Oscars 2015: Glen Campbell song captures his life with Alzheimer's

Glen Campbell lived the song 'I'm Not Gonna Miss You,' about life with Alzheimer's disease, as he recorded it

This is what lingers with actor and filmmaker James Keach from Glen Campbell's final recording session in 2013, capturing the song "I'm Not Gonna Miss You."

"I had my cameras in there," Keach said. "Sometimes Glen would stop and say, 'I'm so sorry. I can't remember.' The interesting thing to me is that sometimes he would forget the words, but he never forgot the music. He would always hit the notes."

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FOR THE RECORD:

Glen Campbell: In the Feb. 19 Calendar section, an article about Glen Campbell's song "I'm Not Gonna Miss You" said that his "Goodbye Tour" encompassed 152 shows and took place in 2012-13. It included 151 shows during 2011 and 2012. The article also said that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2012. That diagnosis came in 2011, and his final recording session for "I'm Not Gonna Miss You" occurred in 2012, not 2013.
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Likewise, he wouldn't always recall that he wrote the song with Julian Raymond. "He'd get through a whole sentence, and he'd say, 'That's really good. I like that song.' And we'd tell him, 'You wrote it.' And he'd say, 'Well, it's really good!' It was beautiful to watch."

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"I'm Not Gonna Miss You," which Campbell wrote with producer and co-writer Raymond, just took the Grammy Award for country song and is in the running for an Academy Award for original song for its use in Keach's documentary "Glen Campbell … I'll Be Me," which was shot largely during Campbell's 2012-13 "Goodbye Tour" after his diagnosis with Alzheimer's disease.

The song expresses with brutal honesty what Alzheimer's does to those who have it, and to those who love and live with them.

You're the last person I will love

You're the last face I will recall

And best of all, I'm not gonna miss you

"It's the real deal, it's not an actor playing a part," said Keach, who directed "I'll Be Me" and co-produced it with Trevor Albert. "Glen is singing the song from the point of view of a man who is going through this, and those are his words saying goodbye. It's very, very moving in that sense."

Among those rooting for Campbell come Sunday night is Elton John, who recently said of "I'm Not Gonna Miss You": "This is not only the best song nominated; it's one of the most beautiful songs of all time."

Raymond crafted the lyrics in collaboration with Campbell, after working with him for the last half-dozen years as he slipped deep into the throes of a disease that affects an estimated 5 million Americans age 65 and older, a number that is expected to increase dramatically as the baby boom generation ages.

"There was a comfort level between us at that point," Raymond said about the recording session, "even though he was far from at his best at that point. We have a relationship we've developed, and when he wasn't doing well, he'd communicate his frustration, but he never gave up. He really enjoyed the process of being in the studio again."

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Because all concerned knew it was likely the last time Campbell would be even partially healthy enough to work in a recording studio, they invited several of the musicians Campbell used to be part of, dubbed "The Wrecking Crew," the cadre of Los Angeles studio pros who backed hundreds of pop, rock, R&B and soul musicians during the 1960s, '70s and '80s, a reunion that made the session all the more poignant.

It wasn't until 2012 that Campbell was formally diagnosed with Alzheimer's, a condition he often joked about — "I don't have Alzheimer's," he often said, "I have part-timers," an acknowledgment of the way memory loss comes and goes in the disease's early stages.

"He acted at times like he wasn't aware of the Alzheimer's," Keach said. "But he knew what was going on. I'd see it in his eyes. He knew."

Glen and his wife, Kim, went public with his diagnosis that year, putting a very public face on a disease that's often a source of embarrassment or shame for those who have it, and their loved ones.

At the time, he said he wished to continue performing as long has he could and didn't want audiences thinking he had relapsed if he periodically forgot a lyric or repeated a joke — things that become increasingly common during the 152-date "Goodbye Tour."

A couple of days after accepting the Grammy on her husband's behalf, Kim Campbell said: "It couldn't have been a better day, except if Glen was able to be there with us."

He's now in an Alzheimer's care facility near the family home in Nashville. He's in the sixth stage of Alzheimer's, which progresses in seven stages. Kim said her husband has lost his ability to communicate but says, "He still understands the universal language of smiles and laughter and joy."

He also perks up to the sound of live music when one of his musically inclined kids — daughter Ashley and sons Cal and Shannon — drops by with guitars or banjos to play for their father and other facility residents.

Sunday's Oscar telecast is slated to feature a performance of "I'm Not Gonna Miss You" by country star Tim McGraw, sending its message to a global audience estimated at 1 billion people.

"Here's a guy, an iconic musician, who was faced with having to hang up his guitar, his career is over," Keach said. "But instead, he says, 'I ain't done yet. I'm going out to show what this disease is' because he wants to change the conversation. He writes the song with Julian, records it, sometimes a line at a time, sometimes a word at a time, and he wins a Grammy and gets nominated for an Oscar. If that ain't a hero, I don't know what is.

"So win or lose," Keach said of the Oscar ceremony, "he's won."

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