do the two things that made him famous — sing and play guitar.

Related: ‘Glen Campbell Loves the Lord’

Kim Campbell revealed that her husband’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis has prevented him from doing what he did best. She said he is dependent on her for care and only occasionally breaks into an air guitar performance, which is “kind of fun.”

She said he still tries to sing, though “it’s not a melody we recognize — but you can tell that it’s a happy song and he has a song in his heart.”

Glen Campbell — the man behind classic tunes like “Gentle on My Mind,” “Galveston,” and “Rhinestone Cowboy” — was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2011. Shortly after, the singer went on a final tour, where his disease grew progressively worse.

Related: How the Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’ Changed Music Forever

He would fire bands and later forget why — and he would need to be reminded of set lists while onstage.

Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that progressively diminishes memory and daily behavior. It is a fatal disease, as many diagnosed with it only survive two to eight years after it has taken full effect.

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Glen and Kim Campbell live in Nashville, Tennessee, where they receive support from family and friends, including their son and daughter — both musicians themselves.

"People don't understand that Alzheimer's is not just about losing your short-term memory and then your long-term memory," Kim Campbell said. "But you can become paranoid, suspicious, violent. [Patients] just lose their ability to think or reason. They can wander off and not know where they are going or why they are motivated to leave the premises."

A 2014 documentary captured Glen Campbell's progressive disease and his wife's struggles to care for him. It was entitled, "Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me."

The film led to Campbell's final song and his last time in a studio. "I'm Not Gonna Miss You" took on the reality of Campbell's disease and its hold on his life and relationships.

"I'm still here, but yet I'm gone. I don't play guitar or sing my songs. They never defined who I am. The man that loves you 'til the end," the lyrics read, in part.

They continue, "I'm never gonna know what you go through. All the things I say or do. All the hurt and all the pain. One thing selfishly remains. I'm not gonna miss you."

Campbell co-wrote the song with Julian Raymond. Even in the face of an artist's worst nightmare, the legendary musician still managed to let his voice ring out one more time.

One of an artist's only jobs in life is to express himself or herself honestly. Losing the ability to do so is like a carpenter losing his hands or a runner losing her legs.

Related: For Glen Campbell, An Unfamiliar Tune

Fortunately, Campbell leaves behind an unmatched legacy of art through music. And now, even in his worst condition, he is surrounded by family, friends and supporters. In the face of his fatal disease and the loss of his ability to create, that is something for which we can all be thankful.

  1. Alzheimer's
  2. galveston
  3. gentle on my mind
  4. Glen Campbell
  5. music
  6. rhinestone cowboy
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