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Crisis not gentle on his pride

Times Staff Writer

It had been years since Glen Campbell made news, yet all it took to wrangle the singer back into the limelight was a mug shot -- albeit a startlingly unflattering one.

Now, after a series of humiliations that began with his arrest for extreme drunk driving in November, leading to a month in rehab and a short stint in jail, the singer reclines in the overstuffed den of his 10,000-square-foot Italianate manse, the television tuned to weather, his wife, Kim, right next to him, smoothing his rough edges, filling in the blanks of his memory.

Campbell is genial but absent-minded, his sentences often fractured. When the conversation moves to the murky depths of alcoholism, Campbell squirms and sighs as if trying to shake off the last few months of trouble.

But his demeanor instantly calms when he talks about music and, guitar in hand, he sings readily, his voice as clear and poignant as ever.

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Despite his travails, Campbell looks tanned, fit and younger than his 68 years, if a bit exhausted. It’s been quite a month. Days before his release, he obliged Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and performed his greatest hits for the imprisoned multitudes of the so-called Tent City jail, a gig that resulted in a lot of press but no leniency. The weekend after his release, he flew to Green Bay, Wis., for a show, and he’s got another gig Saturday night in Cleveland.

On this day, Campbell has spent the morning golfing with “Dateline NBC’s” Stone Phillips, the first of several press interviews that he hopes will motivate other struggling addicts to get sober.

“I’d hate to see what happened to me happen to anybody else,” he says. “It’s tough to go through. It is tough to go through.”

And yet, in today’s fame-crazed America, notoriety is sometimes just the thing to kick-start a career -- a “defining moment,” his publicist Sandy Brokaw called it. Reporters lobbied hard for the post-arrest interview, among them Larry King of CNN and Diana Sullivan of Phoenix’s CBS affiliate, who plied Brokaw with chocolate-covered berries and a note that read: “I would be so berry happy if I could finally have that interview with Glen Campbell.”

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“There was a lot of interest in this story,” Brokaw says. “It’s made him hot.”

Indeed, but at a steep price, one that cost Campbell -- now an evangelical Christian who sings gospel as much as pop and country -- a good portion of his pride.

The now-famous mug shot was taken after a round of golf, two “tall” rum and Cokes and one very energetic struggle in the back of a police car. Campbell’s hair leapt from his head in furious swirls and he glared into the camera, his eyes bloodshot and watery, his mouth fixed in a menacing grimace, more Jesse James than Rhinestone Cowboy.

Suddenly, Campbell -- the all-American pop star, Middle America’s answer to the subversive longhairs of the 60s -- was now just another disgraced celebrity. After Jay Leno used it as a punch line in his monologue (after a clip of a devastating blimp accident, Leno says, “We have a picture of the pilot”), Brokaw spotted the mug shot in a parking attendant’s booth, alongside that of James Brown.

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Campbell’s friends, even those who had lived through his first bout with addiction in the ‘70s, were shocked by his arrest.

“I know he must be very embarrassed about this,” says Tommy Smothers, co-host of the ‘60s variety show that helped launch Campbell’s career. “You know he’s very righteous. And ... the fall is much greater when you’re righteous.” Still, he added, “This man is like a rubber ball. He bounces good.”

Songwriter Jimmy Webb, one of Campbell’s closest friends and longtime collaborator (he wrote “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Galveston” and “Wichita Lineman,” among others), says the arrest and embarrassing publicity could inspire “a real renaissance” for Campbell.

“In quite the most base and ludicrous way possible, it has really brought him back to the attention of the American people,” he says.

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Campbell is philosophical about the photo now. He says he wasn’t surprised that his troubles became a national joke, although he says he wouldn’t have treated Leno so callously if their places had been reversed.

“I expected the worst,” he says. “And I got the worst.”

Saying it with lyrics

Campbell isn’t much for detail these days. Names and dates seem to be just out of his reach, and when Kim does much of the talking, he quips, “I’m glad I brought my mouth with me.”

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So much of what he’s trying to explain now -- his first arrest, first jail stay and first time in rehab -- is emotional anyway. A more appropriate medium seems to be Webb’s lyrics.

They’re working on a new album, tentatively titled “Going Back to the Country,” and recording is set to start in September, aimed at a summer 2005 release.

Campbell sings his favorite track from that upcoming record, “Postcard From Paris,” a song about a lovesick traveler, filled with romantic longing. He smiles and pauses at the end.

“I wish you were here to take one look at me and seem to understand the City of Light is a lovely sight. Wonder where you are tonight. Wish you were here.”

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A little later, he pulls out a well-worn guitar, the one he found in the back of a friend’s car in 1962 and then played on Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night,” the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” album and records for Jan and Dean, the Monkees, even Elvis Presley. Campbell plays a few jangly bars of “Help Me, Rhonda,” and then lets one chord hum through the body of the instrument

When asked, Campbell happily performs a few lines from “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” a song that spent about three months on the charts in late 1960s. He closes his eyes as he sings.

