Sinéad O’Connor: ‘Beloved’ Irish singer dies aged 56

Sinéad O’Connor smiling on stage.

Irish music legend and activist Sinéad O’Connor has died at the age of 56, her family has announced.

Family members wrote in a statement on Wednesday (26 July): “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.”

Best known for her 1990 single Nothing Compares 2 U, which shot to number one worldwide upon release, the Dublin singer also won a number of awards for her album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.

She was outspoken in her social and political views, which involved campaigning against child abuse, supporting anti-racist movements and fighting for women’s rights.

Most notable was her defiant act of ripping up a picture of Pope John Paul II during a live performance on Saturday Night Live in 1992 after sex abuse scandals against the Catholic Church began to arise.

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When asked whether the act of condemnation had defined her career, she said: “Yes, in a beautiful f**king way.

“There was no doubt about who this b***h is. There was no more mistaking this woman for a pop star,” she continued. “People say, ‘Oh, you f**ked up your career’ but they’re talking about the career they had in mind for me.”

While she mentioned not believing in “labels of any kind” when referring to her sexuality, she had previously said: “I am actually a dyke” before backtracking a year later, saying it was “overcompensating of me to declare myself a lesbian.”

O’Connor later said she was “three-quarters heterosexual, a quarter gay” while adding that it was not accurate to call her “bisexual.”

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar paid tribute to her in a statement, saying her music was “loved around the world” and that her talent “was unmatched and beyond compare.”

Born in Dublin, Ireland in 1966, much of O’Connor’s early life was defined by defying authority through truancy and petty shoplifting until, at age 15, she was placed in a Magdalene asylum which inadvertently helped her develop skills in writing and performing music.

She wouldn’t release her first album, The Lion and the Cobra, until 1987 at just 21 years old. The album received critical acclaim across the board, with many calling it one of the best albums of the 1980s. It managed to reach the Top 40 charts in both the UK and US.

As she continued her undeniably successful musical career with yet another critically acclaimed album, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, as well as a spot on post-punk band The The’s album Mind Bomb, she began to make a name for herself as a political activist.

During the height of her career in the 1990s, O’Connor turned the notoriously misogynistic music industry on its head with her activism, refusing to appear on Saturday Night Live while it was hosted by controversial comedian Andrew Dice Clay, preventing a New Jersey concert from playing the US national anthem, and shaving her head after her label asked her to “wear high-heel boots and tight jeans and to grow my hair.”

“I decided that they were so pathetic that I shaved my head so there couldn’t be any further discussion,” she told Rolling Stone in 1991.

Sinéad O’Connor in a hijab, sings into a microphone.
Sinéad O’Connor performing in 2020. (Getty)

Most controversial was her defence of the Irish Republic Army which she later retracted, saying that she was “too young to understand the tense situation in Northern Ireland properly.”

She continued to support a united Irish Republic, however, and joined Sinn Féin in 2014, saying that she believed veteran members of the party, such as Gerry Adams, should step down because they “remind people of violence.”

She converted to Islam in 2018 and changed her name to Shuhada Sadaqat, though continued to perform under the name Sinéad O’Connor.

Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO) said in a statement responding to the news of her death: “Our hearts go out to family, friends, and all who were moved by her music, as we reflect on the profound impact she made on the world.”

American rapper and actor Ice T also paid tribute to O’Connor, saying she “stood for something” and that he had “respect” for her.