Eric Clapton found sobriety 'scary,' feared it would hurt his performance: author

Eric Clapton, the famed guitarist known for "Layla" and "Tears in Heaven," has been sober for over three decades. He was married to Jenny Boyd's sister, Pattie Boyd.

Eric Clapton found sobriety 'scary,' feared it would hurt his performance: author

Eric Clapton knew he needed to ditch the bottle – and fast.

His former sister-in-law, Jenny Boyd, still vividly recalls sitting down with the famed guitarist. 

It was the ‘90s, and he had already embraced sobriety after attempting to escape it.

"It was about giving over to a higher power knowing that, in the past, you probably tried to stop drinking, but you didn’t have the ability, you couldn’t control that," the former model told Fox News Digital. "It’s out of your control. And, so, you have to hand it over."


The ex-wife of Fleetwood Mac’s Mick Fleetwood and drummer Ian Wallace has written a new book, "Icons of Rock: In Their Own Words." It’s based on conversations Boyd had with her rock star pals over the years about their music.

"I’ve been dragging these cassettes around for years," Boyd chuckled. "I’ve been protecting them. But I also thought about how different music is today. … It’s been wonderful to revisit these interviews, these testimonials. I believe they offer a wonderful insight into the minds of these artists."

Clapton, 78, was married to Pattie Boyd, a model and ex-wife of George Harrison of the Beatles.

"When I first met him, I guess I was about 16 or 17 [in 1965]," Jenny Boyd explained. "At the time, I was dating Mick. Eric lived in Notting Hill Gate, and he would be playing at the small clubs there. So I would often see him.

"In those days, we were all so young and in awe of music. We always hung out in the clubs to see the bands play. … It all felt like we were part of this cool family just listening to music. It had nothing to do with fame."

By the time Boyd sat down with Clapton, he had already called it quits with her sister in 1989. Boyd and Clapton were still pals, and she was curious about one thing.

According to the book, Boyd asked him, "Why would you always drink? Was it the fear of having a sort of God-given gift and how heavy that must have been at times, like touching the hem of God’s garment? To numb out feeling special?"


Clapton looked at her and said, "Very perceptive."

"I would see so much of him and Pattie," Boyd recalled to Fox News Digital. "I would wonder why he would get so drunk. He said he saw himself like any other man on the street. He didn’t have anything special about him. But I thought, ‘No, he has a God-given gift, and that gift is so powerful and so strong that he doesn’t know how to cope with it.’ And so, he would drink. He said, ‘Yeah, that’s right. That’s exactly why I drank. It was too much.’ He said, ‘[Performing] is sometimes like staring into the face of God and you feel naked.’ It was scary. So he drank to cope."

According to Boyd, alcohol gave Clapton the confidence to perform on stage. The idea of getting sober and losing that confidence to play freely frightened him.

"He was at a point, the point that you call rock bottom," she said. "He realized he couldn’t carry on like this anymore. … But it was really scary. He was scared because he drank to give him confidence. And that’s how you start with drinking. He'd been so used to playing drunk. … I remember seeing him lying down on the stage. He still has his guitar in his hand and he’s still playing. But it obviously came to a point where he couldn’t do that anymore.

"He said it was really frightening to begin with, the idea of getting sober," she reflected. "But once he took that chance to better himself, he realized he could be OK. He could still play. But leading up to that moment, it was nerve-wracking for a while."

Clapton told Boyd "it’s very frightening" to be exposed on stage. The drinking helped.

"You’re kind of naked a lot of the time and afraid of exposing yourself," he told her, as quoted in the book. "You’re very vulnerable."

Clapton described his recovery as "a spiritual program," one that gave him the ability to take charge of his health and discover his confidence without leaning on alcohol.

"It’s about giving in to that higher power," Boyd said. "It’s about knowing that you’ve tried everything, and you have to hand it over. It’s all part of the program. But it’s a very healing experience. You connect with others who are all going through the same experience."

In his 2007 autobiography, Clapton wrote that the birth of his son Conor in 1986 and the breakdown of his marriage were wake-up calls. He welcomed his child with his mistress, Italian actress Lory Del Santo.


"For me, these were pretty drunken sessions, and, looking back, I don’t know how I got through them," he wrote about recording music leading up to his sobriety, as quoted from a Vanity Fair excerpt. "I was trying my hardest to hide my drinking from everybody, unsuccessfully as it turned out."

Clapton also recalled how the birth of his son gave him the strength to get clean.

"Up till that moment, it had seemed as though my life had been a series of episodes that held very little meaning," he wrote. "The only time it had seemed real was when I was challenging myself in some way with music. Everything else — the drinking, the tours, even my life with Pattie — all had an air of artificiality to it. When the baby finally came, they gave him to me to hold. I was spellbound, and I felt so proud, even though I had no idea how to hold a baby.

"One day, cooped up in my hotel room, a long way from home, with nothing to think about but my own pain and misery, I suddenly knew that I had to go back into treatment," he continued. "I thought to myself, 'This has got to stop.' I really did it for Conor, because I thought, no matter what kind of human being I was, I couldn’t stand being around him like that. I couldn’t bear the idea that, as he experienced enough of life to form a picture of me, it would be a picture of the man I was then. ... On November 21, 1987, I went back into treatment."

According to reports, Clapton has been sober over three decades. Clapton was three years into his sobriety when Conor fell out of an open bedroom window and died in 1991. He was four years old. A grief-stricken Clapton turned to music to cope with his pain. It resulted in the mournful ballad "Tears in Heaven."

Boyd said she hasn’t been in touch with Clapton in recent years. A spokesperson for the singer didn’t immediately respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment about Boyd’s book.

"It was truly an extraordinary experience to learn from these artists and how the music came to them," she reflected. "Whether they received the lyrics through dreams or a simple riff. … All I had to do was pull out the recorder and just listen."