This Woman Inspired Three Of The Most Popular Songs Of All Time

Creativity is a strange, elusive thing. Sometimes inspiration seems to come from the ether, plucked out of thin air with ease, while on other days it’s frustratingly out of reach. Often, though, artists have muses that move them to make their work. And, amazingly, three of the most beloved songs of the 20th century were created in this way – written by two men who were struck by the very same woman.

The woman in question is a beautiful English model named Pattie Boyd, and she’s since become something of a cultural icon. In 2018 Harper’s Bazaar described Boyd as having “stood at the intersection of fashion, rock ’n’ roll, art and fame” in the 1960s. Back then, the young woman was the epitome of what journalist Tom Hibbert would later describe as the “British female look.”

Boyd was in demand as a model, too, becoming a fixture of photoshoots in the British editions of Vogue and Vanity Fair as well as French Elle. She also filmed advertisements for L’Oreal and Smith’s and took part in a coveted spread for Tatler with famed photographer Jeanloup Sieff.

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It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that Boyd became a style icon for young British women. That’s something Mary Quant noted in 1966, writing, “Their aim is to look childishly young [and] naively unsophisticated, and it takes more sophistication to work out that look than those early would-be sophisticates ever dreamed of.”

And at the height of her fame, Boyd bagged herself a famous husband: none other than The Beatles’ George Harrison. In her 2007 autobiography Wonderful Tonight, she described her initial encounter with Harrison in 1964, when the group were shooting the movie A Hard Day’s Night. The model recalled that, at this time, “Britain and most of Europe was in the grip of Beatlemania.” The same, of course, could be said for America, as the band were fresh from a star-making appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

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Boyd went on, “I was a model, working with some of the most successful photographers in London, including David Bailey and Terence Donovan. I was appearing in newspapers and magazines such as Vanity Fair and Vogue. But in March, my agent sent me along to a casting session for a film.”

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Fatefully, Boyd was subsequently told that she had won the role of “a schoolgirl fan in a Beatles film.” That meant she got to meet the group. She added in her memoir, “On first impressions, John seemed more cynical and brash than the others. Ringo [was] the most endearing, Paul was cute, and George, with velvet-brown eyes and dark chestnut hair, was the best-looking man I had ever seen.”

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And Boyd and Harrison soon became acquainted. “At a break for lunch, I found myself sitting next to [George],” the model wrote. “Being close to him was electrifying. Almost the first thing he said to me was ‘Will you marry me?’ He was joking, but there was a hint of seriousness. We got together soon after that and married two years later on January 21, 1966. I was 21, he was 22. I was so happy and so much in love.”

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But, unfortunately, this happiness wouldn’t last. Boyd wrote, “Since a trip to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in India in 1968, George had become obsessive about meditation. He was also sometimes withdrawn and depressed. My moods started to mirror his, and at times I felt almost suicidal.” Harrison was also cheating on Boyd, and she knew about it.

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“There were other women, which really hurt me,” Boyd admitted. “George was fascinated by the god Krishna, who was always surrounded by young maidens. He came back from India wanting to be some kind of Krishna figure – a spiritual being with lots of concubines. He actually said so. No woman was out of bounds.”

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Then there was a French woman who had been dating Eric Clapton. Harrison wound up having an intimate relationship with her after she had broken up with the Cream star, and this liaison understandably left Boyd heartbroken. During this period Clapton also began to spend more time with Harrison, with the two making music together.

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By proxy, Boyd found herself more and more often in Clapton’s company. But she found him to be a vastly different person to his stage persona. Boyd later wrote of the musician, “When I met him, he didn’t behave like a rock star. He was surprisingly shy and reticent.” And she reveled in the attention that he gave her.

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“It was hard not to be flattered when I caught [Clapton] staring at me or when he chose to sit beside me,” Boyd explained. “He complimented me on what I was wearing and the food I had cooked, and he said things he knew would make me laugh. Those were all things that George no longer did.”

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Boyd then found out that she had become the subject of a new song Clapton had written. “We met secretly at a flat in South Kensington,” she recalled. “He switched on the tape machine, turned up the volume and played me the most powerful, moving song I had ever heard.”

