When it comes to true Rock and Roll legends, no name comes to mind quicker than Eric Clapton. As both a solo artist and a member of multiple iconic rock bands, the extremely skilled blues guitarist has made a name for himself as one of his instrument’s all-time greatest virtuosos. But just because he’s spent decades as a rock star doesn’t mean Clapton’s life hasn’t been full of tragedy.
Here are 42 must-read facts about the one and only Eric Clapton.
1. Too Cool for School
When he was just 16 years old, Clapton got himself expelled from the Kingston College of Art. Apparently, the teen was spending more time and energy on music than on his studies.
2. Grandma’s Boy
When Clapton was still a boy, his family hid a dark secret. He assumed his parents were Rose and Jack Clapp and that he had an older sister named Patricia, but this wasn’t even close to the truth. Patricia was actually his mother. At the tender age of 16, Patricia had an affair with a married man and found herself pregnant with Eric.
Scared and far too young, Patricia instead let him be raised by his grandparents, Rose and Jack, and instead acted merely as a sibling. For most of his childhood, Clapton believed the ruse.
3. Just Passing Through
Even as one of the biggest stars of his era, Clapton never managed to remain a stable, full-time member of any one band’s lineup for too long a period of time, including successful groups like the Yardbirds, Cream, and Derek & the Dominos. In total, Clapton was a member of no fewer than nine bands over the course of his career.
4. While My Friend Gently Weeps
The Beatles’ George Harrison was Clapton’s best friend—but Clapton dealt him a cold-hearted betrayal. For years, Clapton was utterly and hopelessly infatuated with Harrison’s beautiful wife Pattie Boyd. After months of trying to wait it out, he sent her a passionate love letter signed only “E.” Sadly, when he revealed himself, Boyd turned him down to stay faithful to Harrison.
5. One-Track Mind
Clapton’s entire interest in music stems from his lifelong obsession with Robert Johnson. As some music buffs out there already know, Johnson was a mysterious (and now legendary) blues guitarist who recorded a few songs in the 1930s and then died before anyone had really gotten to hear them or learn anything about who he was.
Clapton has frequently covered Johnson’s songs throughout his career, and even released a full album of such covers in 2004.
6. A Stain on His Record
Clapton studied stained-glass design in school before hitting the big time. I guess that could have been his backup career plan if music didn’t work out!
7. Too Slow for Comfort
Clapton’s famous nickname is “Slowhand,” which comes from the days when he often accidentally broke guitar strings during performances. This usually resulted in him pausing to fix the instrument, as the impatient audience slowly clapped to keep themselves entertained while waiting. And thus, a legend was born.
8. This Is Not a Love Story
Somehow, Pattie Boyd and Eric Clapton found a way to each other. After dealing with Harrison’s drinking and infidelities, Boyd split with the Beatle and fell into Clapton’s arms, marrying him in 1979. Sadly, they were also doomed to a heartbreaking end. Clapton was no less faithful, and Boyd divorced him in 1988. But here’s the kicker…
When an interviewer later asked Boyd who the love of her life was, she answered “George.” Ouch.
9. Getting Fooled
Clapton’s iconic psychedelically-painted guitar is known as “The Fool,” and it’s the one he used to record almost all of Cream’s biggest hits. But get this: He actually purchased it used. Because of the total makeover he gave its appearance, someone out there probably has no idea that an item they once owned and discarded became a piece of history.
10. Not So Wonderful Tonight
For many years, Clapton struggled with severe substance abuse and addiction issues. Thankfully, he has since become sober and remained so for decades.
11. The Midas Touch
Clapton’s band the Yardbirds had some great success with its members. Not only did Clapton get his start with them, so did other incredible guitarists Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Jeff Beck.
12. I Shouted at the Sheriff
Clapton once got arrested in Tulsa, Oklahoma on the way to a performance. His crime was a doozy. The authorities apprehended him for drunkenly fighting with a fellow passenger on the flight into town, and then shouting at officers who tried to question him about what happened. Who knows, maybe it was just a bad day?
