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Eric Clapton Opens Up in Documentary

A look at the private life of one of the greatest music heroes of the boomer generation

Eric Clapton in 1974, multiple exposure of him singing

Waring Abbott/Getty Images

British musician, guitarist, singer-songwriter, record producer and artist Eric Clapton performing at Madison Square Garden in 1974.

Famed guitarist Eric Clapton spoke with AARP ahead of his documentary that begins airing on Showtime Feb. 10. He talked about why he revealed so much in Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars.

There was a lot of footage and information about my career that had been archived. A couple of friends of mine and I started talking about what to do with it all, but nothing happened. Then a few years ago, I wasn’t very well, and I thought, This needs to be done now; I’m just going to gather all this stuff up and give it to someone to condense.

That’s when I approached Lili Zanuck [the director], who is a dear friend. Her response was, “Do you want me to tell the truth?” I said, “What other way can we do it?”

While I was a producer in the sense that I was funding the project, I didn’t think it was right to interfere with what she was doing; I didn’t want to color it in any way. So I just let her get on with it over the past two years. When I saw it, it was pretty near to being the final cut, and I thought, This is tough, maybe a bit too tough. But I showed it to my wife, and we showed it to the kids, and they were very moved by it. And I thought, Well, this is great.

There was a lot that went down in my life before I made some of the famous albums like Unplugged, and people should know the facts, especially people who think you can’t make music unless you’re high. That’s a message that I thought was important — especially for people in the arts. They can see that I made it through, and the better part of my career has been in sobriety.

That’s really the message of the film. I thought it was important for me to share it, rather than having someone else do it after I’ve passed. 

Eric Clapton holding guitar on stage


Eric Clapton performing at London's Royal Albert Hall in 2015.