When Eric Clapton performed heartbreaking tribute to late son 'Tears In Heaven' for the first time

1 November 2023, 15:45

Eric Clapton wrote 'Tears In Heaven' after suffering an unimaginable loss.
Eric Clapton wrote 'Tears In Heaven' after suffering an unimaginable loss. Picture: Granada Television

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

'Tears In Heaven' is undoubtedly the most personal song that Eric Clapton has ever put out into the world.

The legendary guitarist poured every ounce of sadness and soul into the 1992 song that he could muster.

'Tears In Heaven' was borne out of an unimaginably tragic accident involving his four-year-old son Conor Clapton.

Conor died having falling from the 53rd-floor window of a New York City apartment when Eric Clapton was elsewhere in the city.

In unthinkable pain and grieving after losing his beloved boy, Clapton retreated from the limelight and his career in music to piece together how to move forwards.

Twelve months later the former Cream member reappeared to bravely discuss the tragedy of losing his son with television host Sue Lawley.

It was also the first time he would perform the tribute to his son, 'Tears In Heaven'.

Eric Clapton plays - for the first time - Tears In Heaven

After discussing at length and with heart-wrenching candour how he had slowly begun to recover from the life-changing loss, Clapton pulls out a Spanish guitar.

He then goes on to perform the first few verses and choruses from the beautiful song, which later went on to become his best-selling song in the US and would eventually win him three Grammy Awards.

Given the pure emotion on display during the interview, the impromptu performance is heightened with the pain and loss of his son at the fore.

Whilst he plays, the camera focuses on interviewer Lawley who is almost brought to tears herself.

For Clapton, to show that level of composure and professionalism whilst performing the song for the first time is truly incredible.

Eric Clapton : Sue Lawley 1992

His performance of 'Tears In Heaven' is tear-inducing in itself, but during the remainder of the 30-minute interview, Clapton goes on to describe the tragedy in an impressively frank manner.

He reveals that Conor was the primary reason he became sober, which has lasted until this day.

"When he was born, I was drinking, and he was really the chief reason that I went back to treatment, because I really did love this boy."

Lawley asks Eric Clapton at one point: "How close were you to him?"

He then responds almost immediately by saying: "As close as I've ever been to anybody."

"This personality that developed into such a strong loveable character, I still don't fully accept that I'm not going to ever see him" he admits when discussing the bond he had with his four-year-old boy.

"I spent four years with him, as a sober human being. And still am. What balances that out is gratitude. That I had that time with him. And it would've been great to have more."

Eric Clapton - Tears In Heaven (Official Video)

Soon after the accident the guitar icon and his Italian girlfriend, Lory Del Santo, flew Conor back to England to be buried at Clapton's hometown church in Ripley, Surrey.

Amongst the mourners was Phil Collins, and even Prince Charles sent him a letter of condolence.

But after a period of distance from music, it would ultimately be music that would help Eric Clapton heal and come to terms with the devastating loss.

Idly fiddling away with his Spanish guitar would start the process of him penning the beautiful tribute to his son and the lasting power of love.

The official premiere of 'Tears In Heaven' would be during Clapton's MTV Unplugged performance, which is most definitely the most famous rendition of the song.

But the raw, unassuming rendition he played during this particular interview is tinged with both sadness and hope, being the first time he'd ever performed the song.

Since 2004 he has chosen not to perform 'Tears In Heaven' live, saying that the emotions felt when writing the song are "gone and I really don't want them to come back".