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Boyd continued, “It was ‘Layla,’ about a man who falls hopelessly in love with a woman who loves him but is unavailable. He played it to me two or three times – all while watching my face intently for my reaction. My first thought was, ‘Oh God, everyone’s going to know this is about me.’”

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“I was married to Eric’s close friend, George Harrison, but Eric had been making his desire for me clear for months,” Boyd wrote. “I felt uncomfortable that he was pushing me in a direction in which I wasn’t certain I wanted to go. But with the realization that I had inspired such passion and creativity, the song got the better of me.”

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And, Boyd admitted, “I could resist no longer.” She explained how that very evening, she had gone to a party at Cream manager Robert Stigwood’s home without her husband. There, the model and Clapton began a romantic relationship.

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“It was a great party, and I felt elated by what had happened earlier in the day – but also deeply guilty,” Boyd remembered in her autobiography. “During the early hours, George appeared. He was morose, and his mood was not improved by walking into a party that had been going on for several hours and where most of the guests were high on drugs.”

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Boyd continued, “[Harrison] kept asking, ‘Where’s Pattie?’ but no one seemed to know. He was about to leave when he spotted me in the garden with Eric. It was just getting light and very misty. George came over and demanded, ‘What’s going on?’ To my horror, Eric said, ‘I have to tell you, man, that I’m in love with your wife.’”

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And Boyd was apparently shocked by Clapton’s stark admission. She wrote, “I wanted to die. George was furious. He turned to me and said, ‘Well, are you going with him or coming with me?’ On that particular evening, she chose to return home with her husband. But Clapton had made his ambitions truly clear: he wanted Boyd for himself.

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“Layla” wound up on the sole album by Clapton’s post-Cream band Derek and the Dominos. The 1970 record – entitled Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs – has been hailed by many critics as Clapton’s greatest work and also includes a take on Billy Myles’ “Have You Ever Loved a Woman.” Fittingly, the lyrics of the cover version speak of an obsession with a close pal’s spouse.

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And while speaking to CNN in 2005, Boyd gave her opinion on Clapton and the Layla album. She said, “I think that he was amazingly raw at the time. He’s such an incredible musician that he’s able to put his emotions into music in such a way that the audience can feel it instinctively. It goes right through you.”

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However, in 2008 Boyd gave a more nuanced take to The Guardian. She said, “I wasn’t so happy when Eric wrote ‘Layla’ while I was still married to George. I felt I was being exposed. I was amazed and thrilled at the song – it was so passionate and devastatingly dramatic – but I wanted to hang on to my marriage.”

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And, indeed, Boyd didn’t leave Harrison after Clapton declared his love for her. In the early ’70s the guitarist therefore turned to heroin for solace – later estimating that he had spent around $16,000 per week on the drug at the time. He also retreated from the public eye, spending much of his time alone in his Surrey mansion and only infrequently performing on stage.

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In 2007 Clapton told NPR, “The thing about that kind of addiction that’s pretty funny, on reflection, is that I always thought, ‘I’m handling this. I can handle it. I can stop anytime. I just don’t want to stop right now.’” In 1974, though, Boyd and a heroin-free Clapton began living together after she finally decided to break up with Harrison.

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Clapton and Boyd then wed in 1979, but unfortunately it wouldn’t be a happy union. The rock star was an alcoholic for much of the marriage, and Boyd began to drink heavily, too. He was also repeatedly unfaithful, and in the end the couple separated – finalizing their divorce in 1989.

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One thing that defined both of Boyd’s marriages was her inability to have children. In 2019 she told the Daily Mail, “I thought that, naturally, when I grew up and got married, I’d have children. Sadly, it didn’t happen for me. I just thought it goes with the idea of being a woman.”

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Boyd continued, “Then, when it didn’t happen, I started to panic and wondered why.” And while she and Clapton tried in vitro fertilization, it was to no avail. The former model lamented, “Once you come to terms with the fact that it’s not going to happen to you, it takes a while to get a grip on reality and bite your lip.”

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Eventually, though, Boyd made her peace with being unable to conceive and decided to change her outlook on the matter. “Once you get over that,” she added in her Daily Mail interview, “you come to the realization that you’ve got great friends [and] life is fabulous. I believe that we can’t force nature. Whatever happens in life is meant to happen.”

