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The Legacy and Controvery of Sinéad O’Connor

Sinéad O'Connor, the accidental household name and revolutionary punk artist, passed away at the age of 56 amid mental health issues.

Sinéad O’Connor, one of the music’s most distinctive and controversial artists of the alternative era, who famously covered Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” passed away at age 56. The Irish singer-songwriter sold millions of records in the 1990s, pioneering ethereal ballads and rebellious anthems that defied sexualized female pop star tropes — shaving her head, having an androgynous wardrobe, speaking out about her mental health struggles, and protesting the Catholic Church during a live television performance.

Across ten records, O’Connor’s punk trailblazing has inspired artists like Courtney Love, Alanis Morrissette and P!nk.

Sinéad O'Connor, one of the music's most distinctive and controversial artists of the alternative era, who famously covered Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U," passed away at age 56.
David Corio / Redferns

Her family announced the death in a statement Wednesday, released to Irish media. “It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved Sinéad,” the statement read. “Her family and friends are devastated and have requested privacy at this very difficult time.”

O’Connor became a Grammy-nominated alt-rock sensation with her 1987 debut, The Lion and the Cobra, thanks to the college classic “Mandinka.” However, her sophomore album, 1990’s I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, made her an international star, albeit a very reluctant one. Her teary version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” and the John Maybury-directed video were in heavy rotation on MTV for months. During her interview on The View to promote her memoir, she called her hit an “accident” and discussed past controversies.

Also famously, O’Connor’s “The Skye Boat Song,” is the theme for the science-fiction series Outlander.

“I had to make my living performing live again. And that’s what I was born for. I wasn’t born to be a pop star. … 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.”

Sinéad O’Connor in her memoir Rememberings

However, her political viewpoints and anti-social personality left most of O’Connor’s statements misunderstood and radicalized. Eventually, the general public boycotted her, leading stars like Frank Sinatra and allegedly Prince threaten violence. Yet Kris Kristofferson was a supporter of her art and a friend. He introduced her at Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Concert describing her as “synonymous with courage and integrity,” although the audience was booing her. He tried to encourage her as he left the stage. Years later he wrote the song, “Sister Sinead” in her honor for his 20th album, Closer To The Bone.

On top of her deescalating fame, the “cancelation” chipped away at her mental health. Throughout her life, O’Connor reportedly suffered from complex PTSD, borderline personality disorder and agoraphobia. However, she also struggled with suicide ideation and revealed she attempted suicide on her 33rd birthday.

Her teenage son Shane died by suicide in January 2022, spurring a public breakdown and eventual hospitalization. Earlier this month, Ms. O’Connor tweeted that she “been living as undead night creature since [Shane’s death.] He was the love of my life, the lamp of my soul.”

What is your favorite memory of Sinéad O’Connor? Check out more Music News on Music Daily!
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