Iconic and Controversial Irish Artist Sinéad O’Connor Dies at 56

Byvu lita

Jul 27, 2023

Sinéad O’Connor, the trailblazing Irish artist and “Nothing Compares 2 U” hitmaker, has died, according to a family statement obtained by the BBC. She was 56.

“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved Sinéad,” O’Connor’s family said in the statement. “Her family and friends are devastated and have requested privacy at this very difficult time.”

The vocalist’s cause of death has not yet been revealed. USA TODAY has reached out to O’Connor’s representatives for comment.

The news comes more than a year after O’Connor’s 17-year-old son Shane died by suicide in January 2022. The singer posted a series of troubling messages to her Twitter account in the weeks following his death, writing, “I’ve decided to follow my son. There’s no point living without him.” Shane was one of O’Connor’s four children.

Irish singer-songwriter Sinéad O'Connor has died, according to a family statement obtained by the BBC.

O’Connor released her debut album, “The Lion and the Cobra” in 1987, and three years later, shot to worldwide fame with her sophomore effort “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.” The album was bolstered by lead single “Nothing Compares 2 U,” an aching cover of Prince’s 1985 song.

Her haunting performance of the power ballad spent four weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, and was nominated for three Grammy Awards including record of the year. It was accompanied by a now-iconic music video of O’Connor in tight closeup singing directly into the camera.

But her mainstream success was short-lived. The singer endured enormous fallout from her 1992 “Saturday Night Live” appearance, in which she tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II while singing Bob Marley’s “War,” in protest of child sex abuse in the Catholic Church. Religious groups burned her albums and radio stations pulled her songs. Joe Pesci, who hosted “SNL” a week later, held up a repaired photo of the Pope during his opening monologue, saying he would’ve given O’Connor “such a smack” had he been there.

Weeks later, O’Connor was loudly booed at a Bob Dylan tribute concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden. She was set to sing Dylan’s “I Believe in You,” but switched to an a cappella version of “War.” Despite the backlash, she expressed no regrets about the controversial “SNL” moment, later calling it the “proudest” moment of her career.

“They all thought I should be made a mockery of for throwing my career down the drain,” O’Connor said in “Nothing Compares,” a documentary about her life released last year. “I didn’t say I wanted to be a pop star. It didn’t suit me to be a pop star. So I didn’t throw away any career that I wanted. It didn’t change my attitude.”

Sinéad O'Connor at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1993.

O’Connor was born on Dec. 8, 1966, in Dublin. In her documentary, she detailed her deeply religious upbringing and alleged abuse by her mother, Marie. In one particularly harrowing section of the film, she recounted how her mom locked her outside and forced her to sleep in the garden, even as she stood by the window and begged to be let back inside. Marie later died in a car accident when O’Connor was just 19.

The musician later said that she thought of her mom and “the little girl in the garden” whenever she sang “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

O’Connor frequently used her music to advocate for social justice: denouncing police brutality in 1990’s “Black Boys on Mopeds” and calling for women’s rights in 2000’s “No Man’s Woman.” In 2020, she released a cover of Mahalia Jackson’s “Trouble of the World” in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Always outspoken and nonconformist, she famously clashed with Frank Sinatra over her refusal to play “The Star-Spangled Banner” at one of her shows. She feuded with Miley Cyrus in 2014, after telling the young pop star she was being “pimped” by the industry, and also privately reached out to Lana Del Rey.

“I was concerned about her saying that the job is making her feel very depressed,” O’Connor told USA TODAY in 2014. “If you know any artist, male or female, who is finding that the pressures of the job are making them want to jump off a building, then send them to me.”

She was nominated for a total of eight Grammys, winning one for best alternative music performance for “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.” She published a memoir, “Rememberings,” in 2021, and released 10 albums during her career, most recently “I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss” in 2014.

The cover of Sinéad O’Connor's 2014 album "I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss."

Long known for her shaved scalp, O’Connor memorably wore a wig for the album’s cover: “Nobody had ever seen me with hair. Nobody had ever seen me looking like a woman,” she told USA TODAY in 2014.

O’Connor similarly donned long tresses for the cover of the album’s lead single, “Take Me to Church.”

“To some extent, it also represented the song because nobody’s ever seen that side of me musically, either,” she said. “I’ve always been the warrior woman. I’ve never particularly been the soul-romantic woman.”

O’Connor was married four times, divorcing her last husband, therapist Barry Herridge, after just two weeks in 2011. She announced she converted to Islam in 2018 and took the name Shuhada’ Davitt.

Throughout her life, she spoke openly about her struggles with mental health. The singer was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, complex post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder, and spent six years in and out of mental health facilities. But music was always a lifeline.

“The reason I’m alive is that people gave me hope,” O’Connor told USA TODAY in 2012. “Artists keep people alive. We’re meant to give people hope. Where you have war, you have a spiritual problem. So the spiritual leaders of the world are failing. I believe the job of artists is to be the emergency fire force.”

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