Encore: Glen Campbell Documents Farewell Tour In 'I'll Be Me' Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me follows the country singer's goodbye tour and his decline from Alzheimer's disease. NPR's Robert Siegel talks to director James Keach and Campbell's wife, Kim Campbell.
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Encore: Glen Campbell Documents Farewell Tour In 'I'll Be Me'

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Encore: Glen Campbell Documents Farewell Tour In 'I'll Be Me'

Encore: Glen Campbell Documents Farewell Tour In 'I'll Be Me'

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Glen Campbell was honored last night at the Academy of Country Music honors with a career achievement award. He has sold tens of millions of albums in a career that has spanned six decades, hit after hit, especially in the 1960s and '70s.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RHINESTONE COWBOY")

GLEN CAMPBELL: (Singing) Like a rhinestone cowboy riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeo.

SIEGEL: Mr. Campbell wasn't at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville to receive his award. His wife, Kim, accepted it on his behalf because he is in the late stages of Alzheimer's. He announced his diagnosis about five years ago, and his early struggles with the disease can be seen in a film that came out in October of 2014. That's when I spoke about it with Campbell's wife and the film's director who captured a family seeing a loved one begin to slip away and a man saying goodbye to his career.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GLEN CAMPBELL: I'LL BE ME")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I'd like you to try to remember four words, OK? I'm going to give you four words. You try to remember them now.

G. CAMPBELL: If, and and but is my big one.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

SIEGEL: This is Campbell and his wife Kim at the Mayo Clinic. It's a scene from a new documentary called "Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me." It's about his Alzheimer's and the farewell tour of concerts Campbell played with his children even as the disease was advancing.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GLEN CAMPBELL: I'LL BE ME")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Mr. Johnson.

G. CAMPBELL: Mr. Johnson.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Charity.

G. CAMPBELL: Charity.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And tunnel.

G. CAMPBELL: And tunnel.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: OK. Can you give those back to me now?

G. CAMPBELL: No. I have no use for it now.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: OK, any of them?

G. CAMPBELL: (Laughter) I just already passed it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: They're gone already, OK.

G. CAMPBELL: I can play guitar.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Laughter).

SIEGEL: Director James Keach and Kim Campbell, welcome to the program.

KIM CAMPBELL: Thank you.

SIEGEL: It's a stunning scene where we're witnessing Glen Campbell's loss of memory but not his loss of his sense of humor. That's - what an odd condition he was in at that moment.

K. CAMPBELL: That's just the way he's always been. He's always had just a great sense of humor and...

SIEGEL: Yeah.

K. CAMPBELL: ...Loves to laugh.

JAMES KEACH: He was - in fact when we were doing that, he would call it part timers. He made light of it even when he was given the diagnosis.

SIEGEL: James Keach, you have to describe what you filmed here. It's both an intimate documentary about Glen Campbell and his family, his wife, his children and a musician's tour around the country.

KEACH: Yes. It certainly was a tour. My partner Trevor Albert and I set out to try and find a light in a very dark space. And as soon as we met Glen and Kim, the light turned on. I mean, they said Glen has announced he's got Alzheimer's. A few years before, I'd made a movie called "Walk The Line," and they thought, oh, gee, you understand about making musical bios. Well, I don't necessarily know how to make a bio about a guy with Alzheimer's, and we were very reluctant to do it.

And we thought, well, it's five weeks. And then it turned into 151 shows. And the thing that's really cool is that the audience becomes this character in the film that lifts this man up at his most vulnerable. They rally around him. And there's a lot of comedy in it, and that's Glen.

SIEGEL: Yeah.

KEACH: You know, Glen's funny.

SIEGEL: Here's a part of the film in which Glen is playing at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. He played a few nights. It was a hugely important stop on the tour. And it starts out with a complete train wreck.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GLEN CAMPBELL: I'LL BE ME")

G. CAMPBELL: (Singing) 'Cause it's knowing that your door is always open and your path is free to walk. And makes me (stuttering). You got a thing going here?

SIEGEL: The teleprompter went out.

KEACH: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GLEN CAMPBELL: I'LL BE ME")

G. CAMPBELL: Now what is that - the words - you have to have one of those things on me 'cause I've forgot everything I learned.

(LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: And the show goes on. Kim Campbell, were people at that moment thinking, maybe this wasn't such a great idea - this tour?

K. CAMPBELL: Well, you know, Glen took everything in stride and the audience, you know, just pick up on that same attitude. And they didn't care. They were there to cheer him on.

SIEGEL: He needed the teleprompter for the lyrics, but he's playing. I mean he remembers the music. And if the teleprompter said, play solo, Glen, he would then say, play solo, Glen. He would read it off the teleprompter...

KEACH: He did.

SIEGEL: ...During this.

KEACH: He would read, Glen, play solo, and then he'd start doing it. It was awesome.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GLEN CAMPBELL: I'LL BE ME")

G. CAMPBELL: I'll play one now (playing guitar).

KEACH: When we started the film, we were focused on, how can this guy go play music with Alzheimer's? And he didn't have shame for having Alzheimer's. When I would say, hey, Glen, how's the Alzheimer's coming along? I'd say it to him - you know, when I first said it people look at me like, what are you doing, man?

SIEGEL: Yeah.

KEACH: You don't talk about - the guy's got Alzheimer's. And I said, exactly. Why are we making the movie? So we would ask him things like, so what's it like to forget stuff? And he'd go, it sucks. It sucks. And then he'd joke about it. And by the time he was done with the joking and regaling what he'd forgotten, he felt safe, and everybody else felt safe. And it was an opportunity for the elephant to be in the room and to be OK with it.

SIEGEL: He's playing with his kids. Is it fair to say that he would have had trouble naming his children on stage when he was performing and crediting who the musicians were?

KEACH: I don't think he could have. He'd go, that's my baby girl. He would say that all the time. And he'd look over at Cal, the drummer, and he'd kind of cock his head. He knew - he always knew that they were his children and that they were part of him and that he loved them but not by name.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GLEN CAMPBELL: I'LL BE ME")

G. CAMPBELL: My darling...

ASHLEY CAMPBELL: Introduce me, dad.

G. CAMPBELL: Huh?

A. CAMPBELL: Introduce me.

G. CAMPBELL: I have. I got it right here.

(LAUGHTER)

G. CAMPBELL: I had to write it down or you would have got it first.

A. CAMPBELL: You're funny.

SIEGEL: Kim Campbell, he has at home with you one - in the movie at least - one full-throated tantrum.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GLEN CAMPBELL: I'LL BE ME")

K. CAMPBELL: Here. What you need to do is go to the dentist down the street and have them fix it.

G. CAMPBELL: No. And I ain't going to do it either. I don't want to (unintelligible) there.

SIEGEL: Was that the one tantrum he had during that year and whatever, or was that a much more common occurrence?

K. CAMPBELL: It was a more common occurrence. There were some really dark places, you know, and experiences that we had.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GLEN CAMPBELL: I'LL BE ME")

K. CAMPBELL: You just had a knife in your mouth on the bus a few minutes ago.

G. CAMPBELL: I did not.

K. CAMPBELL: Yes, you did.

G. CAMPBELL: (Unintelligible).

K. CAMPBELL: But that's the nature of this disease. They can become very agitated. They can hallucinate. So it's a balancing act that caregivers have to, you know, dance to keep everybody happy and everything even keel and redirect them if they begin to go off into kind of a dark area.

SIEGEL: He's now in a long-term care facility?

K. CAMPBELL: Yes.

SIEGEL: Does he play guitar while he's there?

K. CAMPBELL: Yes. He has two guitars in his room. He still does pick it up every now and then.

KEACH: He tuned - he - last - we went to see him last week, and he picked it up, and he tuned it. And he still plays better than I do.

(LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: Glen Campbell can lose a lot of skill at the guitar and still play a lot better than most people who picked up a guitar.

KEACH: That's right.

K. CAMPBELL: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WICHITA LINEMAN")

G. CAMPBELL: (Singing) And I need you more than want you.

SIEGEL: Kim Campbell and filmmaker James Keach two years ago speaking about the Glen Campbell documentary "I'll Be Me."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WICHITA LINEMAN")

G. CAMPBELL: (Singing) And the Wichita lineman is still on the line.

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