Eric Clapton's chronic alcoholism was treated as a joke by those around him, according to his then-wife PATTI BOYD.

The LAYLA legend suffered from the disease during the late 1970s and terrified the former model with his self-destructive behaviour. And her worries were intensified by the inability of others close to him to accept he was seriously ill.

Boyd - who married Clapton after leaving his best friend George Harrison for him - says, "About eight years after we first got together, it reached a point when it wasn't fun any more.

"I said to myself, 'There might possibly be a problem here called alcoholism.' It was a taboo subject then. Nobody admitted to being an alcoholic and out of control.

"There was a concert in Australia where Eric played lying down on his back because he just couldn't stand up. A few people thought it was funny but the sad truth is it was desperate.

"I set out to try and help him, looking for doctors who treated alcohol problems and trying to make him face things."

Clapton eventually sought help and remains sober but the couple divorced in 1988.

03/09/2004 09:09