Sinéad O’Connor, the Irish singer-songwriter whose cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” was one of the biggest hits of the ’90s, has died at 56.
“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved Sinéad,” her family said in a statement to The Irish Times. “Her family and friends are devastated and have requested privacy at this very difficult time.”
O’Connor received critical acclaim and worldwide success for her music, but she also struggled with mental health issues and was the center of numerous controversies due to her outspoken political and social views.
Born in Dublin on December 8, 1966, O’Connor had a difficult childhood and alleged that her mother was physically abusive, leaving her with lasting trauma and inspiring a lifelong advocacy for abused children. She was placed in an asylum for shoplifting and truancy issues when she was 15, and discovered a gift for music.
She recorded her first album, 1987’s The Lion and the Cobra, when she was 20. The album charted worldwide and earned O’Connor a Grammy nomination. Slant Magazine and Pitchfork both listed it as one of the best albums of the 1980s, with Slant calling it “one of the most electrifying debuts in rock history” and Pitchfork praising the album’s “themes of patriotism, sexuality, Catholicism, and social oppression set the stage for a career marked by a resolute sense of independence.”
O’Connor achieved worldwide fame, acclaimed for her unique and expressive voice and recognizable for her distinct shaved head, which she said was an assertion against traditional views of women.
O’Connor’s follow-up album, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, released in 1990, was her biggest success, and included her cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” her most famous and highest-charting recording. It was named the “#1 World Single” of 1990 by the Billboard Music Awards and frequently ranks on lists of the greatest songs of all time.
While O’Connor continued to record well-received albums, her worldwide fame was impacted by several controversies. The most infamous was her 1992 appearance on Saturday Night Live, in which she tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II while singing Bob Marley’s “War,” telling the audience to “fight the real enemy.”
The moment was a protest of the Catholic Church’s cover-up of sexual abuse cases, but drew intense criticism. O’Connor later she had no regrets about the protest, despite the blowback to her career: “Everyone wants a pop star, see? But I am a protest singer. I just had stuff to get off my chest. I had no desire for fame,” she wrote in her 2021 memoir Rememberings.
While she was a vocal opponent of the Catholic Church, she long believed in Christian faith and was ordained as a priest in the Irish Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church. However, in 2018 she announced she was converting to Islam, changing her name to Shuhada’ Davitt.
O’Connor also suffered from mental health issues throughout her life: in 2007 she told Oprah Winfrey that she attempted suicide on her 33rd birthday, and was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder.
Last year, O’Connor suffered the loss of her 17-year-old son Shane, who committed suicide. O’Connor vowed never to sing again after her son’s death, canceling an upcoming tour and postponing her new album: “There will never be anything to sing about again,” she said.
She is survived by three children. The family did not announce a cause of death. O’Connor was mourned by her fellow musicians, who paid tribute to her music and advocacy.
“Desperately sad news about Sinead O’Connor,” folk musician Grace Petrie wrote on Twitter. “An amazing musician and an incredible voice for justice who deserved far better than the many ways music and media treated her.”
“Not sure I have seen an artist take a risk or a stand comparable to the one she took in 1992 on the biggest platform she had ever had. Utterly uncompromising. Rest in power.”
“Her music was loved around the world and her talent was unmatched and beyond compare,” Prime Minister of Ireland Leo Varadkar wrote. “Condolences to her family, her friends and all who loved her music.”
Rest in peace, Sinéad O’Connor — truly a one-of-a-kind musician who was never afraid to speak her mind. Her great music will live on
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