When classic rock icon Eric Clapton experienced the tragic loss of his young son, Conor, he later revealed it felt like he was living someone else’s life in the immediate aftermath. After the devastating death, he spent a year residing in a small community on an island in the Caribbean but hardly speaking to anyone.
What happened to Conor Clapton? And what did his musician father do until he could “come out” from under his grief?
Eric Clapton’s son, Conor Clapton, was born in 1986
Clapton, who was almost in The Beatles, said Conor’s birth in 1986 was the reason he got sober after years of heavy drug use. “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,” Clapton wrote in his memoir Clapton: The Autobiography (per Biography).
He added, “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.”
Eric Clapton’s son, Conor Clapton, died in 1991
Tragically, Conor Clapton died when he was only 4 ½ years old. He was with his mother, Clapton’s ex-girlfriend Lory del Santo, in an apartment on the 53rd story of a New York building on March 20, 1991.
A housekeeper cleaned a 4×6 foot window and left it open to allow fresh air into the room when Conor ran past and fell out the window before anyone could catch him (per AP).
Clapton wasn’t present but stayed nearby, planning to take Conor to lunch later that day when he got the devastating call. He told journalist Sue Lawley he “felt like [he] had walked into someone else’s life.”
Clapton’s bond with his son was the closest he’d had until then, and the loss was devastating enough that he reportedly felt his sobriety could be at risk (per Biography). He moved to a Caribbean island for almost a year, attending sobriety meetings and making music.
“I went off to Antigua and I rented a little cottage there in a community and I just swatted mosquitos all day and played this guitar and stayed there for almost a whole year, without much contact with the outside world, and I tried to heal myself,” he explained in an interview with Liz Barnes for Planet Rock (per Daily Mail).
“All I could do was play and write these songs and I re-wrote and re-performed them again and again and again and again until I felt like I had made some sort of move towards the surface of my being and then I was able to come out,” the “Wonderful Tonight” singer shared.
Eric Clapton became closer to his daughter, Ruth, after the death of his son, Conor
Following Conor’s accidental death, one of Clapton’s other exes approached him about becoming more involved in the life of his daughter, Ruth. She was born the year before Conor, and her mother extended an offer to the rocker to try and develop a relationship.
“It was great to be in the company of a child again — my child,” Clapton wrote in his memoir (per Biography).
“Her presence in my life was absolutely vital to my recovery,” he explained. “In her, I had again found something real to be concerned about, and that was instrumental in my becoming an active human being again.”
How to get help: In the U.S., contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline at 1-800-662-4357.