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Glen Campbell Doc Director on the Alzheimer-Stricken Country Star: 'I Want Taylor Swift Fans to Know How Important He Was'

Glen Campbell 1970
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Having produced the 2005 Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, James Keach was cautious when meeting with Glen Campbell and his producer Julian Raymond, not wanting to be typecast as a guy who makes films about country singers. But their sit-down, when Campbell was in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, was about making a film that examined the relationship between the brain and music that would be shot during the singer's planned five-week tour in 2011.

"How does a man walk onstage, play for an hour-and-a-half and then not know how to find the bathroom in his own house?" asks Keach, director-producer of Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me, which starts its theatrical rollout Oct. 24 in New York. That five-week tour turned into a 151-show, two-and-a-half year trek, and "the best decision I ever made as a filmmaker," he says.

The movie is being pegged as a serious awards contender alongside two other films about aging entertainment figures coping with illness: Life Itself, about thyroid cancer-stricken Roger Ebert, and Keep On Keepin' On, about diabetic trumpeter Clark Terry.

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I'll Be Me equally addresses a legendary musician's legacy and a disease that affects more than 5 million people in the United States (according to the Alzheimer's Association) and shows no signs of abating. It includes intimate scenes with Campbell and his wife, Kimberly, receiving a doctor's definitive diagnosis of the disease, moments when he struggles with his memory and a 2012 Grammy Awards salute 10 months prior to his final concert in Napa, Calif.

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"Live in the moment -- Glen taught us that," says Keach, who has recently traveled with the film to the Hot Springs, Ark., Documentary Film Festival and a convention of 5,000 aid workers in Nashville. "He felt safe, nobody was embarrassed, so it became a journey of how to behave with somebody who has this disease. We agreed let's not try to make it look good when it's not. Let it be Glen and still show the pain of the people around him."

Glen Campbell Releases His Final Song 'I'm Not Gonna Miss You': Watch

Recently, Campbell, 78, and his family were featured on NBC's Nightly News and Today a week after Big Machine released an EP of songs from the film, including Campbell's final recording session, which yielded the single "'I'm Not Gonna Miss You."

"I want Taylor Swift fans to know how important he was," says Keach, 66, who financed the film through his PCH Films company. "It became not so much the story of Glen Campbell but the story of the gift that is being taken away from him. And us."

This article first appeared in the Oct. 25 issue of Billboard.


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