Veteran rockstar Eric Clapton suffered through one of the most harrowing experiences that life can possibly serve up to a person. On March 20, 1991, the musician’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’”
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Needless to say, then, the lack of acknowledgement of a child’s death can add to feelings of loneliness and isolation that may only compound the initial grief. And this is why it can be helpful when stars speak out about how their own losses have affected them. Whenever Travolta talks about Jett, you see, it may encourage others to recognize that they’re not alone in their hurt.
And Travolta is certainly a star, having come to fame through such hits as Grease and Saturday Night Fever. His leading performance in the disco-themed movie was so highly regarded, in fact, that it landed him a Best Actor nomination at the Academy Awards – making him one of the youngest people to have ever received that honor.
Travolta’s box-office success continued into the ’80s and ’90s, too, thanks to his turns in films such as Pulp Fiction, Face/Off, Primary Colors and the Look Who’s Talking franchise. He also received another Oscar nod for Pulp Fiction, with his performance in Tarantino’s thriller still considered one of his best.
And it was during this period that Travolta met his future wife, Kelly Preston, whom he first encountered on the set of 1987’s The Experts. Preston was attracted to Travolta, too, even though she was already married to fellow actor Kevin Gage. Perhaps as a result of running into the Grease star, though, she chose to divorce Gage in 1987.
Then Travolta and Preston – who are both Scientologists – finally tied the knot themselves in 1991. In fact, they were actually wed twice that year. Their first ceremony took place at the Hotel de Crillon in Paris and was performed by a minister of Scientology; as the couple had never lived in the French capital, though, the marriage was ultimately declared null and void. Consequently, the pair chose to wed again in Florida a week later.
And in April 1992, Jett came into the world – after a labor in accordance with Scientology doctrine. At the time, a statement from Travolta and Preston published in USA Today confirmed that the pair had followed “the method recommended in Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard, which stresses complete silence during delivery.”
Preston isn’t the only woman to have attempted this feat, of course. In 2006 Katie Holmes – then the wife of Travolta’s fellow Scientologist Tom Cruise – made headlines when she too reportedly went through a “silent birth.” In 2012, however, Holmes divorced Cruise and appeared to renounce Scientology, returning instead to her Roman Catholic roots.
But the Travoltas nearly lost their son early. When Jett was still just an infant, he was involved in an accident after the electronics failed on an aircraft being flown by his father. Thankfully, though, Travolta and his co-pilot managed to land without anyone being hurt, and the plane was later renamed after the actor’s first-born.
And in 1994 Travolta told People just how much he adored having a son. “I can’t imagine what life would be like without Jett,” he explained. “After he was born and cleaned up, I held him for hours while Kelly slept. When they came to take him away for various tests, I said, ‘No, you can’t see him today. You’ll have to do it another day.’ I went a little nutsy.”
Behind the scenes, though, Travolta and Preston were having to cope with a diagnosis that may have devastated the parents. And in 2003 Preston opened up about Jett’s health problems on The Montel Williams Show; there, she discussed a time when her son had had “rashes all over his body” and “flu symptoms.”
The troubling period to which Preston was referring to had taken place when Jett was just two. Back then, as she explained to Williams, the toddler had come down with a high fever. “When I took [Jett] to the doctor on about the third or fourth occasion, his fever in the doctor’s office went up to 105 °F. They had to bring it down. It was really scary,” Preston said. “He had rashes all over his body. His lymph nodes were swollen.”
“He just kept getting sicker and sicker,” Preston continued. It turned out, too, that the actress had to take her son to several doctors before eventually receiving a firm diagnosis. “I just kept going back, saying, ‘What’s going on?’” Preston recalled. “And finally [the doctor] looked into her physician’s reference and said, ‘I think he has something called Kawasaki syndrome.’”
Preston then discussed what Kawasaki syndrome entails. “It causes swelling in the organs, so your heart can swell, different important organs can swell… I rushed him to the hospital,” she said. “They did all of the tests… and the entire ward was filled with children with Kawasaki syndrome – something I’d never heard of.”
Kawasaki disease – which is also referred to as mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome – is mostly found in young children and can lead to ballooning of the body’s blood vessels. And although the majority of youngsters who contract Kawasaki disease respond to treatment, in some cases there can be complications that can extend to the heart – although such instances are rare.
Sadly, however, Jett had more than one medical problem to contend with during his short life. In her Montel Williams Show interview, Preston also made reference to her son having “a very severe asthma attack” at one point. And although the Travolta family never confirmed as much when Jett was alive, he was affected by autism and seizures, too.
Tragically, Jett died in 2009 in the Bahamas while on holiday with his family. He was discovered comatose in a bathroom after having apparently banged his head during a seizure. And although the emergency services were naturally called to the location, they could unfortunately do nothing to save the 16-year-old boy’s life.
Travolta was at least with his son in Jett’s last moments, according to a paramedic who’d been at the scene. “[Travolta] hugged [Jett], put his arm around him, kissed him on the forehead and the cheek and told him he loved him,” Tarino Lightbourne told Good Morning America not long after the incident. “He then turned to me and gave me a hug and said, ‘You guys did a wonderful job.’”
And in the midst of their grief, the Travolta family released a statement on Jett’s passing via the actor’s website. “We are heartbroken that our time with [Jett] was so brief. We will cherish the time we had with him for the rest of our lives,” the message read. “Jett was the most wonderful son that two parents could ever ask for and lit up the lives of everyone he encountered.”
“We have received many messages of condolence from around the world, and we want to thank everyone for their prayers and support,” the statement continued. “It has meant so much to us. It is a beautiful reminder of the inherent goodness in the human spirit that gives us hope for a brighter future.”
