Eric Clapton Committed To Sobriety After Son’s Death

By Kelly Burch 11/30/18

Rather than returning to drugs and alcohol to cope with his son's accidental death, Eric Clapton turned to songwriting. 

Eric Clapton

Legendary singer and songwriter Eric Clapton was just three years sober when his son Conor died at the age of four. Despite that immense loss, Clapton was more committed to his sobriety than ever following Conor’s death, according to a new biography. 

“He was trying to beat the alcoholism when his son was just a baby,” biographer Philip Norman, who wrote Slowhand: The Life and Music of Eric Clapton, told Fox News. “He was fighting against it. But it was really the death of Conor that made him determined that he would never drink again.”

Conor died in 1991 when he fell from the window of his mother’s 53rd-floor apartment in New York. Conor would regularly look out the window, pressing his face against the glass, but that day a cleaner had left the window open. Conor reportedly darted past the cleaner and fell out.

At the time of Conor’s death, Clapton was on his way to pick up his son for a day at the zoo. 

“He was enchanted by Conor,” Norman told Fox News. “He had become a companion. Not quite a baby, but more of a boy. Eric was waiting to take him out that day… Conor would normally run into the room and press his nose against the glass of the window. But it wasn’t there that day. He just went out. It was the most dreadful, horrible, unimaginable tragedy.”

After Conor’s death, Clapton struggled with his loss, but maintained his focus on his sobriety, Norman said. Rather than returning to drugs and alcohol to cope, Clapton turned to songwriting. His ballad “Tears In Heaven” was written in the aftermath of Conor’s death. 

“Eric first coped, strangely enough, by playing a song he had written when he was married to Pattie called ‘Wonderful Tonight,’” Norman said. “Which is very soft, almost like a lullaby… That was the initial thing that comforted him. Then he wrote a song about [his grief]. By a really cruel twist of fate, it became the most successful record he has ever released, ‘Tears in Heaven.’ That’s really how he got through it.”

In 1992, the track won a Grammy for Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance. Despite its success, Clapton told reporters in 2004 that he could no longer perform the song because it was too emotional for him. 

Clapton’s daughter Ruth also helped him cope with his son’s death. 

“Looking back on those years, I realize what a profound effect she had on my well-being,” Clapton wrote in his 2007 memoir. “Her presence in my life was absolutely vital to my recovery. In her, I had again found something real to be concerned about, and that was very instrumental in my becoming an active human being again.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.