Sometime in the 1990s, country music great Johnny Cash entrusted his life story to James Keach, who was one of the producers of “Walk the Line.” Directed by James Mangold, it received five Oscar nominations, with Reese Witherspoon winning for best actress.
Ten years later another country great, Glen Campbell, asked Keach to make a film about his life. But this would be no biopic. It would be a documentary, and would focus on Campbell’s five-week “Goodbye Tour” (2011-12). It would be his last tour because Campbell, now 79, has Alzheimer’s disease.
Unsurprisingly, Keach had reservations. But he overcame them, and persevered with the project even as it expanded from five weeks to 2½ years. The result is the entertaining, heart-breaking, and enlightening “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me,” which is getting its television premiere June 28 at 9 p.m. on CNN.
In a recent phone call from Roanoke, Va., Keach explained how the documentary came together.
Q. What’s happening in Roanoke?
A. We’re screening the film here and having a Q & A. We’ve had screenings with audiences up to 4,000 people. Two days ago I was in Santa Clara [Calif.], then I was in Tucson the week before. And Washington, Seattle. We’ve done several hundred of these.
Q. At first, though, you had doubts about the project.
A. We were resistant to doing it. We saw everything we could on Alzheimer’s and it was like slitting your wrist with a butter knife. It’s all so dark and depressing. But then we met Glen and found a guy with a sense of humor, who’s totally in love with his wife, and a musical genius. So we decided to do it and ended up with 2,000 hours of film.
Q. It sounds like a transformative experience for you.
A. Absolutely. It completely changed my life. I had no idea what Alzheimer’s was, but by the end of it I was committed to showing through Glen’s and his family’s courage the truth about Alzheimer’s. And we started the “I’ll Be Me” Alzheimer’s Fund with the Volunteers of America.
Q. Did you film all the shows?
A. We did 40. Some of them were unbelievable. He’d do a guitar solo and everybody would say, where did that come from? He was funny, too — and it’s OK to laugh. I’ve watched the movie hundreds of times and what I like most is the laughter. Once you get to the place where you can laugh, you can accept who he is and you can be yourself. One of things we wanted to convey in the film is that laughter is like music — it lifts your spirit. As Glen says, I’ve laughed and I’ve cried and it’s a hell of a lot better to laugh.
Q. Do you think this would work as a feature movie?
A. Definitely. I’d cast Justin Timberlake if I could. I’d do the middle years, the rock ’n’ roll years. Back then Glen made Johnny Cash look like a choir boy.
To learn more about the “I’ll
Be Me” Alzheimer’s Fund go to
Interview was condensed and edited. Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.