When Kim Campbell met her future husband on a blind date, she had no idea the joy and heartbreak that lie ahead during her 34-year with the Grammy-winning icon. In a revealing new book, Gentle On My Mind: In Sickness and in Health with Glen Campbell, Campbell shares her journey in heartbreaking detail, sharing her husband’s battle with alcoholism and demise from Alzheimer’s as well as their happy moments raising their three talented children.
“The documentary told our journey with Alzheimer’s specifically through the early and middle stages, but it didn’t tell the rest of the story and that’s when the going got really hard,” Campbell tells Sounds Like Nashville, referencing the 2014 documentary I’ll Be Me.” “When the film came out, there were about six million diagnosed in the country with about 15 million caregivers. I’m sure that number has increased today, but all of a sudden our film was helping people be seen and heard because we were telling their story too. It made such an impact on them that when I started going through the final stages I thought, ‘Well nobody is telling this story and this is the hardest part.’ That’s when I was down in the trenches and that’s when it is so overwhelming. It consumed me and my children, and it did consume Glen.”
The legendary entertainer died August 8, 2017 at the age of 81. His wife chronicles how difficult the last few years of his life were and eventually they became unable to care for him at home. She knows it’s an experience shared by many other families. “I became a part of a support group,” she says, “and when I realized that my experience with depression, the heartache, the stress and the challenges I was facing was something that was common to other women losing their spouses to dementia, I saw that they needed to be uplifted and I did too, so that’s when I started my blog, careliving.org, to encourage other women.”
Of course, life with the multi-faceted entertainer wasn’t all heartbreak and struggle. Early in the book, Campbell shares the excitement of their first date. She had been set up on the blind date by one of her friends and by famed musician Carl Jackson, who was in Glen’s band at the time. Kim was a dancer at Radio City Music Hall in New York and their first date was a James Taylor concert. “It was fun,” she says. “It was an exciting time to be 22-years-old in New York and have all this happen to me. I just couldn’t believe it. It was amazing.”
She recalls Glen making an immediate impression because he was 45-years-old at the time and very different from the guys she had previously dated. “The thing that struck me the most about my first date, I had never dated a real man before. I was 22-years-old. I dated college guys, surfers, that kind of thing, people in their teens and early 20’s. The first time I laid my eyes on Glen, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness! He is so unbelievably good looking!’ He was tall and he had a deep sexy voice. He was a real man and had such charisma and authority. He was a bigger than life man. His presence filled the room, every room that he walked into and it was incredible. It was something I’d never experienced before.”
The book also details Campbell’s early life growing up in Arkansas and the extreme poverty he had overcome on his way to stardom. “He had a really hard childhood. There was a lot of love but it was also brutal, almost starving to death and being cold, not having shoes and the strict discipline that he was raised under,” says Campbell, who also shares details of his first three marriages. “Maybe people will understand a little bit more about Glen learning about his early relationships and the betrayal that he experienced with those relationships. All of that past heartache set him on that path toward alcoholism, and his search for God and the impact God made in his life. I hope it’s a testimony to others who are on the same journey and to look at other people who are going through those hard times with more compassion.”
Campbell says her husband was always very open about his life with Alzheimer’s and instead of hiding from the world, he went on a final tour that he hoped would encourage and educate people. “He told the world he had Alzheimer’s and just embraced life,” she says proudly. “He continued to do what he loved with the people he loved and had joy. He faced it so courageously and he wanted to change the world. He wanted to change the way we look at dementia, to remove it’s stigma. He opened up an actual conversation about the disease. We went to Washington and we were able to help move the country forward in terms of funding more research. At the time we did our film they were spending about 400 million a year on all neurological disorders and now today I think it’s at 2.8 billion so that’s quite an increase. We’re really happy about that. He set out to do all of that and he wanted to tell the truthful real story about what it was like. I wanted to continue that with my book.”
