Glen Campbell, the sweet-voiced, guitar-picking son of a sharecropper who became a recording, television and movie star in the 1960s and ’70s, waged a publicized battle with alcohol and drugs and gave his last performances while in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, died on Tuesday in Nashville. He was 81.
Tim Plumley, his publicist, said the cause was Alzheimer’s.
Mr. Campbell revealed that he had the disease in June 2011, saying it had been diagnosed six months earlier. He also announced that he was going ahead with a farewell tour later that year in support of his new album, “Ghost on the Canvas.” He and his wife, Kimberly Campbell, told People magazine that they wanted his fans to be aware of his condition if he appeared disoriented onstage.
What was envisioned as a five-week tour turned into 151 shows over 15 months. Mr. Campbell’s last performance was in Napa, Calif., on Nov. 30, 2012, and by the spring of 2014 he had moved into a long-term care and treatment center near Nashville.
Mr. Campbell released his final studio album, “Adiós,” in June. The album, which included guest appearances by Willie Nelson, Vince Gill and three of Mr. Campbell’s children, was recorded after his farewell tour.
That tour and the way he and his family dealt with the sometimes painful progress of his disease were chronicled in a 2014 documentary, “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me,” directed by the actor James Keach. Former President Bill Clinton, a fellow Arkansas native, appears in the film and praises Mr. Campbell for having the courage to become a public face of Alzheimer’s.
At the height of his career, Mr. Campbell was one of the biggest names in show business, his appeal based not just on his music but also on his easygoing manner and his apple-cheeked, all-American good looks. From 1969 to 1972 he had his own weekly television show, “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.” He sold an estimated 45 million records and had numerous hits on both the pop and country charts. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005.
Decades after Mr. Campbell recorded his biggest hits — including “Wichita Lineman,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Galveston” (all written by Jimmy Webb, his frequent collaborator for nearly 40 years) and “Southern Nights” (1977), written by Allen Toussaint, which went to No. 1 on pop as well as country charts — a resurgence of interest in older country stars brought him back onto radio stations.
Like Bobbie Gentry, with whom he recorded two Top 40 duets, and his friend Roger Miller, Mr. Campbell was a hybrid stylist, a crossover artist at home in both country and pop music.
“A change has come over country music lately,” he explained in 1968. “They’re not shuckin’ it right off the cob anymore. Roger Miller opened a lot of people’s eyes to the possibilities of country music, and it’s making more impact now because it’s earthy material, stories and things that happen to everyday people. I call it ‘people music.’ ”
Glen Campbell was born on April 22, 1936, about 80 miles southwest of Little Rock, Ark., between Billstown and Delight, where his father sharecropped 120 acres of cotton. He was the seventh son in a family of eight boys and four girls. When he was 4, his father ordered him a three-quarter-size guitar for $5 from Sears, Roebuck. He was performing on local radio stations by the time he was 6.
Picking up music from the radio and his church’s gospel hymns, he “got tired of looking a mule in the butt,” as Mr. Campbell put it in an interview with The New York Times in 1968. He quit school at 14 and went to Albuquerque, where his father’s brother-in-law, Dick Bills, had a band and was appearing on both radio and television.
After playing guitar and singing in what he called “fightin’ and dancin’ clubs” in Albuquerque with Mr. Bills’s band, Mr. Campbell moved to Los Angeles at 22 and in 1960 got a job playing with the Champs, a rock ’n’ roll group best known for its 1958 hit “Tequila.” There were stints with other, smaller bands, for smaller money.
But his skills eventually took him into the recording studios as a session musician, and for six years he provided accompaniment for a host of famous artists, including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, Elvis Presley, Rick Nelson and groups like the Beach Boys and the Mamas and the Papas.
Although he never learned to read music, Mr. Campbell was at ease not just on guitar but also on banjo, mandolin and bass. He wrote in his autobiography, “Rhinestone Cowboy” (1994) — the title was taken from one of his biggest hits — that in 1963 alone his playing and singing were heard on 586 recorded songs.
He could be a cut-up in recording sessions. “With his humor and energetic talents, he kept many a record date in stitches as well as fun to do,” the electric bassist Carol Kaye, who often played alongside Mr. Campbell, said in an interview in 2011. “Even on some of the most boring, he’d stand up and sing some off-color country song — we’d almost have a baby trying not to bust a gut laughing.”