The influence that Glen Campbell has had on artists of every genre is undeniable. But with the decision of his family to go public with the legendary entertainer’s 2011 Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis, his extraordinary legacy has become even more significant and farther-reaching.
On Sunday, June 28th at 9:00 p.m. ET, CNN will exclusively broadcast the profoundly moving documentary film, Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, a revealing look back at the phenomenal career of Campbell, who went from in-demand L.A. session guitarist to pop-country superstar around the world thanks to such iconic hits as “Gentle on My Mind,” “Galveston” and “Rhinestone Cowboy.” Among his fellow performers who comment on Campbell’s influence are Keith Urban, Vince Gill, Kathy Mattea, Brad Paisley, John Carter Cash, Sheryl Crow, Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney and U2 guitarist The Edge. Campbell’s final recording, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” won a Grammy for Best Country Song earlier this year. Campbell and the song’s co-writer, Julian Raymond, were also nominated for an Oscar for the emotional tune.
Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me is a heartbreaking but celebratory document of the musician’s final album and his Goodbye Tour, which expanded from a five-week trek to 151 sold-out shows in an 18-month period, yet at its core, the film bravely details the Campbell family’s coming to grip with the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, as the performer’s children, including Ashley, Shannon and Cal, who were members of his touring band, rally together in support of their dad, just as the Country Music Hall of Fame member’s fans and friends have done, especially since his diagnosis was first revealed.
“It’s a great way to get the message out there,” Campbell’s daughter, Ashley Campbell, tells Rolling Stone Country of I’ll Be Me. “The film is definitely not what you think of when you think of a documentary about Alzheimer’s. I think the beauty of it is that my dad is such a personable person. He’s so charismatic and funny and just real, and it really shines through in this film. He puts a real human face on this disease that a lot of people are dealing with that we don’t really hear about it a lot in the media. That’s the conversation we’re hoping to start, that it’s real and it happens to people we love and that we need to personalize it.”
Included in the film is a historic stop in Washington, D.C., during which the Campbell family testified before Congress, lobbying members for more research funding for a cure and meeting with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.
Acknowledging the widespread effect Alzheimer’s has had on millions around the globe, Ashley says, “Everyone goes through a similar process and through this ongoing grief that happens as we take care of our loved ones with Alzheimer’s. When people see the film they talk to me afterwards, they’re just so relieved that it’s not just them going through these things. They’re not alone in this.”
Although she reveals that her father, who is currently at a memory care facility in Nashville, is progressing into the late stages of the disease, Ashley says her dad is physically very healthy, adding, “He’s calm most of the time, which is kind of all you can ask for in the late stages, that he’s calm, content and happy and feels a lot of love in his life. Because he has aphasia, he can’t really communicate very well. He doesn’t really understand anything that anyone tells him anymore and he can’t communicate with us very well. But he understands body language and sometimes very small words.”
While the aphasia has robbed Campbell of the ability to communicate, his daughter says he still comprehends things such as like hugs and taste and sometimes even music, although the latter can prove difficult.
“Overall, he’s just very happy and content in his own world and we just love hanging out with him. It’s all we can ask for,” she explains. “At least he’s not aggravated and scared and confused all the time. He’s happy and content and smiles most of the time. He still makes jokes and likes to play around, even though the jokes don’t make any sense and it’s gibberish; he still goes through the motions and it’s still him. Like, he’ll take a French fry and start smoking it like a cigar and give us all that ‘joke’ face. He likes to fake you out like he’s handing you something, when you reach out for it he pulls it back and just laughs. He still likes to make people laugh.”
In spite of tabloid reports of a rift between Campbell’s wife and family and his older children from previous marriages, Ashley insists that unlike some of those stories have suggested, “No family member has ever been denied a visit to my dad. Sometimes we have restrictions as far as for his privacy and safety, like restricting photos taken or items brought in, but no family member has ever been denied.
“We have some family members who don’t understand the disease and what he’s going through and like to make a fuss,” she continues. “What they don’t know is what they’re doing is a disservice to their dad and to people with Alzheimer’s everywhere and their families dealing with it. What I will say to any negativity that’s being spread out there by whomever and whenever, is that he is surrounded by love and he is getting the best care possible. He’s not missing out on anything. He’s being taken care of by people that love him and are making sure he has everything he needs.”
In addition to the broadcast of the documentary, CNN.com has created and curated content related to Alzheimer’s and its impact on people and families. There are medical facts about the disease, a digital short film about one man’s “cruel journey” with Alzheimer’s, and a look into Campbell’s own experience through excerpts from the film. CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta will also report for a digital series on the latest progress in Alzheimer’s research. Following the film, a custom public service message about advances in Alzheimer’s medical research will be presented and CNN’s Impact Your World will gather resources for families and sufferers of Alzheimer’s online.
Two days before the film’s TV debut, on Friday, June 26th, at 12:00 p.m. ET, Campbell’s wife, Kim, and CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen will answer questions on Facebook, allowing users to share their questions about the disease and the challenges facing families and loved ones with relatives suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Since participating in the documentary, Ashley Campbell has signed to Dot Records, the rejuvenated Nashville label under the Big Machine Label Group umbrella. Her first single, “Remembering,” which she wrote as a tribute to her dad, comes out in early July and is also featured in the film and on the soundtrack.
Campbell says her LP, which she will be recording later this year, will be driven by two main elements: songs she has written in the last couple of years and, of course, plenty of banjo, including an instrumental written and performed with her godfather, legendary banjo picker Carl Jackson. A release date for the new album has yet to be announced.
Glen Campbell: Ill Be Me premieres Sunday, June 28th at 9:00 p.m. ET on CNN, and will be presented with limited commercial interruptions. An encore of the film will follow at 10:48 p.m. ET.