Glen Campbell, heartfelt pop country star, dies at 81

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Glen Campbell
In this photo taken Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012, singer Glen Campbell performs during his Goodbye Tour in Little Rock, Ark. (Danny Johnston/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Glen Campbell, the singer-songwriter whose heartfelt performances of songs like "Wichita Lineman" and "Rhinestone Cowboy" made him a major country star with a crossover following, has died at the age of 81.

"It is with the heaviest of hearts that we announce the passing of our beloved husband, father, grandfather, and legendary singer and guitarist, Glen Travis Campbell, at the age of 81, following his long and courageous battle with Alzheimer's disease," writes Campbell's family on his website.

The prolific singer released dozens of albums during his half-century in show business, reaching his commercial peak from the late 1960s into the late 1970s as a touring star who was hard to avoid almost anywhere on the radio dial — particularly on country stations. His voice, at once robust and sympathetic, became a late-night companion and daytime distraction for everyone from long-distance truckers to humming homemakers.

Born in Billstown, Ark. in 1936 to a sharecropping family, Campbell quickly developed an interest in music and moved to Los Angeles in 1960. He became an in-demand session guitarist, playing with the legendary "Wrecking Crew" that helped define the California sound of the '60s. He played on the Beach Boys' classic Pet Sounds, and toured with the band for a brief period when Brian Wilson was holed up in the studio.

Campbell's first significant solo hit came with a 1965 cover of Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Universal Soldier," but it wasn't until a couple of years later that he broke out as a major country star. He was closely associated with the songwriter Jimmy Webb, who penned Campbell hits including "Wichita Lineman," "Galveston," and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix." In 1967, Campbell won four Grammys in both country and pop categories.

His round, handsome face became familiar to TV viewers starting in 1969, when he hosted a variety show that featured guests ranging from Johnny Cash to the Monkees. He was also an actor, notably appearing in 1969's True Grit. The title track, performed by Campbell, was nominated for an Oscar.

His biggest career hit was 1975's "Rhinestone Cowboy." Campbell's recording of the Larry Weiss song sold two million copies and inspired the 1984 Dolly Parton movie Rhinestone.

Campbell remained a regular pop-culture presence for the rest of his life, staying busy as a touring and recording artist as well as through high-profile collaborations and film appearances in movies like Any Which Way You Can and Rock-a-Doodle.

He was inducted into the Country Hall of Fame in 2005, and released a high-profile album called Meet Glen Campbell in 2008 — covering songs by the likes of U2, Tom Petty, and Green Day. A 2010 follow-up, Ghost on the Canvas, included collaborations with Billy Corgan, Jakob Dylan, and Paul Westerberg.

Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2011, and he embarked on a final career phase that was captured in the Grammy-winning documentary Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me. "I'm Not Gonna Miss You," a song from the film co-written by Campbell, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. His final album, Adiós, was released in June 2017.

"It's Campbell's voice," wrote Rolling Stone, "still nimble and newly haunting in its frailty, that makes Adiós a worthy conclusion from the legendary singer."

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