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Glen Travis Campbell brought country music to new audiences. He found success as a session musician before embarking on a solo career that included several smash hits. He announced he was suffering with Alzheimer’s disease in 2011.
USA TODAY

Glen Travis Campbell brought country music to new audiences. He found success as a session musician before embarking on a solo career that included smashes Gentle On My MindGalvestonWichita Lineman and Rhinestone Cowboy and that landed him in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Campbell died Tuesday at 81, according to his Universal Music publicist, Tim Plumley.

Plumley issued this statement from Campbell’s family: “It is with the heaviest of hearts that we announce the passing of our beloved husband, father, grandfather, and legendary singer and guitarist, Glen Travis Campbell, at the age of 81, following his long and courageous battle with Alzheimer’s disease.”

Campbell was born in Delight, Ark., the seventh son of a seventh son in a farming family.

“I spent the early parts of my life looking at the north end of a southbound mule and it didn’t take long to figure out that a guitar was a lot lighter than a plow handle,” he said in a late 1970s press bio.

More: Celebrities react to Glen Campbell’s death

Each member of Campbell’s family played guitar, and he received a $5 Sears & Roebuck guitar when he was 4 years old. By 6, he was a prodigy, internalizing music that ranged from simple country to sophisticated jazz. He dropped out of school in the 10th grade, left Arkansas and played in a New Mexico-based band led by his uncle, Dick Bills. He also married first wife Diane Kirk, though that marriage lasted fewer than three years.

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While playing an Albuquerque club called the Hitching Post, Campbell met Billie Nunley, who soon became his second wife. The newlyweds left for California in 1960, riding to Los Angeles in a 1957 Chevrolet with $300 and a small trailer full of meager belongings. Campbell found work playing in rock groups including The Champs, a band that included Jim Seals and Dash Crofts, who would later become the hit-making duo Seals & Crofts.

Campbell’s guitar acumen and versatility made him an essential player on Los Angeles’ thriving recording scene in the 1960s, and he contributed to sessions for Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Rick Nelson, The Mamas and The Papas, Merle Haggard…