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Film shares Glen Campbell's journey into twilight

Glen Campbell's final tour, which ended in 2012, is the subject of the documentary, "I’ll Be Me," opening in theaters in New York and Nashville on Friday, with a special screening in Rochester on Oct. 30. The film will be released nationally on...

A scene from the documentary "Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me," due out this fall, includes Dr. Ronald Petersen of the Mayo Clinic

Glen Campbell's 151-show farewell tour was a remarkable showcase of bravery and artistry, as he continued to perform despite his advancing Alzheimer's disease.

The 78-year-old Country Music Hall of Famer and talent behind the songs "Rhinestone Cowboy" and "Wichita Lineman" was diagnosed in 2011.

His final tour, which ended in 2012, is the subject of the documentary, "I'll Be Me," opening in theaters in New York and Nashville on Friday, with a special screening in Rochester on Oct. 30. The film will be released nationally on Oct. 31.

People, especially celebrities, usually aren't very open about their diagnosis or Alzheimer's disease progression, said Dr. Ronald Petersen , director of the Mayo Alzheimer's Disease Research Center.

And most people with advancing Alzheimer's don't go on lengthy tours and play to thousands each night, he said. Petersen was featured in the movie and helped treat Campbell's disease at the Mayo Clinic.


"I think it's quite unusual and quite brave, actually, for him and his family to put themselves out there," Petersen said.

The documentary, directed by James Keach and produced by Trevor Albert, follows Campbell during this final tour and captures the prolific entertainer as his Alzheimer's advances, making for a "powerful and entertaining" movie, Petersen said.

"If you're anything of a Glen Campbell fan, by all means, it has good music in it. … I think the producers and directors have really captured the essence of the disease process and of Glen Campbell and his bravery," he said.

The screening in Rochester will be for healthcare professionals, dementia and Alzheimer's organization supporters, families of people with Alzheimer's and community leaders at 7 p.m. on Oct. 30 at Mayo Clinic's Phillips Hall. Petersen, Campbell's family, and the producer and director of the film will be on hand at the screening.

Disease progression

Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2011, went public with the news and started his final tour shortly after. The documentary shows some of Campbell's difficulties associated with the disease, including forgetfulness and impaired cognitive functions. For example, Campbell used a teleprompter to remember the words during performances, and during a performance in Nashville, the teleprompter went out, stopping the show.

Even during the filming, Campbell's disease was progressing.

"He was having considerable difficulty even when they were making the movie. He was having communication difficulties at that time," Petersen said.


At that point, Campbell's disease was pretty far along. Campbell now is in a care facility in Nashville, and he's in stage 6 of Alzheimer's seven stages, according to an NBC Nightly News report.

"I think it's a unique opportunity for people to see the disease unfold in a person who they've perhaps known for decades and see how the disease is gripping him," Petersen said.

Mayo got involved when producers asked if the clinic had an interest in helping treat Campbell, but the singer received care from other medical centers as well, Petersen said.

"We hope that people are going to start talking about this disease. We need to increase awareness. We need to increase action on it. … That would be an ideal outcome of this is that there would be a groundswell of people to talk to their political leaders (to ask for more funding)," he said.

Nationally, more than 5 million people are living with Alzheimer's, and it's the sixth-leading cause of death, according to the Alzheimer's Association . Still, despite its prevalence, there's a lot of stigma associated with the disease.

"It's going to overwhelm society in short order," he said.

Still playing guitar

Campbell's last studio recording, "I'm Not Gonna Miss You," recorded in January 2013, made the rounds last week after NBC Nightly News showed it . "I'm still here, but yet I'm gone," Campbell sings.


Kim Woolen, Campbell's wife, and his three children joined him on his tour. Woolen is featured in the documentary as well. In addition to the family, fans and friends of the musician make appearances, including Bruce Springsteen, Bill Clinton, Paul McCartney, Jay Leno, Blake Shelton, Brad Paisley, Steve Martin and more.

The film shows Campbell continuously strumming the guitar without issue, which Petersen said is possible because it's a motor function and isn't as affected by memory decline.

"It's the most striking example I've seen," the dissociation between Campbell's ability to perform and ability to talk and remember things, Petersen said.

But Campbell's overall health has declined, making a care facility the best option now, Petersen said.

"To see him in a facility now is not totally surprising," he said. "What's even more surprising is that he was able to entertain."

Campbell wasn't able to converse during his interview with NBC Nightly News . He can still sometimes play the guitar, though, Woolen told the news program.

"He's still Glen Campbell, and he still loves and feels and expresses joy and sadness," Woolen said.

Stage 1:  No impairment (normal function)

Stage 2:  Very mild cognitive decline (may be normal age-related changes or earliest signs of Alzheimer's disease)

Stage 3:  Mild cognitive decline (early-stage Alzheimer's can be diagnosed in some, but not all, individuals with these symptoms)

Stage 4:  Moderate cognitive decline (Mild or early-stage Alzheimer's disease)

Stage 5:  Moderately severe cognitive decline (Moderate or mid-stage Alzheimer's disease)

Stage 6:  Severe cognitive decline (Moderately severe or mid-stage Alzheimer's disease)

Stage 7:  Very severe cognitive decline (Severe or late-stage Alzheimer's disease)

Source: Alzheimer's Association

Glen Campell performs.

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