For rock guitarist Eric Clapton, it was a nightmare that happened in daylight. In a Manhattan penthouse apartment where Clapton's 4-year-old only child, Conor, and the boy's mother, Italian-born actress Lori Del Santo, were staying, a male housekeeper was cleaning the 4-by 6-foot windows. He had finished one of the large bedroom panes, which pivot inward to facilitate upkeep, and had left it open to dry. Suddenly the little boy rushed toward the opening and disappeared over the 18-inch-high windowsill. A moment later, in an adjacent brick building some 50 floors below, superintendent Peter Goyco heard a tremendous thud. "I thought it was an air-conditioner," he said. On the roof he found, instead, the body of a boy, dressed in red pajamas and blue slippers. Except for the trickle of blood from his nose, he looked "like a doll," said Goyco.

Clapton, 45, who was in town, sped to the hospital where Conor was taken and joined Del Santo, 32. The loss of his son was the latest blow in a life freighted with troubles. There was his early battle with heroin, the 1988 divorce from ex-model Patti Boyd following his brief affair with Del Santo, then, last August, the helicopter crash that claimed four colleagues, including friend and fellow bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan. Clapton called those deaths "a tragic loss." They were, sadly, merely a prelude to one even closer.