Inspiration for a song can strike any time. But in the case of Eric Clapton, the inspiration behind his chart-topper was the devastating pain of losing his son to an accident.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on October 16, 2019. It has since been updated.
Losing your child could be one of the most devastating feelings ever. It brings you to your knees and pushes you into a void you're not completely certain you want to get out of. But you have to because life moves on even if yours has stopped. And as you stick to the pace that life has set for you, you try to find a way to heal to not feel the pain overwhelm you every single day. Of course, it never truly goes away but at least it doesn't threaten to break you. For English rock and blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter, Eric Clapton, it was music.
If you know the deeply soulful melody of his song, Tears in Heaven, then you know that the lyrics are just as emotional. But did you know that the song was born of a tragedy? Tears in Heaven was written after Clapton lost his son to an accident. The song captures the grief and heartbreak he went through as he realized he would never hold his 4-year-old son, Conor, in his arms again.
According to ABC News, Conor was just four and a half years old when he fell 53 stories from an open window in the apartment he shared with his mother Lory Del Santo, in New York City. 40-year-old Clapton was already a guitar legend and Del Santo, a young actress, and model when they first met in 1984. Soon after, they decided to start a family during their first weekend together and then Conor was born the next year.
On the fateful day, the musician was to pick up Conor for a day out to go to the Bronx Zoo and lunch at an Italian restaurant, when tragedy struck, according to Clapton's biography, Slowhand: The Life And Music Of Eric Clapton, written by Philip Norman. Conor had been running around the apartment, excited to see his “papa.” At the time, a janitor had been working on the windows in the living room but one had still been open. “He called out to the nanny to watch the child, but before she could react, Conor dashed past her, jumped up on to the low window-ledge where he’d normally press his nose against the glass to gaze out – and disappeared,” Norman wrote, according to the Daily Mail.
After his death, Clapton and Del Santo were both drowning in grief. Where the actress had put away all his pictures because it was too painful to look at, Clapton revealed that he was able to work through his grief with music. "I almost subconsciously used music for myself as a healing agent, and lo and behold, it worked," Clapton said. "I have got a great deal of happiness and a great deal of healing from music." And that was when chart-topper Tears in Heaven was born.
“Would you know my name/ If I saw you in heaven?/ Would it be the same / If I saw you in heaven? / I must be strong and carry on / 'Cause I know I don't belong here in heaven.” The lyrics spoke of the utter grief the musician was going through. According to Over Sixty, two days before Clapton’s 46th birthday, he had to say goodbye to Conor at his son’s funeral. Clapton once described his son as “the one thing in my life that good could come out of.”
“He was an angel, I think. Really, he was,” Del Santo had said. “He was beautiful, I think.” And he wanted to do nothing but be like his famous father. “I understand every kid wants to do what the father does, but in this particular case, he really wanted it very badly,” his mother, Lory Del Santo, who was separated from Clapton at the time, said.
But one thing truly remains stuck in not just the 74-year-old rock star's mind but also the mother of his child's. Just a few days before Conor's death, Del Santo had helped him pen a letter to his father. "And he said to me, 'What should I write?' And I said, 'Well, write I love you, Dad.' And he wrote that," Del Santo said. "So, when we arrived in London, he receives the mail -- this was after the funeral -- and he, and I, were actually there. And, he opened up, and it was this letter," she said. "That moment I cannot forget forever."