Sinead O’Connor dies aged 56
A pair of velvet chairs stand as lonely sentinels in the remote mountain-top cottage in Ireland that Sinéad O’Connor called home. Beautiful to look at, they are totally impractical as seating. But that’s exactly why she liked them.
“Deliberately, I bought uncomfortable chairs, because I don’t like people staying long,” she admitted in a recent interview. “I like being on my own.”
Nothing Compares 2 U star Sinéad, who revelled in making others uncomfortable with her provocative views and lifestyle, died this week aged 56 as she had lived – alone, with only her inner demons for company.
Although the cause of death has not yet been confirmed, the tortured Irish singer-songwriter, whose melancholy voice contrasted starkly with her irreverent belligerence, had clearly been struggling to live without her late mother and son.
Tragic Shane took his own life last year at the age of 17. And Sinéad confessed on social media only last week: “Been living as undead night creature since.
READ MORE Sinead O’Connor’s fans place poignant tributes outside former home after death
Sinéad O’Connor tragically passes away at age 56
“He was the love of my life, the lamp of my soul. We were one soul in two halves. He was the only person who ever loved me unconditionally. I am lost in the bardo without him.”
Grief-stricken Sinéad was pushed to the brink when Shane’s body was found two days after he was reported missing. The star wrote on Twitter at the time: “I’ve decided to follow my son. There is no point in living without him. Everything I touch, I ruin. I only stayed for him, and now he’s gone.”
Shane’s death compounded the singer’s emotional fragility caused by years of abuse by her mother Marie, who died in a car crash when Sinéad was 18 years old.
“I think that’s part of where my suicidal instinct comes from…I want my mother,” she once said.
“I cannot wait for the day when I actually get to heaven so I can see my mother again. I’d throw myself on her like a monkey and I’d tell her: ‘I love you, I miss you so bad.’”
Sinéad’s life was marked by creative brilliance and marred by misunderstanding. She found international success with her haunting 1990 hit Nothing Compares 2 U, from the global smash album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, and she released a total of ten studio LPs between 1987 and 2014.
Yet she felt trapped by fame, and did all she could to implode it. In 1992 she sparked outrage when she appeared on America’s top late-night show Saturday Night Live and infamously tore up a photograph of Pope John Paul II in a protest against child sex abuse within the Catholic church.
She also boycotted the Grammy Awards where she was contending for record of the year, claiming the ceremony ignored talent and only honoured “material gain”.
And she refused to play The Star-Spangled Banner before her concerts in the US, complaining that national anthems “have nothing to do with music in general”.
A punk rebel at heart, shaven-headed Sinéad believed her defiance helped liberate her from the strait-jacket of fame, even if it meant alienating fans and making enemies.
Sinéad with son who passed away
Frank Sinatra described her as “one stupid broad” and the Washington Times branded her “the face of pure hatred”.
Sinéad said: “Being a pop star is almost like being in a type of prison. “You have to be a good girl.
But she had no intention of being anyone’s obliging pop princess. “I feel that having a No1 record derailed my career,” she wrote in her 2021 memoir Rememberings, “and my tearing the photo put me back on the right track”.
As she torched her pop career, many started questioning her sanity. Sinéad said: “The media was making me out to be crazy because I wasn’t acting like a pop star was supposed to act.”
But she acknowledged her fragile mental state was not solely the result of being a victim of celebrity and was also down to a troubled upbringing.
The singer claimed in her memoir that her devoutly Catholic mother, Marie, had abused her emotionally, physically and sexually throughout her childhood.
Young Sinead before she became a global star
But Sinéad spent the rest of her life wishing she could repair their fractured love.
She described Marie as “an absolute monster,” in 2017. She told US talk show host Dr Phil McGraw: “My earliest memory was her telling me I shouldn’t be born. She didn’t want me – she didn’t want girls.”
Sinéad, the third of five children, went on to describe how her mother would beat her, daily, as she lay “naked on the floor”.
She also recalled being punished for losing a button on a dress when she was just five years old, claiming she was locked in a pitch-black room while her mother left home for the weekend.
When eight-year-old Sinéad admitted missing her father, who had separated from Marie, she claimed her mum forced her out of her house for months, raging: “If you love him that much you can live in the shed.”
The star said her mother “ran a torture chamber”, beating her with hockey sticks and tennis rackets.
While battering her, Marie would make her say: “I’m nothing” repeatedly.
Sinéad said: “After a while, you believe it.”
Struggling with drug abuse, Marie exposed her daughter to horrendous dangers. Sinéad claimed she was “raped several times” by strangers in Ireland. Yet she never stopped craving her mother’s approval and in recent years confessed: “I miss her horribly and I really ache for her.”
The music industry is notoriously harsh on women and, as a singer, Sinéad found herself abused yet again. “I went straight from one identity crisis into another,” she said.
She claimed pop icon Prince, who wrote Nothing Compares 2 U, berated her for swearing in interviews, hit her with a blunt object concealed in a pillowcase, and chased her in his car when she fled his Hollywood mansion on foot.
Sinead shaved her head after she was told to grow her hair
Despite her many ordeals, she delighted in flouting expectations. Urged by a record executive to grow her hair long, she promptly shaved it all off – and kept it that way.
“I don’t feel like me when I have hair,” she said, insisting: “I’m not a pop star. I’m just a troubled soul who needs to scream into mikes now and then.”
Those mikes bore witness to some arrestingly emotional music over the years, from the new wave sounds of her 1987 debut album The Lion and the Cobra to the rawness of 1990 singles such as The Emperor’s New Clothes and Three Babies.
Time often proved Sinéad right. Her complaints about racism and misogyny in the music business are now widely recognised.
And her criticism of the Catholic Church was vindicated in subsequent years when countless priests were exposed for sexually abusing children and the Vatican apologised for covering up their crimes.
Sinéad converted to Islam in 2018
Sinéad, once a devout Catholic, converted to Islam in 2018, wore a hijab and changed her name to Shuhada’ Sadaqat.
But as her childhood memories continued to haunt her, she struggled to find happiness.
And a hysterectomy in 2015 sent her into a spiral. “I was a basket case,” she admitted. “The surgery was quite triggering.”
Sinéad spent six years in and out of mental health facilities and went to rehab to beat a 30-year cannabis addiction.
But her music career slowed and her later albums failed to achieve commercial success outside of her native Ireland.
The star struggled to find love. She was married four times but all ended in divorce.
She had two children with two of her husbands and two more with boyfriends.
And when Shane killed himself in January 2022, an inconsolable Sinéad plunged into a bottomless depression.
“I’ve destroyed my family,” she lamented on social media. “My kids don’t want to know me. I am a s*** person.
“And you all only think I’m nice because I can sing. I’m not… everyone who knows me will be better off without me. I am sorry for all the harm I caused.”
If only she realised how much comfort her music brought to her countless fans.
- If you are affected by issues in the article, or are struggling to cope, you can speak to the Samaritans, in confidence on 116 123