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And “Layla” wasn’t the only song to have ever been written about Boyd. In 1969 – three years after she and Harrison had married – the Beatles star penned “Something” in tribute to his wife. Boyd explained in her book, “[George] told me in a matter-of-fact way that he had written it for me. I thought it was beautiful, and it turned out to be the most successful song he ever wrote, with more than 150 cover versions.”

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Boyd continued, “Frank Sinatra said [that] he thought it was the best love song ever written. George’s favorite version was the one by James Brown. Mine was the one by George Harrison, which he played to me in our kitchen.” And according to many music historians, “Something” put Harrison in the same songwriting league as his more celebrated bandmates John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

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Fast-forward seven years to 1976, and another classic song would be inspired by Boyd’s beauty. One evening, Boyd and Clapton were getting ready to attend Paul and Linda McCartney’s yearly Buddy Holly tribute get-together. And although Clapton seemed to be idly waiting around while Boyd mulled over different outfits, it turned out that he was composing.

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Boyd spoke about this special night with Clapton in a 2008 interview with The Guardian, saying, “We were invited out for an evening, and he was sitting around playing his guitar while I was trying on dresses upstairs.” But, for a while, she couldn’t decide what to wear.

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“I was taking so long, and I was panicking about my hair, my clothes, everything,” Boyd revealed. “And I came downstairs expecting [Clapton] to really berate me, but he said, ‘Listen to this!’” Yet Clapton was not angry with his then-girlfriend. Boyd continued, “In the time I had taken to get ready, he had written ‘Wonderful Tonight.’”

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And in 2008 Boyd opened up yet again about her relationships when speaking to The Observer. She mused of Harrison and Clapton, “I think both of the men I married were so unfaithful and destructive because they were adored by hundreds and thousands of people.”

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Boyd continued, “With George and Eric, it was simply because they had women telling them how wonderful they were all the time. Women make the mistake of thinking that sex is love. Men are able to be a bit more detached about it.” She added, “I’d say I had the greatest passion and chemistry of my life with George.”

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And it appeared that Boyd had misgivings about being a muse to her rock star husbands. “I think I was a romantic inspiration to Eric and George because I gave as much as I could to them both to the detriment of myself,” she said. “I was always there for them, which I think is really what a muse is. You are living your life for somebody else.”

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In 2018, however, the former model had a different take on why she had inspired both Harrison and Clapton. Speaking to Harper’s Bazaar, she said, “I think in my case, both George and Eric had an inability to communicate their feelings through normal conversation. I became a reflection for them.”

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And Boyd waxed philosophical about the very idea of being a muse saying, “I find the concept of being a muse understandable when you think of all the great painters, poets and photographers who usually have had one or two. The artist absorbs an element from their muse that has nothing to do with words – just the purity of their essence.”

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Now, Boyd is married for a third time to Rod Weston, who is employed in the less rock ’n’ roll industry of property development. She also works on the other side of the camera, with her photography having been exhibited in cities such as Dublin, San Francisco and London. And, of course, she can boast of having inspired not just one but three songs that are loved by millions across the world.

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Clapton moved on, too, wedding Melia McEnery in 2002. And while he didn’t have children with Boyd, he did eventually become a father of five to four daughters and a son. But in 1991 an unspeakable tragedy would end up ripping the musical icon’s world apart.

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On March 20, 1991, Clapton’s son, Conor, lost his life following a fall from an apartment window 49 stories up. The poor child was just four years old at the time. It’s understandable, then, that Clapton’s life – and the lives of his other family members – was completely turned upside down by the tragic event. Yet now the star has finally confirmed a long-suspected truth about Conor’s untimely death.

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The death of Conor could perhaps have struck Clapton even harder because, as a child himself, Clapton grew up more or less without a mom or dad. His father was Edward Fryer, a soldier from Canada who apparently had a casual night with Clapton’s mom, Pat Clapton, in 1944. Yet Pat was only 15 at the time, and she evidently wasn’t keen on mothering. When Clapton was only a toddler, you see, his mom disappeared off to Canada with another guy.