Gentle on My Mind also chronicles Kim and Glen’s life before the ravages of the disease, including encounters with other celebrities like Mick Fleetwood and Waylon Jennings as well as how her husband helped launch Alan Jackson’s career after meeting his wife Denise on an airplane. She spotlights Glen’s friendship with fellow golf enthusiast and rock icon Alice Cooper and longtime close friendship with legendary songwriter Jimmy Webb. The book also candidly shares her struggles with Glen’s older children from a previous marriage challenging how she was caring for her husband during his Alzheimer’s decline and the public legal battle that ensued as they tried to move him to another state.
Campbell doesn’t shy away from covering any part of her tumultuous life with her husband, including his alcoholism. She tells of how she once hid a tape recorder and recorded one of his drunken binges so he could hear what he was like drunk because when he’d sober up the next day, he had no idea how mean he had been the night before. She also shares how their faith played a huge role in Glen overcoming his drinking.
“I deal with two diseases: Alzheimer’s and alcoholism,” she says of the struggles recounted in the book. “I hope people realize that for either one of those diseases, they cannot do it alone. I really truly believe that God and faith is a really important part of facing either one of those experiences. Faith really got me through it. I don’t think I could have made it without my faith… and a sense of humor is very important as well.”
Campbell was also blessed to have a strong support group in her family and friends. “Alzheimer’s impacts the entire family and I feel like my children almost lost a decade out of their own lives, their own personal development and growth,” she says. “None of them were married yet and all of them were in their 30’s and it just took a toll. I know it took a toll on them not just in terms of their time being dedicated to Glen—and to me because they were taking care of me too so I didn’t lose it—but in terms of their emotional well being. It’s a big impact. I think we’re still trying to figure out how much it has affected all of us.”
These days Campbell continues to helm The Kim & Glen Campbell Foundation, whose goal is advancing the use of music as medicine to alleviate depression, manage behaviors, and boost the immune system. She has also returned to her first love—dancing. “I started taking a ballet class at Nashville Ballet before the coronavirus hit and I’m looking forward to going back. I love it. It’s my therapy,” she says. “Dance has always been a passion so I’ve also been working on developing some dance programs that can go into assisted living communities and memory care communities for people to watch me on the screen and follow along to beautiful music combining movement and music as a therapy. It’s dance people do sitting in their chairs because you should never stop moving. You can always stretch no matter what. There are some handicaps that, of course, you can’t exercise, but in general, age should not prevent you from being able to stretch and move and enjoy music and movements. I like to help with that.”
She’s also getting her life back in other ways. “I’m trying to move on with my life,” she continues. “I’m dating and enjoying life as best as I can, and just reconnecting with my friends all over the country. Hopefully, I’ll start working on another book soon.”
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As his birthday approaches, Cal Campbell ponders the meaning of 'gifts' and some of the unexpected hardships of understanding his father who is living with #Alzheimers. He reminds us that some gifts come from within and that just because a person's mind is gone doesn't mean that they've stopped giving. Read more at http://www.careliving.org/finding-the-gift-cal-campbell/ #dementia #careliving #caregiving #glencampbell #calcampbell
Campbell also revels in seeing her kids blossom. “I’m excited about my kids. Cal is part of Beck’s band, but of course that tour got canceled so we’re looking forward to all musicians getting back on tour. Ashley has a new album that she’s getting ready to release. I’m really proud of her, and Shannon is out in LA working on his new music as well too. I’m proud of the kids. They are a big part of my life.”
Campbell is hoping people will gain helpful information and be encouraged after reading Gentle on My Mind. “An important piece of information for any caregiver is you’ve got to take care of yourself if you are going to care for someone else. You won’t be a good caregiver if you don’t take care of yourself,” she says. “I also wanted to emphasize looking for joy every single day, appreciating and cherishing every single moment and looking for the humor in things, looking on the light side of things and being thankful for all your blessings. That’s the way I wanted my blog to be and I hope that’s the way my book is. I wanted to encourage people and to give them some inspiration to meet some of the challenges they were facing and to not lose hope.”