- By Neely Bardwell
Sinéad O’Connor, Irish singer-songwriter who was known for her iconic shaved head and outspokenness both on and off-stage, died on Wednesday, July 26, at age 56.
Born in Dublin on December 8, 1966, to parents John, an engineer, and mother, Johanna, a dressmaker, her biggest hit was a rendition of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” but what she was most known for was her appearance on Saturday Night Live in 1992. On the show, she ended an acapella performance of Bob Marley’s “War” by ripping a photo of Pope John Paul II into pieces as a stance against sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. “Fight the real enemy,” she said.
Sexual abuse committed by clergy of the Catholic Church was pervasive for centuries against children around the world, including in Ireland. Native American children sent to Indian Boarding Schools that were operated by Catholic Churches suffered as well, separated from their families and tribes.
After tearing up the photo during the live performance, she was met with widespread criticism that resulted in her being booed at a Bob Dylan tribute concert at Madison Square Garden. NBC had to apologize (and never invited her back), and her album “Am I Not Your Girl?” only made it to No. 27 on the charts. Her next album “Universal Mother,” released in 1994, never broke from No. 36 on the charts.
The act of tearing up the Pope’s image was considered extremely controversial at the time, and many thought her career was over.
“I’m not sorry I did it. It was brilliant,” O’Connor told the New York Times in an interview in 2021. “But it was very traumatising. It was open season on treating me like a crazy bitch.”
In 2021 she published a memoir, Rememberings, detailing her troubled childhood, her experience with the music industry, and her struggles with mental health. Earlier this year, she received the inaugural award for Classic Irish Album at the RTÉ Choice Music Prize awards, established to highlight Irish music of excellence. She dedicated it to Ireland’s refugee community. “You’re very welcome in Ireland,” she said. “I love you very much and I wish you happiness.”
Prior to the singer’s death, Belfast filmmaker Kathryn Ferguson had been working on a documentary film about O’Connor titled “Nothing Compares,” which is set to be released this Saturday.
Native people and the Irish have long been allies. During Ireland’s Great Famine, the Choctaws collected $170—the equivalent of $4,400 in today’s dollars—and sent it across the Atlantic Ocean to help feed the starving people in Ireland.
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