With news of the death of Glen Campbell at age 81, here’s a rerun of a piece I wrote in 2015…
I missed the documentary “I’ll Be Me” when it hit theaters last fall, but saw it on CNN last night and can’t get it out of my mind. It’s the story of music legend Glen Campbell, who was told in 2011 that he had Alzheimer’s, and follows him over the next year as he goes on his final tour across America.
We see his inability to remember the simplest things, but when he got on stage, the musical part of Campbell’s brain took over and he had no trouble playing scorching guitar solos and — with the help of a teleprompter — singing his greatest hits with a band that included three of his children. The film also shows Campbell’s struggles offstage, and the effect they had on his wife Kim, the musicians, and the support team that made his concerts flow as smoothly as possible. It also doesn’t shy away from showing the times he got confused onstage, but still had the support of a loving audience that knew they were seeing him for the last time.
Campbell may be best remembered for “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Southern Nights,” “Wichita Lineman,” and “Gentle On My Mind,” but his musical history goes back to his days as a member of The Wrecking Crew, that remarkable group of studio musicians who played on thousands of hit songs for crooners like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin as well as rockers like The Byrds and The Beach Boys.
Campbell was also a TV star, given a shot at stardom when Tommy Smothers hired him to do a summer replacement show for “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” on CBS in 1969. “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour,” with a writing staff that included Steve Martin and Rob Reiner, led to Campbell being cast opposite John Wayne in the original “True Grit.” Though he never had major TV or movie success after that, he continued touring and recording for the next four decades.
After the documentary was finished, Campbell’s condition worsened, and he was moved into an Alzheimer’s treatment facility, where reports say he’s now lost the power of speech. So this film contains the last footage we’ll ever have of Glen Campbell performing.
I have added “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me” to my Movies You Might Not Know list.