2014 has featured an impressive number of documentaries. Life Itself, about dearly departed film critic Roger Ebert; Keep on Keepin’ On, a chronicle of an old man and a young man helping one another; Documented,a portrait of the undocumented immigrant experience in 21st century America; The Case Against 8, which takes one into the center of the gay marriage debate; and the list goes on and on. However, none of them made me break into the “ugly cry” like James Keach’s...I’ll Be Me.
As I ‘ve mentioned many times writing this blog, I am a HUGE fan of country music. Especially the old school country…Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, Tanya Tucker, Barbara Mandrell, Alabama and Glen Campbell.
In 2011, Glen Campbell made two major announcements. He was going on tour and had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. In the midwest, when we had a relative who was having memory issues, we would just say they “lost time” or “were crazy’ or “senile”. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive mental deterioration that can occur in middle or old age, due to generalized degeneration of the brain. It is the most common cause of premature senility.
The farewell tour was chronicled for Glen Campbell … I’ll Be Me, which premiered at the 2014 Nashville Film Festival, is the documentation of Glen’s slow descent into dementia witnessed by his family, friends, mentors, fans and county music community. For three years, a film crew captured the singer as he confronted the illness.
Sitting in a small, dark theatre with his wife Kim, they gaze on a larger than life movie screen watching a myriad of images with Glen ranging from childhood to adulthood, revealing various children and wives. He is barely able to recall any of them, their names or the situations being witnessed onscreen, but the minute he watches himself playing a song or hear his recordings, his memory becomes razor-sharp. Throughout the doc, we witness clips on tour and at home which show Campbell struggling to retain those moments that made him famous.
You see, most people with Glen’s advanced stage of Alzheimer’s can barely function or speak and need around-the-clock care. His doctors were baffled until they realized that there was the part of his brain where he memorized lyrics and dealt with music that was slowed down his progression on a significant level. It’s a heart-breaking battle that is all too familiar to millions of individuals and their families.
And then, there are the moments when you realize he is slowly becoming a danger to himself, when he places a pocket knife in his mouth to get “something out of his teeth” or the irrational emotional outbursts over what most would consider little to nothing…but are monumental to him. As his condition worsened, Campbell was forced to cancel live dates in Australia and New Zealand. It became no longer feasible for him to stay at home. The mansion in Malibu is for sale and Campbell was moved to an Alzheimer’s facility in Nashville.
“It’s really sad to see someone losing their memory bit by bit,” says Campbell’s wife Kim Campbell. “Especially when you’ve had such a fantastic life and then not to be able to remember it.” Kim also told Country Weekly that he now has trouble speaking and requires constant attention, adding that his advanced disease has brought on side effects including anxiety, agitation and depression.
It’s been a difficult journey for a musical legend; Campbell was one of the first musicians to top both country and pop charts. There are wonderful moments of him sharing the stage with his beloved children and the joy he gets just from the roar of an audience welcoming him back home…on stage.
His daughter Ashley says his advancing Alzheimer’s had compromised his musical abilities, noting that when she toured with him in 2011, he would often forget the words to his own songs while onstage. “I think a person’s life is comprised of memories, and that’s exactly what Alzheimer’s disease takes away from you,” noted Ashley. “Now when I play banjo with my dad, it’s getting harder for him to follow along and it’s getting harder for him to recall my name. It’s hard to come to the realization that someday my dad might look at me and I will be absolutely nothing to him.”
Rolling Stone profiled Campbell in 2011, with various musicians speaking about his musical influence. “He had that beautiful tenor with a crystal-clear guitar sound, playing lines that were so inventive,” said Tom Petty. “It moved me.” Fellow session legend Leon Russell also spoke about his guitar finesse: “He was the best guitar player I’d heard before or since,” he said. “Occasionally we’d play with 50- or 60-piece orchestras. His deal was he didn’t read [music], so they would play it one time for him, and he had it.”
Whether you like country music or not, Alzheimer’s disease and the people we know affected by it is truly six degrees of separation. Many of my dearest friends have relatives suffering from this disease or have had them slowly deteriorate into someone they don’t recognize anymore. Go see I’ll Be Me if for nothing else to be encouraged by Campbell and his family’s courageousness of telling his story with the hopes of helping someone else understand the symptoms and seriousness of Alzheimer’s, as well as, the joy that can be experienced by celebrating a loved one NOW and not after they are gone.
Contact your Congressman, The White House and anyone else who will listen and urge them to stop so much spending on nuclear weapons and deal with a real war on the mind in our own backyard…Alzhieimer’s Disease.
For more information and/or to make a donation please log onto www.illbemefoundation.org to donate in honor of Glen Campbell, his family and all those yet to be diagnosed.
Thanks to Eric Osuna/LTLA Communications for his assistance in securing interviews at the premiere and with I’ll Be Me Director…James Keach. Enjoy those events below…