Eric Clapton and Connor

The Unthinkable Tragedy That Inspired “Tears in Heaven”

Sujan Tamang 

“Would you know my name, if I saw you in heaven? Would it be the same, if I saw you in heaven?” asks the lyrics to “Tears in Heaven,” the sad popular song written by guitar hero Eric Clapton. When it was released in 1991, the song reached the top 10 in over 20 countries and won three Grammy awards: Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, Song of the Year, and Album of the Year (Unplugged).

The song’s development, like many beloved ballads and laments, was greatly impacted by the creator’s emotional state, despite the song’s extraordinary international success. It was born out of Clapton’s pain after his 4-year-old son Conor passed away unintentionally, and it is infused with all the grief.

On that dreadful day in 1991, when music icon Eric Clapton’s young son tragically passed away at the age of four, it was meant to be the beginning of a new beginning.

However, the terrible event served as the basis for two of the musician’s most well-known songs.

The day before Conor passed away, Clapton, who was 73 years old, took the boy to the Long Island circus for a special day. Conor was raised by Italian actress Lory del Santo.

The Daily Mail has published an excerpt from Philip Norman’s memoir Slowhand: The Life And Music Of Eric Clapton, which states that this was the first time the well-known guitarist had taken his son out by himself.

According to Norman, Clapton “intended to be a proper father.”

Tragic events occurred the following morning just as Clapton was about to arrive to pick up Conor for another day of activities, this time to the Bronx Zoo and lunch at an Italian restaurant.

On March 20, 1991, in the early hours of the morning, Clapton’s kid with his former girlfriend, the Italian actress Lory del Santo, was playing in the New York City apartment where he lived with his mother. After janitorial work was done in the flat, Conor left a window open, which caused him to fall to his death from the 53rd-floor house. Staying at a nearby hotel, Clapton was getting ready to pick up Conor for their scheduled excursion to the Central Park Zoo and lunch as father and son.

Clapton recalled in a 1992 interview with British journalist Sue Lawley. “The first I knew was a telephone call from their apartment. I was actually getting ready to go out of the hotel room to go and pick him up for lunch. Lory was on the other end of the phone, and she was hysterical, saying he was dead. And I could not let myself believe it.”

After hearing the news, Clapton said he “went cold” and “shut down right away.” The “Layla” singer recalls, shaking with shock, that he “saw ambulances and fire engines and paramedic vehicles” outside the apartment building as he hurried from his hotel. Clapton remembers feeling that the scene had nothing to do with him when he first entered the flat, which was suddenly crowded with emergency personnel. Clapton added, “I felt like I had walked into someone else’s life, And I still feel like that.”

As the closest relationship he had at the time, Clapton referred to his relationship with Conor as his closest one. He also attributed his sobriety to his son. The “Cocaine” singer had given up heroin by the late 1970s, but he was still abusing alcohol and other narcotics, such as cocaine. Conor’s birth in 1986 gave Clapton the motivation to start and maintain a clean lifestyle.

Clapton writes in his 2007 memoir Clapton: The Autobiography, “I really did it for Conor because I thought, no matter what kind of human being I was, I couldn’t stand being around him like that, I couldn’t bear the idea that, as he experienced enough of life to form a picture of me, it would be a picture of the man I was then.”

Clapton, who had only been sober for three years when Conor passed away, claims that the tragedy gave him the willpower to stay sober and not give up. He traveled back and forth between England and Antigua for much of the months that followed his son’s death, attending recovery groups and finding comfort in playing his guitar and making songs.

His personal experiences served as the direct basis for two songs he wrote at this time. The story in “Circus Left Town” is about Conor and the night before he passed away, spent at a circus. “Tears in Heaven” poses the even more profoundly personal topic of whether we will see our departed loved ones again. Although neither song was intended for public release at first, Clapton was persuaded to include the latter—which he co-wrote with Will Jennings—on the Rush soundtrack he was working on.

“Tears in Heaven” was also a part of Clapton’s 1992 MTV Unplugged concert, which was later turned into a live CD. Despite being written in response to the tragic death of his kid, the song went on to become a global smash and Clapton’s best-selling single in the US.

In addition, the tragedy made Clapton want to be more involved in his daughter’s life. Ruth Kelly Clapton, the sole child of Clapton and Montserrat-born recording studio manager Yvonne Kelly, was born a year before Conor. Kelly offered to spend more time getting to know his daughter in the aftermath of Conor’s death, and they ended up getting along well during several visits. In his memoir, Clapton states, “It was great to be in the company of a child again—my child.”

He recalled, “Looking back on those years, I realize what a profound effect she had on my well-being, 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 instrumental in my becoming an active human being again.”





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