So the young Clapton grew up in the belief that his grandma Rose was actually his mom. And when Pat turned up – as she did from time to time – he took her for an older sister. But Clapton was clearly haunted by his missing dad, as he reportedly wrote the 1988 hit “My Father’s Eyes” with Fryer in mind.

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And how did Clapton become a musician? Well, when he turned 13, Clapton was given an acoustic guitar – but it seemingly proved hard to get the hang of. So it wasn’t actually until a couple years later that Clapton started in earnest to practice on the instrument. He initially modeled his incessant playing on blues records, too. And once he’d properly mastered the guitar, Clapton was on the road to success.

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In 1963 – when Clapton was just 18 years old – the budding guitarist became a part of the Yardbirds. And Clapton soon made a name for himself with the bluesy rockers, who quickly tasted success. Yet the young musician’s habit of holding up gigs to change broken guitar strings earned him the nickname “Slowhand” – because crowds would start up a sluggish handclap while waiting for him.

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After the Yardbirds, then, the rocker played with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. And following that, Clapton left to form Cream, who focused on improvising blues and “arty pop.” Blind Faith came next, in 1969, and then a solo career that included work with Derek and the Dominoes. It was while in this last group that Clapton co-wrote the hit song “Layla.”

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By the late 1960s, though, Clapton had become friendly with George Harrison of the Beatles. He even played a guitar solo on the Beatles song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which Harrison wrote in 1968. And later in that same year, Clapton featured on Harrison’s first solo album – an experience that the musician would repeat many times afterwards.

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Clapton’s friendship with Harrison also brought him into contact with the latter man’s first wife, Pattie Boyd, whom he reportedly developed a burning passion for. To try to assuage this apparent lust, in fact, Clapton started seeing her sister Paula for a time. The record “Layla” was even seemingly inspired by Clapton’s uncontrollable feelings for Boyd. Yet Boyd initially snubbed him – with disastrous consequences for the guitarist.

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You see, the star then reportedly became a recluse for a few years – even indulging the addictions to heroin and alcohol that would be major features of his life. Clapton didn’t record or perform, either, except during a New York concert put together by Harrison in 1971 in aid of Bangladesh. And there, Clapton was apparently barely able to stay standing for his gig. In January 1973, however, Clapton mounted a comeback concert – and preparing for that seemingly helped him to end his addictions.

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And having given up heroin, Clapton then evidently tried once more to woo Boyd – this time with more success. Boyd left Harrison in 1974, in fact, and she and Clapton later set up home together, marrying in 1979. Clapton also returned to recording music in this period and even hit the top of the charts for the first time, in 1974, with “I Shot the Sheriff.”

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Yet the guitarist had not quit drinking. And the habit – which had reportedly run to a couple bottles of vodka every day in the late 1960s – inevitably took a toll on his relationship. Clapton told U.K. newspaper The Sunday Times in 1999 that he’d even hit Boyd during their time together. He said, “I know that when I was a full-blown, practicing alcoholic, everyone used to walk around me on eggshells.”

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Clapton shared further details of the person that he’d become, too. He said, “I had absolutely no concern for other people at all. And I think that, what happens in a family, is everyone starts to doctor their own roles to make it bearable to live that way.”

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And while still married to Boyd, Clapton allegedly started an affair with Yvonne Kelly in 1984. This would also result in the birth of a daughter named Ruth in early 1985. Yet no one in the media or the public knew about the child for the first few years of her life. It was eventually discovered in 1991.

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Back in October 1985, though, Clapton played a couple of concerts in Milan, Italy. And while there, the musician met and apparently fell for an Italian woman named Lory Del Santo. The pair were not, it seems, put off by his being married, and they allegedly began an affair. This dalliance also led to a pregnancy – the news of which would break Boyd’s heart for a number of reasons.

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Boyd had been struggling with fertility issues, you see. Those issues had even sent Boyd and Clapton to the IVF clinic, without any success. In fact, Boyd had apparently suffered miscarriage after miscarriage. So when Clapton told her that Del Santo was pregnant with his child, Boyd was understandably devastated. Clapton’s biographer Philip Norman reported her saying that it felt “like [her] heart was about to disintegrate.”