Arrest and rage

It was a Monday evening in November when Campbell , -- wearing a backward baseball cap, swaying and bleary-eyed, reeking of alcohol -- answered the door of his home to a police officer. An anonymous caller had alerted Phoenix police to a minor hit-and-run at the entrance to his upscale subdivision, the Arizona Biltmore Estates, and reported Campbell’s license plate number as belonging to the car responsible.

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Campbell had just come from the golf course -- a break after several back-to-back shows in Minnesota. His wife and daughter were in New York.

When the police officers filed their reports later, they spared no detail, perhaps anticipating the media swarm on that Thanksgiving week. They noted that when asked his name, Campbell replied, “Glen Campbell, the Rhinestone Cowboy.” And that “Mr. Campbell insisted that he has never been drunk a day in his life, only over-served.”

After Campbell was handcuffed, he kicked the inside of the patrol car, cursing the officers, demanding to speak with the chief. After a few minutes of his thrashing, they shackled him.

He spent the next three hours at the police station, alternating between blind rage -- flailing and kicking at officers -- and calm bewilderment, asking repeatedly how he’d landed in jail. To this day, Campbell has only vague memories of the day.

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“I remember when they took the blood, I was fightin’ ‘em,” Campbell says. His blood-alcohol level tested more than twice the legal limit.

When Kim heard about the arrest, she refused to post bail and demanded that friends and family do the same.

“I have never been so mad in my life,” she says. “I knew if they got him out ... that he wouldn’t remember what happened to him. And he needed the impact of waking up in a jail cell. It definitely did the trick.”

“That scared me, boy,” Campbell says. "... It was an eye-opener. I’d never been in jail before. I’d never been arrested before. But I guess you got to do everything once, don’t you?”

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He pleaded guilty in May to extreme drunk driving and leaving the scene of an accident and was sentenced to 10 days in jail and 75 hours of community service. For one year, he must use a device on his car that blocks ignition until a breath test that measures blood-alcohol content is passed.

At the Maricopa County Jail early this month, Campbell spent just two full days in jail, serving the remaining eight as work release, meaning that he slept in his cell, returning home at 7 a.m. Still, Campbell says, his severe claustrophobia made those nights excruciating.

As part of his sentence, he spent a month at the Betty Ford Center in Palm Springs. There, he got the first real understanding of the seriousness of his drinking problem.

“I guess it’s probably like going to AA meetings, which I had never been to,” he says. “That’s all it was. Over and over and over. Just about alcohol and what it does.”

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Doctors there told Campbell his relapse was probably triggered in a dentist’s office about three years ago by an anesthetic administered to ease the pain of a procedure. A week later, Campbell was crying uncontrollably, overwhelmed by anxiety.

“I’d just cry,” he says. “I couldn’t believe it. I was like that until I got on the Lexapro [an anti-depressant]. It was just incredible. I’d just cry over nothing. And really, like, anxiety like you don’t believe. I could not sit still. I couldn’t sit down. I couldn’t stand up.”

Fans of Campbell know he has struggled with addiction for decades. But it wasn’t until 1981 when he met Kim, then a Radio City Rockette, that he began facing his problem. He and Kim, his fourth wife, moved from Hollywood to Phoenix and renewed their faith.

“When we first got married ... I put my foot down,” she says. “No drugs. And he quit those. And then the alcohol lingered ... until even Ashley [now 17] was born. The first five or six years of our marriage, we were dealing with that on a constant basis. Just constant. It was really bad.”

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By the early ‘90s, Campbell was committed to sobriety and quit cold turkey. He stayed that way for nearly eight years-- which he claims he did without professional help.

“We just don’t know what brought this whole cycle on,” Kim says. “And it took something this shocking to snap him out of it.”

By this time next year, she says, the family may have relocated to Malibu. Their son Caledonia, 21, is pursuing a music career here and their daughter hopes to attend a local university.

Yet the past has clearly taken its toll. During the interview, he grew distracted, at times repeating himself. He couldn’t remember the name of his latest album, a collection of inspirational songs released in June titled “Love Is the Answer: 24 Songs of Faith, Hope and Love.”

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When asked whether he had reached any conclusions about the last few months, he says, “This was one of those stupid things.... I’ve never been arrested. Never been to jail. Once is enough.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Glen Campbell quick facts

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* An Arkansas sharecropper’s son and one of 12 children.

* In 1960, came to Los Angeles, where he became a sought-after session guitarist.

* Played on the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds,” Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night,” Jan and Dean’s “Surf City,” Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas,” The Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville,” among others.

* First made his mark as a solo artist in 1967 with “Gentle on My Mind” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.”

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* In 1969, began hosting the TV variety show “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour” and costarred in the film “True Grit” with John Wayne.

* Hits include “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights.”

* Has released more than 70 albums and has had 27 Top 10 hits.

* Winner of five Grammys and, for his gospel albums, two Dove Awards.

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-- Gina Piccalo


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