Glen Campbell's Alzheimer's announced in advance of final tour

Country singer and session guitarist, known for hits such as Rhinestone Cowboy, makes candid statement about his health

It's some time since popular music was strictly a young person's game, but Glen Campbell's reason for retiring is nonetheless striking: the veteran country singer, now 75, has announced that he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Campbell – for more than 40 years one of US music's best-loved acts and most instantly recognisable voices – gave the news via an interview with the US entertainment magazine People. His openness was welcomed by campaigners for those with the disease.

While the Alzheimer's is still in its early stages, Campbell plans to release just one more album, in August, before a farewell tour, which reaches the UK in the autumn.

"Glen is still an awesome guitar player and singer," his wife, Kim, told the magazine. "But if he flubs a lyric or gets confused on stage, I wouldn't want people to think, 'What's the matter with him? Is he drunk?'" Campbell did endure well-publicised problems with alcohol and drugs but has been clean for some years. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's six months ago, although his short-term memory has been poor for some time.

Born into rural poverty in Arkansas, the musical prodigy began his career as a sought-after and prolific session guitarist, playing with the Beach Boys – who he briefly joined – Frank Sinatra, and on many Phil Spector recordings. He achieved solo fame in the late 1960s with a trio of melancholic Jimmy Webb-penned songs: Wichita Lineman, By The Time I Get To Phoenix and Galveston. Over the intervening decades he notched up many more hits – notably 1975's US number one Rhinestone Cowboy – and also branched out as a TV variety show host and sometime actor, appearing opposite John Wayne in the original True Grit.

Although widely respected, Campbell was for some time seen largely as a nostalgia act. This perception began shifting in 2008 when he recorded the whimsically titled Meet Glen Campbell, a well-received album of cover versions by modern acts including Foo Fighters, Green Day and U2.

Campbell's candidapproach to his health is rare in an entertainment industry where stars diagnosed with Alzheimer's tend to disappear into silent privacy rather than speak about their condition. In the UK, the issue has been highlighted by the author Terry Pratchett, who two years ago was diagnosed with a rare early form of Alzheimer's.

Bob Harris, the veteran DJ who hosts a country music show on BBC Radio 2, said he had watched Campbell record a TV appearance a couple of months before. "He had clearly, then, disappeared slightly into a zone, as it were. But the one thing that was not in any way affected was his guitar playing," he said.

"He's much more than just a country star. It's worth remembering all the session work he did – he was the guitar for hire and those skills have never left him.

"As that rock and roll generation have got older, people have retired for wear-and-tear reasons like hearing, but I don't think I've heard of this before," he said. "How brave to do this final tour, to go out on the road and expose this to people, knowing that he has this condition. It's new for us, in our generation, to face this."

The Alzheimer's Society said it welcomed Campbell's move. "Being diagnosed with Alzheimer's can be difficult but we applaud Glen for speaking out about his condition," the organisation's chief executive, Jeremy Hughes, said. "There are currently 750,000 people living with dementia in the UK and this is set to rise to one million in 10 years yet there is still much stigma surrounding the condition.

"Having a celebrity talk openly about their personal experience helps us improve awareness and also spread the message much further that it can happen to anyone."


Peter Walker

The GuardianTramp

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