Irish songwriter Sinéad O'Connor has passed away, according to a report by the Irish Times. No cause of death has been revealed at the time of publishing. She was 56. O’Connor’s family confirmed the news to RTE, sharing this statement: “It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved Sinéad. Her family and friends are devastated and have requested privacy at this very difficult time.”
Throughout her career, O’Connor embodied multitudes – an international chart-topping star, a critical darling, a daring experimentalist, and a controversial iconoclast who spoke openly about her spiritual and political views.
O’Connor was born in 1966 in Dublin, Ireland. At 15 years old, after repeatedly skipping school and shoplifting, she was sent to the Magdalene asylum Grianán Training Centre. It was there that she focused on her writing and music, but also reflected on the time as tortuous. At the asylum, she met Paul Byrne of the band In Tua Nua who overheard O’Connor singing Barbara Streisand’s “Evergreen.” She recorded one song with the band, “Take My Hand,” but the band did no pursue further collaborations due to her young age. She’d later sing with the band Ton Ton Macoute but did not appear on their recordings. However, her role in the band caught the attention of Fachtna O'Ceallaigh who ran U2’s Mother Records and connected O’Connor with U2 guitarist The Edge to co-write the song “Heroine” for the 1986 film Captive.
In 1987, she released her first album The Lion and the Cobra. The album was an international success, charting in the U.S. Billboard charts and her firs Grammy Award nomination. Her 1990 sophomore album I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got skyrocketed O’Connor’s acclaim and fame. The album featured her biggest single “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a song written by Prince. She’d follow up the album in 1992 with Am I Not Your Girl?, a collection of covers of jazz standards.
Notably in 1992, O’Connor famously appeared on Saturday Night Live. While singing a cover of Bob Marley’s “War,” she tore a photo of Pope John Paul II as an act of protest against the sexual abuse of children within the Catholic church. The act drew criticism from the Catholic church as well as the media. In an interview with Salon in 2002, O’Connor stood by her actions and voiced that she would not have changed a thing about it.
O’Connor continued to release music throughout the rest of her life. Her 1994 album Universal Mother took a personal turn, digging deeper into O’Connor’s personal troubles and grief. In 2000, she signed to Atlantic Records to release Faith and Courage. The album was delayed for several years after a series of personal turmoils, the birth of her child, and becoming a priest in the Latin Tridentine Church. In 2014, she released what would become her final album I'm Not Bossy, I'm the Boss. Prior to her death, she announced a new album titled No Veteran Dies Alone which has been repeatedly delayed with no official release date as of yet. In 2022, O’Connor’s 17-year-old son Shane was found dead after being reported missing. Subsequently, O’Connor was hospitalized after a series of concerning social media posts the week after her son’s death.
O’Connor leaves us with an astounding body of work. While not without her troubles, O’Connor used her platform to speak her truth in songs and in conversation. Join us in honoring her life by revisiting some of our favorite songs below.
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