The sniffles of the film attendees in the darkened movie theater reached a fever pitch as the country songs played behind rolling footage of an aging artist.
“I have cried, and I have laughed, and laughing is a hell of a lot better,” musician Glen Campbell, 79, said to the camera in the film, “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me,” an Academy Award-nominated documentary about the star’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease. His post-diagnosis mission was to try to see the best in things.
The film, screened on June 4 at the SouthSide Works, is a part of the Jewish Association on Aging fundraiser to raise awareness and funds for its Memory Care Programs, which create enriching experiences for those living with cognitive challenges, the event program states.
With 250 people filling the theater to capacity, and including various sponsorships, the Art of Aging event raised nearly $100,000 for their programming, according to Beverly Brinn, director of development at the JAA.
“The event was a huge success,” said Brinn. “We believe we are starting to raise awareness and mitigate the stigma surrounding memory disorders [while showing that] life is possible even with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.”
While one in seven seniors over the age of 65 will have a memory-related disease, President and CEO of the JAA Deborah Winn-Horvitz said there is currently no prevention tactics or a cure.
“We must be prepared to handle the number of people who will be diagnosed,” Winn-Horvitz said. The film, she said, is meant to tackle the stigma of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis — an identity that isolates millions of people globally, she said.
The film brings audiences through Campbell’s life pre- and post-Alzheimer’s diagnosis — from his TV and stage presence over time, to the songs he became famous for, to following him on the road as he completed what he called his Farewell Tour — a 151-concert series that ended in Napa, Calif., as his health began to get in the way of his ability to perform. The film also connected the audience to his personal life, including his current marriage and youngest children, including Ashley Campbell who was present at the JAA fundraiser.
Ashley Campbell, a musical protégé of her father, as listed on the JAA program, toured with her dad during the tour, and next month she plans to release her song, “Remembering,” which reflects on her dad’s inability to maintain his memory.
Pulling her guitar across her shoulder, she sang to the crowd:
Bone for bone we are the same
Bones get tired and they can’t carry all the weight
We can talk until you can’t even remember my name
Daddy don’t you worry, I’ll do the remembering
For Campbell, her dad’s publicly coming out as an Alzheimer’s patient meant giving his fans an opportunity to motivate him to keep up his musical work, even if that meant sitting through a song or two with words missing or sung in the wrong key.
“He loved being in the moment, so I tried to just be in the moment,” Campbell said of the desire to let her dad just be — hence the film title — particularly when she said times were frustrating for her dad or when he would feel distracted by losing his memory. Sometimes, Campbell said, it would be better to not test his memory by asking what her own name was or who the first president of the United States was.
Other times, Campbell said, the family would think he was in his own world, but, in fact, his brain was still quite functional.
A large piece of the film pointed out the idea that giving your loved one a chance to do what is hardwired in his soul — in Glen Campbell’s case, playing music — all other functions could fade away, while the ones that matter would still shine. Glen Campbell is the recipient of multiple Grammy Awards and released 70 albums, sold 45 million records and served as the host of the CBS’ “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Show.”
“The message is clear,” Brinn said. “Living life to the fullest for as long as possible is a message that resonates with all us.”
During one of his first shows of the tour, the audience aware of his creeping-in diagnosis, roared in cheers as he took to the stage. Feeling their energy, his fingers found the right strings on his guitar as he played long music rifts, reaching heights that matched his golden years, his eyes closed while he jammed out.
His last show was on Nov. 30, 2012, and he is currently in a Nashville memory-support community, Ashley Campbell said.
“I think the music was keeping him sharp,” she said of the tour. “[But now] the memory support community is where he feels safe to just be.”
Bee Schindler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.