13. Table Talk
Music is not Clapton’s only passion. The guitar god is such a huge soccer fanatic (or, as he would call it, football) that during his 1995 tour, he demanded that his staff set up a special backstage foosball room for him in every single venue he played across North America. I mean, talk about diva behavior. Move over, Aretha.
14. The First Lady of Rock
Clapton’s love Pattie Boyd inspired not one but two of the best rock songs in history. George Harrison wrote her the Beatles’ song “Something,” while Clapton mayyyyybbe one-upped Harrison with one of the most passionate, anguished love songs ever penned: “Layla.” Sorry George, you had some other classic bangers.
15. Humble Beginnings
Although the Yardbirds was the group that made Clapton a star, they weren’t his first band. For about six months, Clapton belonged to a short-lived group called “The Roosters”—though, at the time, his bandmates say his skills were nothing particularly special. Unable to garner any attention, the group soon folded, but not before it sparked the future star’s lifelong love of performing.
16. Pie in the Sky
In 1976, Clapton was shooting the film Circasia with Hollywood legend Shirley MacLaine. Unfortunately, the shoot took a disturbing turn. One day, Clapton decided to play a practical joke by smacking MacLaine in the face with a cream pie. MacLaine didn’t quite see the humor: She reportedly refused to speak to the guitar legend for six months after the incident.
17. The Show Must Go on
Clapton’s substance abuse problems were so extreme at times that he once performed an entire concert lying on the ground, drunkenly singing into a microphone that was lying beside him.
18. Building up His Career
Prior to his career as a musician, Clapton spent time working as a bricklayer.
19. What’s in a Name?
Another one of Clapton’s well-known nicknames is “God,” as weird as that may sound to those who have never heard it before. It started in the mid-1960s when a now famous photograph captured the words “Clapton Is God” spray-painted on a London wall. The slogan caught on like wildfire, similar graffiti popped up around the world, and the nickname has stuck ever since.
20. Third Time’s the Charm
Clapton is the only artist in history who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on three separate occasions: as a member of the Yardbirds, as a member of Cream, and as a solo artist.
21. Bell Bottom Blues
Clapton and Pattie Boyd’s relationship was filled with heartbreak and infidelity, but the final reason for their split was the worst of all. Boyd left him for good just after the musician got another woman pregnant in 1988.
22. Sunshine of Your Screen
In addition to writing and performing hit rock songs, Clapton has another impressive artistic talent on his resume. He has composed the soundtracks for more than 20 films and television shows, including Wayne’s World and Lethal Weapon.
23. One Can Dream
When the Beatles faced internal strife while making Let It Be, George Harrison briefly quit the group. During that time, John Lennon suggested that they pursue Clapton as a possible replacement in the event that Harrison decided not to return. Yes, the world really did come that close to Slowhand becoming a Beatle.
24. Making Amends
After overcoming his difficult struggle with substance abuse, Clapton decided to give back. He opened up the Crossroads Rehabilitation Centre in 1998 in Antigua and devoted it to specializing in subsidized addiction treatments. Anyone in need can benefit from the center’s programs, regardless of their financial state.
25. It’s Not You, It’s Me
At one point, Clapton thought he was going to be asked to join Robbie Robertson’s famous group The Band. Except it came to a mortifying end. Clapton was extremely excited at the opportunity and paid the band a visit, fully expecting to receive an offer. Well, none came: When Clapton asked if they needed two guitar players, Robertson simply didn’t answer.
26. I Shot the Engines
An avid car fan, Clapton owns a very elaborate personal Ferrari collection, including a $4.7 million custom vehicle.
27. To Sleep, to Dream
During the throes of his breakup with Boyd, Clapton was so emotionally distraught that he attempted suicide. He consumed a full bottle of pills which, thankfully, only ended up putting him into a deep sleep.
