At the National Alzheimer’s Dinner in 2013, my mom and I were seated at a table near the stage. Our table was on the outside edge near some curtains.
“Rhinestone Cowboy” cued up and everyone began to clap in time to the music. Suddenly, from behind the curtain, several people emerged. All eyes were on Glen Campbell as he brushed past us smiling and waving his way toward the stage.
Filmmakers James Keach and Trevor Alber were working on the documentary I’ll Be Me, the story of Glen’s Alzheimer’s journey. They were on hand to present the Sargent and Eunice Shriver Profiles in Dignity Award to Glen Campbell. Glen was a truly deserving recipient. His “Good-Bye Tour” and the documentary were unselfish ways of bringing a new level of awareness to a vast audience.
Glen seemed humbled by the award. His voice broke with emotion when he said, “Everyone’s been so good to me throughout my years as a musician. Thank you for helping me and my family.”
We sang “Happy Birthday” to the country music star and helped him celebrate his 77th birthday. I brushed away tears as my heart broke for the years he would be facing.
After the program, Glen posed to have his photo taken with many of the ladies, including my mom. He was charming and sweet, but I could see his hesitation and hear his halting words as he struggled to adapt to his new reality.
His daughter, Ashley, testified in front of a congressional hearing on Alzheimer’s. Advocates wearing purple Alzheimer’s sashes, packed the room. Ashley’s emotional testimony explained the changes in her relationship with her dad. She said it was hard for him to recall her name. Their times fishing together no longer lived in his memories.
Two years after the forum, I saw the documentary, I’ll Be Me. My impressions as written in a 2015 blog post:
It brought back memories of Jim’s loss of communication and musical skills. At least only family witnessed Jim’s problems and not a paying audience.
The Campbell family told of their struggles to make sure they walked the fine line between the cathartic benefits of Glen performing and being vigilant of him embarrassing himself. Audiences were tolerant. If he played the same song twice, so what? At least they got to see him perform.
Campbell’s physician felt that performing on his “Goodbye Tour,” doing what Glen loved, helped him maintain the ability to function longer. Sometimes his daughter, Ashley, had to tell her dad the correct key for certain songs. During their “dueling” instruments, her with a banjo, him with his guitar, she admitted that sometimes he didn’t always follow along. Glen relied heavily on Teleprompters to remind him of the words to songs he had sung for years.
When watching old family films, Glen asked, “Who’s that?” His wife, Kim, gently supplied the pertinent information: “It’s you, honey,” or “That’s your first wife,” or “It’s your oldest daughter.”
The film shows the relentless progression of Alzheimer’s disease. By the time of his final performance on stage, Glen did not know it was his last performance. Cal Campbell said that when his dad performed, “He actually becomes himself again.”
The story ended with the recording session of “I’m Not Going to Miss You.” At this point, Glen is already fading away but his eyes sparkle when he finally gets into the song. This song really tugs at the heartstrings. The idea stemmed from Campbell’s remark that he couldn’t figure out why everyone was so worried about him having Alzheimer’s. He said, “It’s not like I’m going to miss anyone, anyway.”
Glen Campbell’s Alzheimer’s story was heartrending and, oh, so familiar to millions who have lived a similar story. Today, August 8, 2017, Glen Campbell ended his courageous battle with Alzheimer’s, and the Rhinestone Cowboy rode to his final horizon.
Copyright © August 2017 by L.S. Fisherhttp://earlyonset.blogspot.com