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Yet according to Norman, Clapton felt very differently. When the child was born, Norman said, Clapton believed that the kid was “the one thing in [his] life that good could come out of.” Conor, as the boy would be named, was reportedly a bouncy, beautiful boy, sporting luscious blonde locks and a personality that expressed joy and love readily.

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But while she was pregnant, Del Santo had apparently been convinced that Clapton wasn’t interested in having the child. Norman expressed, after all, that it seemed characteristic of the rock star to not have the same keenness on a woman once he’d captured her. Del Santo even reportedly claimed to Norman that one of Clapton’s managers had called her in her first trimester demanding that she terminate her pregnancy.

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Norman also reported that the guitar legend himself had spent those months in turmoil, racked by dark moods. Apparently stuck between a mistress whom he rejected and a wife who rejected him, Clapton felt his life falling to pieces. The star even allegedly tried to end it all by downing an entire container of Valium. This seemingly had no effect other than to leave him entirely sober when he woke up, though.

Yet Norman wrote that towards the date when Conor was due, Clapton began to brighten up. He even apparently brought Del Santo to London because her desire was to have the child in England. Conor was then born by cesarean in St. Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, London, with the rocker present at his birth. Afterwards, Del Santo took the child back to Italy, and Clapton would visit once a month.

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So being a father brought some change to Clapton’s life – but a few things stayed very much the same. He was still an alcoholic, for instance – although he apparently didn’t drink around Conor. In fact, according to Norman, Clapton spent every moment with his son suffering through what he’d describe as “white-knuckle sobriety.” As soon as the star could hand the boy back to Del Santo, then, he would – and then he’d apparently hit the vodka hard.

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Then, in March 1987, Clapton reportedly returned to his home in Surrey and clashed with Boyd early one morning. Slinging insults at her, he then apparently threw her out of their home, pitching her things out of a window. Norman reported that Clapton later confessed that it was “a cruel and vicious thing to do,” and it ended the marriage for good.

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Later that year, too, Clapton started to have fits of shaking. And he apparently began to think that the alcoholism that he suffered from might in some way pass to Conor. He said to biographer Norman, “I realized I had to break the chain and give him what I never really had: a father.” So that November he went into rehab in the U.S. and successfully ended his dependence on alcohol.

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In March 1991, in fact, the guitar legend had gone more than three years without a drink. He had also been able to have regular access to Conor. This is despite a short-but-unsuccessful engagement to Del Santo, as the pair seemingly remained on good terms. Clapton even apparently bought Del Santo the apartment that she lived in with Conor, and she started a relationship with an Italian movie producer.

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The apartment was on the 53rd floor of New York’s Galleria building. One day in March 1991, Clapton turned up there to take Conor to the circus at Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum. He’d never previously had the chance to spend the day out with Conor on his own. And by all accounts, it turned out to be a huge success.

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Conor even reportedly came back from the circus full of excitement and wanting to talk to his mom all about the experience. According to Norman, Clapton told Del Santo that this marked a change for him: he’d be a real dad from this point on. The next day, in fact, Clapton made plans to go to Bronx Zoo with his son.

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And when that day dawned, Conor was reportedly wildly excited, running all around the apartment. His nanny chased him as he went as well. At the time, though, a janitor had reportedly come in to give the windows a clean. Norman wrote that the janitor then warned the nanny that one of the windows was open and that she should watch Conor while it was. Yet there was evidently nothing the nanny could do when Conor raced to the open window – and vanished through it.

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Distraught, Del Santo subsequently telephoned Clapton to tell him that there had been a terrible accident. When he heard that his son had fallen to his death, Clapton could say nothing except, “Are you sure?” He even reportedly set off for the Galleria with the idea in his head that she had been mistaken. But first responders were on the spot, alongside a gathering crowd; there was no mistake.

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Clapton then went to the morgue to see his son. He recalled the event to Norman, saying, “Whatever physical damage Conor suffered in the fall, by the time I saw him they had restored his body to some normality.” He continued, “I remember looking at his beautiful face in repose and thinking, ‘This isn’t my son. It looks a bit like him, but he’s gone.’”

