Prodigal Singer

UPDATED 05/16/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/16/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT

IN THE LATE '60S AMD EARLY '70S, GLEN Campbell was country music's golden boy. He had his own TV variety show, five Grammys and a string of hits, including "Wichita Lineman," "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and "Rhinestone Cowboy."

But by the late 1970s, Campbell's own rhinestones were looking a little tarnished. Overwhelmed by fame and sudden wealth, Campbell descended into a hedonistic world of whiskey, cocaine and women. Though still a major concert attraction, he was often under the influence onstage. His affair with Sarah Davis, Mac Davis's estranged wife, further dented his wholesome image, as did his explosive cocaine-fueled romance with then 21-year-old country singer Tanya Tucker. "In our sick slavery to things of the flesh, we were either having sex or fighting," says Campbell. "We even fought during sex once or twice."

Now 58 and six years into recovery, Campbell has made his travails public. "I just needed to get a lot off my chest," says the singer, whose autobiography, Rhinestone Cowboy, was released last month. "There's no pillow as soft as a clear conscience. God wanted me to tell the truth."

Tucker, of course, may feel differently. In the book, Campbell alleges that she once walked through a plate-glass window in a cocaine-induced stupor, and that not long before their joint performance of the national anthem at the 1980 Republican Convention they had been "higher than the notes we were singing." (So far, Tucker has said only, "If Glen truly wants to cleanse himself of past vices, perhaps he might want to look a little deeper yet for those uncovered pieces of the story.")

But Campbell, an evangelical Christian, seems satisfied with the life he has found. A frequent performer at corporate functions and in country's new mecca in Branson, Mo., he shares a spacious Spanish-style mansion in Phoenix with his fourth wife, Kim, and their children, Cal, 10, Shanon, 9, and Ashley, 7, quotes Scripture liberally and attends church every Sunday.

"I used to ask him how he could say something Sunday morning in church after having done the opposite the night before, but he lives the life he preaches now," says Stan Schneider, the singer's longtime business manager, adding with a laugh, "He'll finish dinner, watch TV, read the Bible, and that's it. He's a complete bore."

For Campbell, it has seldom been that simple. One of 12 children born to sharecropper parents in tiny Bills-town, Ark., during the Depression, Campbell left home at 14 with his guitar and began playing clubs around the West. At 17, he married his pregnant 15-year-old girlfriend, Diane Kirk. When they divorced in 1959, Campbell jumped right into a 16-year marriage to beautician Billie Jean Nunley and moved to Los Angeles, where he earned a reputation as a top guitar player, backing up the likes of Ricky Nelson, Frank Sinatra and the Beach Boys. In that heady milieu, he got his first taste of serious partying. "I had heard of cocaine but I'd never seen it," says Campbell. "But soon enough it was up my nose."

After Campbell's 1976 divorce from Billie Jean, his life spun further out of control. His cocaine use intensified—he even found himself snorting lines while he turned the pages during his nightly Bible readings—and within months he had jumped into his high-profile relationship with Sarah Davis. "Their marriage was over with, mine was over with, but Mac was still upset," admits Campbell. Guests openly brought cocaine to the 1976 Campbell-Davis wedding, and the couple built a life around excess, buying diamond rings, Rolex watches and piles of coke. "He was terribly insensitive to the people around him," says Schneider. "He'd be so rude to stewardesses I just wanted to crawl into a hole. To this day, he doesn't know how-bad he was." When Davis left with their son Dillon in 1980 (she won a $2 million divorce settlement), Campbell was devastated and swore he was going to sober up.

Instead, he met Tucker. "God showed me just what I didn't need," says Campbell now. But at the time neither Campbell nor Tucker knew it. "I gave God a prayer and he gave me Tanya," said Campbell in 1980. For her 22nd birthday, he threw her a $57,000 bash. She, in turn, called him "the horniest man I ever met." By the time they split up the next year, their mutual drug abuse had taken such a toll that even fans noticed something was wrong. "They'd write, 'Glen, we saw you and the Lord told us to pray for you,' " says the 6'1" singer, who was down to 162 lbs. "When I saw myself it scared me."

Salvation came in the form of Kimberly Woollen, a Radio City Music Hall dancer he met on a blind date in 1981 and married the next year. But the change wasn't immediate. In the early years of their marriage, Campbell would often stay out all night drinking and snorting cocaine and come home in a rage. "One time I put a blanket over my head and hid under a table clutching a Bible," Kim recalls. "I thought, 'I'm really losing it.' " But when Kim threatened to leave, Campbell gave up cocaine for good. And when Kim tape-recorded his drunken ravings and played them back to him, he gave up alcohol too. "I had to want to do it," he says. Since then, Campbell has made peace with most of his children—Debby, 37, by first wife Diane; Kelli, 32, and Travis, 27, by Billie Jean; and Dillon, 14. He has yet to reach Kane, 25, his third child by Billie Jean, whom Campbell says he hasn't heard from in six months.

When not performing (he still earns in seven figures annually), Campbell spends his days on the golf course—often with fellow Arizonan Alice Cooper. "We've become good friends," says Campbell. "He's a good Christian. He taught Sunday school here last summer."

With a new Christian contemporary album. The Boy in Me, due later this month, and the Glen Campbell Goodtime Theater scheduled to open in June in Branson, Campbell seems finally to have put his demons to rest. "If I had kept going that way, I'd be dead by now'," he says. "There's no doubt in my mind. It's the difference between daylight and dark."

CYNTHIA SANZ
JOHN GRIFFITHS in Phoenix

Your Reaction

Follow Us

On Newsstands Now

Robin Roberts: How Loved Saved Me
  • Robin Roberts: How Loved Saved Me
  • Emma and Andrew: All About Hollywood's Cutest Couple
  • Prince George! More Yummy Photos

Pick up your copy on newsstands

Click here for instant access to the Digital Magazine

Advertisement

From Our Partners

Watch It

Editors' Picks

From Our Partners



Sign up for our daily newsletter and other special offers.
    Choose your newsletters
Thank you for signing up! Your request may take up to one week to be processed.
    see all newsletters