Unfortunately, not long after Jett’s death, Travolta and Preston were forced to relive the traumatic incident during a court case. In a shocking turn of events, the paramedic who’d assisted Jett, Tarino Lightbourne, and a lawyer named Pleasant Bridgewater were alleged to be trying to blackmail Travolta over Jett’s death. In particular, it was claimed that the pair had warned that they would go public with Jett’s confidential medical records unless they were given money.
As a result, Travolta was forced to reveal the details of Jett’s death to the court – the first time he’d ever talked about the matter publicly. “I was awakened by Eli, my son’s nanny, pounding on the door [and] saying Jett was unconscious,” he recalled, according to The Daily Telegraph. “I ran at the door, [and] I ran downstairs to help my son with my wife – I saw him on the bathroom floor.”
It seemed, too, that the Travolta family’s staff had all done their utmost to try to save the 16-year-old’s life. Travolta confirmed that Jett’s “other nanny, Jeff Kathrein, and an employee, a woman from Old Bahama Bay, was doing CPR on him… I took the place of the woman. Jeff was doing compressions, and I was doing breathing. I asked if an ambulance had been called, and I was told, ‘Yes.’”
Travolta also revealed in his testimony that his son had suffered with autism and seizures – two conditions that commonly go hand in hand. And it appears that Jett’s health issues had been quite severe. His father told the court, for instance, that Jett would have seizures every five to ten days and would then sleep for half a day after they’d ended.
Ultimately, Travolta decided to drop out of the trial. And in September 2010 – more than a year after Jett had died – he released a statement explaining his decision. “The long-pending status of this matter continued to take a heavy emotional toll on my family, causing us to conclude that it was finally time to put this matter behind us,” he said.
In addition, Preston was pregnant with the couple’s third child at the time. “After much reflection, I concluded that it was in my family’s best interest for me not to voluntarily return to the Bahamas to testify a second time at trial,” Travolta’s statement concluded. As a result, the extortion case was declared a mistrial.
The Travolta family subsequently tried to move on with their lives. And in 2010 Preston gave birth to a second son, Benjamin, whom she later claimed resembled both his father and late brother. “We just saw a picture of John when he was an infant – Jetty too – and they’re exactly the three same pictures,” she said during a 2011 interview with Today.
At around the same time, Travolta also revealed his belief that Benjamin was “a miracle” for the family. “For us, [Benjamin’s arrival has] been uplifting,” he told People. “He’s given the house a renewed spirit and purpose. He’s brought us a new beginning, and his presence has brought joy to all the people who have wanted the best for us.”
But even though the couple found new happiness in having another child to raise, the Travolta-Preston family never forgot about Jett. And over the years, Travolta has spoken to the media about the difficulties he faced in attempting to move on without his son. At one point, for example, he even considered quitting his career in Hollywood.
Yes, in 2012 Travolta told BBC Breakfast that it had taken him a while to want to act again following Jett’s death. “After three years [of] getting a lot of support from my church and a lot of support from people – fans, family – I decided that it was okay to go back to work,” he said. “I’d even thought of retiring at one point because it felt like too much.”
And in 2014 the actor delivered a heartfelt and emotive statement about his loss. While being interviewed on stage at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London, Travolta told the audience that Jett’s death was “the worst thing that’s ever happened in [his] life.” He added, “The truth is, I didn’t know if I was going to make it. Life was no longer interesting to me, so it took a lot to get me better.”
The psychological effects of losing a child are, of course, catastrophic, and Travolta’s statements therefore probably wouldn’t be surprising to anyone who had suffered through the same experience. Going through such a traumatic episode can leave bereaved parents with complex mental health issues, in fact – including PTSD in some cases.
And Preston has also spoken openly to the media about her son. While appearing on The Conversation with Amanda de Cadenet in 2012, she stated, for example, “Nobody should have to lose a child. It’s unfathomable.” Yet the actress offered a ray of hope to others. “But I’m here to say that you can get through it. You can live again. You can want to live again,” she added.
Preston’s fans and supporters had also helped her, she explained. “People were so beautiful – so, so extraordinary, from all over the world,” the star said. “Everybody grieves in their own way. I felt at times like I was drowning. It felt like a sea of wet blankets. And then I just peeled them off, layer by layer, so that I can now say, ‘I want to live. I love life. My life is beautiful and amazing.’”
“There are still things that come up, for sure, but I am able to live,” Preston continued. “And to want to live. I can laugh. I’m – for the most part – happy. That’s the greatest gift ever.” And she spoke, too, about the couple’s other children: baby Ben and daughter Ella. “I’m not afraid to love and to love deeply,” she revealed. “My kids help me with that.”
It would be Preston, too, who would post a tribute to Jett on Instagram in April 2019. And the date upon which she released the message appeared to have been a carefully chosen one; it was seven days before Jett would have turned 27 and shortly after World Autism Day. The accompanying photo showed both Preston and Travolta kissing their son.
“To my sweet love, Jett… you are in our hearts forever,” Preston wrote as a caption to the picture. “I send love to all of the beautiful autistic children and the wonderful people who love them. May we all shine and grant love and respect to children with special needs.” She also tagged the post with “#autismawareness” and “#autism.”
And people with similar life experiences subsequently shared their own thoughts in the comments. “[Jett’s] memory will always be with you,” read one. Another individual, who claimed that their child also had autism, told Preston, “I often think of you and your loss and what you had to endure. It helps me know that no matter what happens, life will go on.”
Then, when Jett’s 27th birthday finally came around, his father also took to social media. On Instagram, the actor posted a beautiful portrait that he’d received as a tribute. “A painting a fan made of my son Jett!” he wrote. “Happy birthday my son, I love you!” So, while Jett has been gone for a decade now, it’s clear that his family will always remember him.