A parents’ worst fear became a reality for Eric Clapton on March 20, 1991 when his four-year-old son, Conor, fell from a window of a 53rd-floor apartment building in New York City where his mother, Italian actress and model Lory Del Santo, resided. Clapton, who didn’t live with Del Santo or Conor, arrived moments after the accident occurred.
According to the New York Times, the incident happened when a housekeeper opened the window — about 6 feet high and 4 feet wide — to clean it when Conor wasn’t in the room. Before the window was closed, the boy darted into the room and through the open window, landing on the roof of an adjacent four-story building.
The tragedy led Clapton to write “Tears In Heaven” several months later with songwriter Will Jennings. The song was featured on the soundtrack to the Lili Fini Zanuck directed film Rush and later on Clapton’s Unplugged, part of the popular MTV Unplugged series.
“Tears in Heaven” would win three GRAMMY Awards in 1993: Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Male Pop Vocal Performance.
On the anniversary of his son’s tragic death, we look at 5 Things You Didn’t Know about Eric Clapton’s most heart-wrenching song penned during his career, “Tears In Heaven.”
“Tears In Heaven” stopped Clapton’s madness
(AP Photo/Frankie Ziths)
Clapton’s drug use was well-known to the public. The birth of his son in 1986 and wishes to be a good father led Clapton to sobriety. The tragedy of his son’s death could have easily pulled him back into drug use, but instead Clapton turned to music.
“I almost subconsciously used music for myself as a healing agent, and lo and behold, it worked,” Clapton said in a interview with Daphne Barak. “I have got a great deal of happiness and a great deal of healing from music.”
Writing “Tears In Heaven” was unique… for Jennings
(AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Songwriter Will Jennings has a spectacular resume, writing hits for Barry Manilow, Steve Winwood, B.B. King, Mariah Carey, Jimmy Buffett, and Roy Orbison. But his experience writing “Tears In Heaven” with Clapton was unlike any other.
“Eric and I were engaged to write a song for a movie called Rush. We wrote a song called ‘Help Me Up’ for the end of the movie… then Eric saw another place in the movie for a song and he said to me, ‘I want to write a song about my boy.’ Eric had the first verse of the song written, which, to me, is all the song, but he wanted me to write the rest of the verse lines and the release (‘Time can bring you down, time can bend your knees…’), even though I told him that it was so personal he should write everything himself. He told me that he had admired the work I did with Steve Winwood and finally there was nothing else but to do as he requested, despite the sensitivity of the subject. This is a song so personal and so sad that it is unique in my experience of writing songs.”
Clapton didn’t play it live for almost a decade
(AP Photo/Patrick Aviolat)
The pain Clapton felt was what made “Tears In Heaven” so special and memorable to those who listened to it. But in 2003, Clapton put a hold on performing the song — as well as “My Father’s Eyes” — live.
“I didn’t feel the loss anymore, which is so much a part of performing those songs. I really have to connect with he feelings that were there when I wrote them. They’re kind of gone and I really don’t want them to come back, particularly. My life is different now. They probably just need a rest and maybe I’ll introduce them for a much more detached point of view.”
Clapton wants to help other parents
Following the death of his son and the release of “Tears In Heaven,” Clapton set out to make sure the tragedy that befell him wouldn’t happen to other parents by appearing in several public service announcements to raise awareness for childproofing windows and staircases, like the one below.
“Tears In Heaven” was never meant to be heard
(AP Photo/WEA-HO/Ken Sharp/-Febr. 1998-HO)
It may be hard to believe, but a beautiful song like “Tears In Heaven” was never meant to be heard by the public. Clapton elaborated in his 2007 autobiography, aptly titled Eric Clapton: The Autobiography:
“The most powerful of the new songs was ‘Tears in Heaven.’ Musically, I had always been haunted by Jimmy Cliff’s song ‘Many Rivers to Cross’ and wanted to borrow from that chord progression, but essentially I wrote this one to ask the question I had been asking myself ever since my grandfather had died. Will we really meet again? It’s difficult to talk about these songs in depth, that’s why they’re songs. Their birth and development is what kept me alive through the darkest period of my life. When I try to take myself back to that time, to recall the terrible numbness that I lived in, I recoil in fear. I never want to go through anything like that again. Originally, these songs were never meant for publication or public consumption; they were just what I did to stop from going mad. I played them to myself, over and over, constantly changing or refining them, until they were part of my being.”