Glen Campbell Documentary Strikes Chord on Alzheimer’s

Late legendary singer Glen Campbell’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease is documented in a new film.

In the new documentary film “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me,” local producer/director James Keach chronicles the former Malibu resident and Rhinestone Cowboy’s struggles with Alzheimer’s disease as he plays more than 150 concerts for his “Goodbye Tour” in the U.S., Australia and Europe. 

“We thought it would take five weeks and it turned into 151 shows and two-and-a half years. Glen was such a compelling character and very authentic…We tried to make the film uplifting and entertaining as well as poignant,” Keach said of the filmmaking process.

Keach ended up with 1,200 hours of film and was faced with the task of whittling it down to movie length. He wanted to “stay true to Glen and stay true to the tour,” so he decided not to make a biopic. Some history is included for “people who didn’t know Glen in his heyday,” Keach said.

“It helps to have someone who’s been a superstar for the last 40 or 50 years, because there was all kinds of footage available,” Keach said. “That set up the beginning of the film where he’s watching family movies and asking his wife who different people are, including himself.”

Viewers are exposed to Campbell’s everyday health struggle.

“Glen Campbell allowed himself to be shown at his most vulnerable and put a human face on Alzheimer’s,” Keach said. “It was like when Magic Johnson said he had AIDS. Most people don’t talk about Alzheimer’s because there’s a lot of shame connected with it.  This movie creates conversation about it.”

Keach believes the documentary could affect change on the way the country talks about Alzheimer’s.

“The Mayo Clinic, Volunteers of America, etc., have seen the film and have given us money for distribution without expecting anything in return,” Keach said. “They want to create advocates out of people. Even former President Clinton said, ‘If enough people see this film, it will change the conversation about Alzheimer’s.’”

Glen’s wife, Kim, said her husband is now in a “memory-care community.” 

“It’s sad to see someone you love deteriorate, but I just count my blessings – I’m healthy, my children are healthy, and I can still go and hug [Glen],” she added.

“He’s much more comfortable [in his new home] – less agitated and frantic, and more peaceful,” Kim said. “He can only make small sentences, but still has a spiritual awareness. He still knows who I am; he laughs, and still tries to tell a joke. When we laugh, that makes him happy.”

Kim affirmed that Glen wanted to do the film. “At the beginning, he was only in the early stages of Alzheimer’s,” she said. “In 2007, he was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. We then went to the Mayo Clinic to find out if he had Alzheimer’s. Before the ‘Mayo test’ was developed, the only way to find out for sure if someone had Alzheimer’s was to do an autopsy.”

Keach offered some thought-provoking statistics. 

“By the age of 85, one out of every two people will have dementia or Alzheimer’s.” 

In addition, “by the year 2025, the cost of treating people with Alzheimer’s will exceed the national defense budget.”

Just last week, The Hollywood Reporter speculated that Campbell could be eligible for an Oscar nomination this year for “Best Original Song” for co-writing “Not Gonna Miss You,” the song that plays over the credits of the documentary and the last song Campbell recorded.

The film is now vying with 134 other documentaries released this year to become one of the five “Best Documentary Feature” Oscar nominees.

The Campbells sold their Malibu home a couple of years ago when Glen moved to the memory-care facility. Their home and several scenes in the film were shot in Malibu. 

The singer-guitarist has released more than 70 albums, won nine Grammy awards, nine Academy of Country Music awards, and countless others. His mega-hits include “Galveston,” “Wichita Lineman” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.”