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Clapton and his family buried Conor in Ripley, Surrey, the town where the guitarist himself had been born. The funeral – attended by both Harrison and Boyd – fell just a couple days before the musician’s 46th birthday. Clapton reportedly bore the sad occasion stoically. Conor’s Italian grandma, overcome with emotion, attempted unsuccessfully to fling herself at the coffin.

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During this time, too, there was a deluge of letters sent to Clapton offering condolences. The star also stumbled upon one missive that broke his heart. On a piece of green paper, written in a four-year-old’s shaky capital letters, was a message to him. It read, “I LOVE YOU I WANT TO SEE YOU AGAIN A KISS. LOVE CONOR CLAPTON.”

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Then, for months after Conor’s accident, Clapton entered what he described to Norman as a “waking nightmare.” He reportedly couldn’t sleep and found no respite in music – except for one track: “Wonderful Tonight.” This track had had its inspiration in his love of Boyd, and it apparently seemed to Clapton to recall much happier times.

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But Clapton’s funk didn’t last forever. Eventually, in fact, he recognized that his tragedy could have, at least, some small good come out of it. For instance, the star made a film for the New York State Health Department in which he said, “Fit guards on windows and safety-gates on stairs. It’s easy, and it could prevent a terrible tragedy. Believe me, I know.”

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Clapton was able to take up the guitar once again as well. And through his music, the star found a way to memorialize the son that he had so tragically lost. This was a tribute to Conor in the form of a song called “Tears In Heaven.” It was destined to be a massive hit record.

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In 1992, too, Clapton had to attend the inquest into his son’s accident. The musician was reportedly able to remain restrained and composed throughout. He did not suggest any blame for the janitor. Elsewhere, and despite the terrible grief that had laid him low, Clapton did not turn to the bottle. He seemingly kept showing up at Alcoholics Anonymous and stayed strong.

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His secretary Vivien Griffin told the Daily Mail how Clapton had kept it together. She said, “Eric turned out to have huge strength of character. The kind of tragedy he’d suffered would have sent most people back to the bottle. What kept him going, he always said, was the thought that it would be a betrayal of Conor.”

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And there was another way for Clapton to assuage his grief. His daughter with Yvonne Kelly was now six years old, you see. And at last, the guitar legend was willing to acknowledge her. Her mom had reportedly written Clapton to offer him time with his daughter, which he hadn’t had up to then.

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Clapton then offered to take Ruth and her mom on a cruise in the West Indies. And the star very much enjoyed Ruth’s company, describing her to Norman as “a lifeline in the sea of bewilderment and confusion.” So when the trio returned to the U.K., Clapton resolved to be a proper dad to her.

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This all became part of Clapton’s reformation. Not only did he continue with Alcoholics Anonymous, you see, but he also proved to a fervent supporter. He even founded a center for treatment of substance abuse in Antigua. And he found love again – this time with a woman named Melia McEnery. Seemingly, he has remained faithful to her ever since.

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Clapton met McEnery in 1998, in fact, while attending a party that had been thrown for him in Columbus, Ohio. And come New Year’s Day 2002, the two were married in the church in Ripley, Surrey, that had hosted Conor’s funeral. The sadness that had haunted Clapton, at last, seemed to be turning around.

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The happy couple have gone on to have three girls – but Clapton has not had another son. He does have a grandson, though, born to daughter Ruth. So now a patriarch of a large extended family, Clapton is sober and apparently well. He has, perhaps, at last put his troubled beginnings behind him.

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Another celebrity who has suffered the overwhelming loss of a son is John Travolta. Yes, the Grease star may be successful, famous and rich, but he’s proved far from immune to tragedy. In 2009, you see, Travolta’s son Jett passed away after experiencing a seizure. And both Travolta and the boy’s mother, Kelly Preston, have since spoken about their heartbreaking ordeal – one that left the actor contemplating whether continuing to live was even worth it.

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It goes without saying that losing a child is one of the worst things that can happen to a person. And the statistics surrounding the subject speak to just how devastating such deaths can be on loved ones; mortality rates have been found to be higher than average among bereaved parents in Scandinavia, for example. Yet although tragedies of this kind affect all too many worldwide, the passing of a child and the effects on those left behind are sometimes brushed under the carpet.

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