28. Whose Guitar Is It Anyway?
Surprisingly, one of Clapton’s most famous guitar solos of all time is one that he was completely uncredited for. In an extremely rare case of a guest performer playing on an original Beatles record, George Harrison tasked his pal Clapton to play the solo on the now-classic song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
In 2016, Clapton revealed a devastating development. He is currently suffering from peripheral neuropathy, a nerve damage condition with no cure. Sadly, not only has this condition caused him a great deal of physical pain in recent years, it has also made it very difficult for him to continue to do what he loves best: play the guitar.
30. Cultural Crossroads
By covering Bob Marley’s song “I Shot the Sheriff” in 1974, Clapton was largely responsible for introducing the general public to the Jamaican singer’s music and to the reggae genre as a whole.
31. Gift Wrapped
Clapton greatly admired Jimi Hendrix, his friend and main rival for the title of the era’s greatest guitarist. As a result, Clapton purchased a left-handed guitar in September 1970 to give Hendrix as a gift the next time they saw each other. Tragically, he never had the chance to give it to him. Hendrix lost his life unexpectedly that same year.
32. In a White Rock With Black Craters Near the Space Station
Clapton isn’t just a legend on Earth, he’s made quite a name for himself in outer space too! The artist has an asteroid, the “4305 Clapton,” named after him.
33. Here Comes a Great Song
The Beatles’ popular song “Here Comes the Sun” came together in Clapton’s garden. George Harrison was having a rough time dealing with some music industry drama and took a day off to hang out in his friend’s peaceful yard. Next thing he knew, this relaxing setting had inspired what has since become an all-time classic song.
34. It’s Got Us on Our Knees
The famous guitar part in Clapton’s signature song “Layla” consists of no fewer than 16 separately-recorded tracks layered on top of one another.
35. Feeling the Blues
Despite his many years of fame, Clapton has stated that he suffers from insecurities, particularly an inferiority complex.
36. A Little Bit Louder
Clapton has suffered from tinnitus in recent years, and admitted in an interview that he is gradually losing his hearing.
37. Almost Making History
Incredibly, Clapton was responsible for the closest thing to a full Beatles reunion. Following his wedding to Pattie Boyd, Clapton hosted a reception and invited all of his friends. Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison were all in attendance, and at one point they broke out into a spontaneous jam session.
If not for the fact that John Lennon was unable to leave the United States at the time, he would likely have attended and participated in the fun, too. If he had, this would have marked the only time in history that all four members of the Beatles played together since the band’s breakup. As it is, it’s pretty darn close.
38. Wherefore Art Thou, Beano?
Clapton’s first professional guitar, known to his fans as “Beano,” was robbed from a backstage rehearsal room in 1966. Despite many wanted ads and decades of public interest in the mystery, the instrument’s whereabouts remain unknown to this day.
39. Foxy Singer
Though he’s generally not one to get political, Clapton made an exception in 2006 when he agreed to headline a concert in protest of a fox hunting ban in the United Kingdom.
40. Tears in Heaven
A lot of people know that Clapton’s song “Tears in Heaven” is about the tragic fate of his 4-year-old son Conor, but few know the whole horrific story. In 1991, Conor accidentally fell out of a 53rd-floor apartment window and lost his life. The incident was so heartbreaking for Clapton and the boy’s mother, Lory Del Santo, that they never even discussed it.
41. Seeing You in Heaven
Just days before Clapton’s four-year-old son Conor passed away in a tragic accident, the young boy was excited about having just learned to write his first few words. Wanting to show off his new skill, his mother helped him write a letter to Clapton saying “I Love You.” They then innocently dropped the letter in the mailbox and forgot about it—until it made a chilling re-appearance.
Eerily, the letter arrived at the house to greet a shocked Clapton immediately after the boy’s funeral.
42. Getting Even
Clapton’s pursuit of Pattie Boyd was a slap in the face of his friendship with George Harrison—but Harrison eventually got his revenge. According to Clapton’s ex-girlfriend Lory Del Santo, she and Harrison had a brief affair together in 1991. If that’s not a case of “returning a favor” gone wrong, I don’t know what is.