Country star Glen Campbell dies at 81

Glen Campbell performs during the Country Music Association (CMA) Music Festival in Nashville, Tennessee June 7, 2012Image copyright

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Glen Campbell performs in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2012

Rhinestone Cowboy singer Glen Campbell has died at the age of 81 after “a long and courageous battle” with Alzheimer’s disease, his family said.

“It is with the heaviest of hearts that we announce the passing of our beloved husband, father, grandfather,” their statement said.

The legendary guitarist announced his Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 2011.

A self-taught prodigy, he rose from an impoverished childhood in Arkansas to sell 45 million records.

Campbell made his name in the music business as one of the top session guitarists in Los Angeles, working for producers like Phil Spector and Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys.

He played on hundreds of tracks including Daydream Believer by The Monkees, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling by The Righteous Brothers, Strangers in the Night by Frank Sinatra and Viva Las Vegas by Elvis Presley.

But Campbell always wanted to make it under his own name.

After a string of flops, in 1967 he finally found his distinctive country pop sound with hits like Gentle on My Mind and By the Time I Get to Phoenix.

The peak of Glen Campbell’s career was in 1975 when he topped the charts around the world with Rhinestone Cowboy.

He was credited with paving the way for other country crossover artists such as Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers.

By the end of the 1960s, Campbell was the fastest rising star in American pop with his own TV show and a starring role in the original version of True Grit.

But his private life was in turmoil.

Divorce, drink and drugs saw the clean-cut all-American hero fall from grace.

A tempestuous relationship with country star Tanya Tucker was front-page news.

Despite a relapse in 2003, when he was arrested for drunk-driving, and his police mug shot was shown around the world, the last two decades had been more settled.

He remarried, started a new family and renewed his Christian faith, while a new generation discovered his music.

Like his friend Johnny Cash, Campbell released acclaimed new albums with younger musicians, covering songs by contemporary artists like U2 and The Foo Fighters.

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