How Alcoholism Saved Eric Clapton from Suicide

I’m always torn when it comes to admiring people who may be talented, but who should not be morally allowed to reserve our undying adulation.  Fame and adoration tend to clasp each other, and since most performers are broken, it becomes a difficult task to try to divine who deserves our public scorn versus who deserves our moral compassion.

It’s no secret that I’m an Eric Clapton fanatic — but there is no hiding from the facts of his life that he was an addict, an abandoned child and an abandoning father — and one of the greatest guitar talents of several generations.

What’s a fan to do?  Pity the man?  Admire the Guitar God?  Can we temper the person with a little bit of each, or are we not allowed to split the righteous baby when it comes to placing a talent in the history of time?

Here’s an especially disturbing passage from Clapton’s autobiography where he reveals that it was his alcoholism that saved him from killing himself:

In the lowest moments of my life, the only reason I didn’t commit suicide was that I knew I wouldn’t be able to drink any more if I was dead. It was the only thing I thought was worth living for, and the idea that people were about to try and remove me from alcohol was so terrible that I drank and drank and drank, and they had to practically carry me into the clinic.

Here’s a YouTube video of Clapton singing “Wonderful Tonight” and, to my eye, it looks like he’s not his right self.  The performance tempo is woefully under and painfully slow — you can feel the band trying to hurry him back on the beat — and Eric appears to be nodding off as he sings.  A sad fall of a proud talent — but he never misses a note!

“Wonderful Tonight” averages 3:45 in performance, and in that version, Eric dirged in at an astonishingly slow-motion, Slowhand-ed, 9:30!

The good end to the Clapton addiction is that he’s clean today, he got a lot of help when he needed it, and he’s giving back through his Crossroads Antigua rehab center – but all of this makes a mishmash of a man and still begs the question of how we should view Eric Clapton in history.

Do we only evaluate the talent?  Or must we always also evaluate the man?  Should morality and duality and duplicity play any role whatsoever in the celebrities we enjoy following and watching and imitating in order to find the greatness within us?

Do we place those with a greater, verifiable, talent spanning decades above those celebrities who pass like farts under the bed sheet during the night?  Or is everlasting fame something we cannot decide on, or participate in, because it has an indistinguishable life of its own beyond us?

2 comments

  • I am sure we have discussed similar before – that fine line between genius and broken. So many of our greats walk so close to that line , with addiction problems, the deepest darkest depressions and of course the adrenaline junkies. It seems to befall a lot of our musical , theatrical and comic geniuses.

    I often wonder if they suffer because of their genius, or their genius is borne out of their suffering.

    The “everlasting flames” do have lives of their own ……. some just burn out quicker than others.

    • Yes, there’s a lot of pressure to live up to the promise of your life. Clapton always delivered, and I’m sure there were devils in him somewhere that kept telling him the talent was in the bottle and not the brain.

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