Remembering Glen Campbell

Today’s guest blog comes from Phyllis Ferrell, Vice President of the Global Alzheimer’s Platform at Lilly. 

In the last scene of the documentary “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me,” an interviewer asks the legendary country music star how he’s getting along with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Oh, it’s fine,” he replies. “I gave him a left hook.”

He sure did. In the six years since going public with his diagnosis in June 2011, Glen beat back this devastating disease with grace, dignity and grit, until succumbing to its inevitable end yesterday at age 81.

Here at Lilly, we are deeply saddened by the loss of our friend.

Glen was known for his ability to bring happiness to those around him through both his music and inspiring personality. During a career spanning more than 50 years and 70 albums, the “rhinestone cowboy” wore many hats – singer, songwriter, guitarist, television host and actor. But it was his last hat –- that of a person with Alzheimer’s – that allowed him to showcase to the world the resilience, strength of character and devotion to family that truly defined who he was.

As seen in the documentary Glen Campbell … I’ll be Me, a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease did not keep Glen from his true passion of playing music and performing on stage. Both the film and his final song, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” captured how music had the ability to transcend his illness, while also chronicling its overwhelming impact on Glen and the family, friends and music community that supported him. The willingness of the Campbell family to open the door to their personal lives helped to chip away at the stigma of Alzheimer’s so that others could learn and benefit from their own journey. They brought humanity to the disease and an acute focus on work that has yet to be done.

In honor of Glen’s legacy and the efforts of the Campbell family, Lilly will be donating $100,000 to the Glen Campbell Memorial Fund at BrightFocus Foundation, to support programs that raise awareness of the disease, restore the spirit of caregivers and fund research for a cure. We are also announcing an annual recognition to be given internally to an employee that embodies the “I’ll Be Me” character that Glen displayed in that eponymous 2014 movie. The Campbell family and Lilly will recognize the qualities of courage, grace under pressure, persistence and transparency as exhibited by an employee.  This is part of Glen’s lasting legacy on the field of Alzheimer’s research.

I’d also like to share my personal condolences to Glen’s wife, Kim Campbell, and her children. As Glen’s full-time caregiver, she chronicled her experience in this LillyPad blog post from 2015. In 2016, caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias provided an estimated 18.2 billion hours of informal (that is, unpaid) assistance, a contribution to the nation valued at $230.1 billion. Who are these caregivers? National surveys report approximately one quarter of dementia caregivers are “sandwich generation” caregivers – meaning that they care not only for an aging parent, but also for children under age 18. 

With no known cure and an expected rise in Alzheimer’s disease diagnoses in the years to come, Lilly is steadfast in its commitment to change the course of this devastating disease. For nearly 30 years, Lilly scientists have been working to discover new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, and we will continue to research and fight, just as hard as Glen did.

Glen, we won’t give up.