George Harrison Hoped the Concert for Bangladesh Would Also Help Eric Clapton

In 1971, George Harrison helped organize the Concert for Bangladesh to raise money for the humanitarian crisis in Bangladesh. The goal of the star-studded benefit concert was to aid relief efforts. Harrison also hoped that the shows would enact change on a smaller scale. Eric Clapton, who performed in the concert, was heavily using heroin at the time. Harrison hoped that the concert would make Clapton’s drug use more obvious and assist in getting him help.

A black and white picture of George Harrison and Eric Clapton holding guitars and standing near a microphone.
George Harrison and Eric Clapton | Dave Hogan/Getty Images

George Harrison and Eric Clapton were friends despite some unusual circumstances

In the 1960s, Harrison and Clapton met and befriended one another. They collaborated on music and thought highly of each other’s work. In the 1970s, though, their friendship hit a snag when Clapton fell in love with Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd. Clapton wrote music about Boyd while she was still with Harrison and even went so far as to tell Harrison he loved his wife. 

The complicated relationship dynamics — Boyd eventually married Clapton — did not derail their friendship. They remained close, and Clapton helped put on the Concert for George after Harrison’s death in 2001.

“It was [Clapton’s] idea,” Harrison’s wife Olivia told Rolling Stone. “He phoned me not long after George died and said, ‘I’d like to do something.’ Eric was a very deep friend of George’s, so I felt confident and relieved that it was Eric coming to me.”

George Harrison hoped the Concert for Bangladesh would be helpful to Eric Clapton

In 1971, Harrison organized the Concert for Bangladesh and invited some of the biggest names in music to perform. This included Clapton. Harrison also had an ulterior motive in asking him. 

“George knew that Eric was in a bad way but his addiction was unspoken,” Boyd wrote in the book Wonderful Tonight. “He thought that if he got him onstage, even propped up with drugs, it would become an open secret and maybe he would open the door a little to his friends, who might be able to help.”

The problem was that to get Clapton to perform, they needed to provide him with drugs.

“Everyone knew that if Eric was to have a chance of getting through two performances, one in the afternoon and another that evening, he would need a supply of heroin when he arrived in New York — obviously he couldn’t travel with it,” Boyd wrote. 

The guitarist’s friends encouraged him to seek treatment

Boyd explained that after the concert, Clapton and his girlfriend Alice Ormsby-Gore cut themselves off from their friends. Eventually, though, Ormsby-Gore’s father and the Who’s Pete Townshend spoke to Clapton.

“Alice’s father and Pete Townshend of the Who eventually got through to Eric and persuaded him to seek treatment,” Boyd wrote, adding, “Pete Townshend had been the only friend who had refused to take no for an answer and had been to the house so often that eventually Eric had seen him. If anyone else managed to get in, Eric had hidden upstairs. But Eric confided in Pete, and as good as asked for help.”

How to get help: In the U.S., contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline at 1-800-662-4357.

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