The Man Who Helped Eric Clapton Finish His Heartbreaking Hit “Tears in Heaven”

On March 20, 1991, Eric Clapton‘s 4-year-old son, Conor, died after falling from a 53rd-floor window of a New York City apartment. Mourning for his son, Clapton began writing one of his biggest hits “Tears in Heaven.”

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Would You Hold My Hand…

Prior to the tragic event, Clapton and Will Jennings—who would pen Celine Dion‘s Titanic hit “My Heart Will Go On” several years later—had started writing a song for the film Rush, starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jason Patric as undercover narcotic cops.

Soon after the tragedy, both added another track as a tribute and lament to Clapton’s son.

Initially, Clapton had written the lyrics Would you hold my hand / If I saw you in Heaven, and asked Jennings to help him write the remaining lyrics.

Would you hold my hand?
If I saw you in heaven
Would you help me stand?
If I saw you in heaven

I’ll find my way
Through night and day
‘Cause I know I just can’t stay
Here in heaven

Time can bring you down
Time can bend your knees
Time can break your heart
Have you begging please
Begging please

Will Jennings

“So that whole first thing, ‘Would you know my name if I saw you… would it be the same… I must be strong here because I know there’ll be no… because I know I don’t belong here in heaven,’ that was the kernel of the thing, and I tried to get Eric to finish it, but he really wanted me to work at it,'” revealed Jennings. “We had already written an in-title song for the film called ‘Help Me Up.’ This terrible thing had just happened not too long before, and he just wanted to write about it, and there was a place in the film for it, so he did that.”

Jennings continued, “I wrote a bit of the same verse and all the words on the release, Time can bring you down, time can bend your knee, time can break your heart, have you begging please, and beyond the door there’s peace, I’m sure, And I know there’ll be no more tears in heaven, so it was one of those things. I was really moved that he had wanted me to work on it and tried to do the best I could.”

Throughout his long career, Jennings also co-wrote Barry Manilow‘s “Looks Like We Made It” and “Somewhere in the Night” and Dionne Warwick‘s 1978 hit “I’ll Never Love This Way Again.” Later on, Jennings also co-wrote the Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes hit “Up Where We Belong” for the 1982 film An Officer and a Gentleman, along with Rodney Crowell‘s hits “What Kind of Love” and “Many a Long & Lonesome Highway,” Tim McGraw‘s 1995 No. 1 “Please Remember Me,” along with songs for B.B. King, Roy Orbison, Whitney Houston, Jimmy Buffet, and Mariah Carey, among many more.

Clapton’s Biggest Hit

Recorded at Village Recorder in Santa Monica, California, Clapton laid down the acoustic hit, which peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100. Also Clapton’s best-selling single U.S., “Tears in Heaven” won three Grammy Awards for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.

In 1992, Clapton also released another version of the song on his live album, Unplugged, which was originally recorded for the MTV Unplugged series.

“It was furthest from my mind, really,” said Jennings of the success of the song. “I was so involved in the sensitivity of the subject, and I didn’t even think about that. I’m passionate about all the songs I write, but it was just in another place entirely, another category.”

Clapton once shared what “Tears of Heaven” still meant to him.

“I almost subconsciously used music for myself as a healing agent, and lo and behold, it worked,” he said. “I have got a great deal of happiness and a great deal of healing from music.”

Photo by Frank Hoensch/Redferns

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