Sinéad O’Connor is Mourned By Music World

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Sinead O’Connor in the 1990 video for “Nothing Compares 2 You”

Sinéad O’Connor, the Irish singer who earned a worldwide hit with her cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” in 1990, died July 26, 2023, at a private residence in London. The news of her passing at age 56 was reported by the Irish Times at approximately 1:30 p.m. ET. The cause of death has not been revealed, but the singer has been beset with a variety of personal and health issues in recent years. (London police said on July 27 that her death was not being considered suspicious.)

The family released a statement to the paper: “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.” Many artists posted tributes (scroll below).

On July 11, O’Connor wrote an upbeat post on her Facebook page. “Hi All, recently moved back to London after 23 years absence. Very happy to be home 🙂 Soon finishing my album. Release early next year 🙂 Hopefully touring Australia and New Zealand toward end 2024. Europe, USA and other territories beginning early 2025 🙂  #TheBitchIsBack”

In 2021, roughly two weeks after she had retracted her statement about retiring from music, O’Connor once again announced her retirement. The controversial singer-songwriter was in the process of closing down her social media accounts. In a statement on June 20, 2021, O’Connor wrote, “This is to announce that having been in two minds about retiring I have now, in consultation with my medical team, and on their advice, decided to go ahead and retire so that I may now focus on my new career as a writer.”

O’Connor first announced that she was retiring from music in a series of tweets beginning on June 4. “A wise warrior knows when he or she should retreat: #MeTime,” she wrote.

However, in a lengthy follow-up on June 7, O’Connor who had just published her memoir, revealed via her now-closed Twitter account, that she had succumbed to a “knee jerk reaction” to a BBC interviewer and allowed “pigs in lipstick to f*k my head up.”

O’Connor also blamed herself. “When I embarked upon promo for my book, I ought have had a counsellor on board. Because I hadn’t realised how much talking about the past, particularly my experience of abuse… would trigger so much emotional catharsis.”

The book, Rememberings, spanning her fraught childhood, musical triumphs, and activism, arrived June 1, 2021. It received significant advance orders in the U.K. and U.S.

In the first June 4 tweet, O’Connor, via her former @MagdaDavitt77 account, wrote, “This is to announce my retirement from touring and from working in the record business. I’ve gotten older and I’m tired. So it’s time for me to hang up my nipple tassels, having truly given my all. NVDA in 2022 will be my last release. And there’ll be no more touring or promo.”

NVDA referred to her upcoming album at the time, No Veteran Dies Alone. O’Connor had more than a dozen concerts scheduled for 2022 that had been rescheduled due to both the pandemic and personal reasons. They never took place.

On June 5, recognizing that she caught the touring industry infrastructure by surprise, she added, “Apologies if any upset caused to booking agents or promoters or managers due to my tweeting about my retirement. I guess the book made me realise I’m my own boss. I didn’t wanna wait for permission from the men, as to when I could announce it. Also, I’d had a few whiskeys : )”

O’Connor, who converted to Islam and changed her named to Shuhada Sadaqat, followed the initial tweet with several others. “It’s not sad news. It’s staggeringly beautiful news. A wise warrior knows when he or she should retreat: #MeTime,” was one.

“It’s been a forty year journey. Time to put the feet up and make other dreams come true,” was another.

In her June 19 retirement statement, O’Connor thanked her fans. “I sincerely thank my fans for the love they’ve shown me down the years, as well as my co-workers. We’ve had a great adventure, now it’s time for the next one.”

Her lengthy “I’m not retiring” retraction from June 7 can be viewed here:

Blessed with a singular voice and a fiery temperament, O’Connor rose to massive fame in the late 1980s and 1990s with a string of gold records. By the time she was twenty, she was world famous—living a rock star life out loud.

Her recording of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” became a worldwide #1 single in 1990, helped by a video of the then-23-year-old shown mostly in close-up.

The song and its album earned four Grammy Award nominations. She won for Best Alternative Music Performance. It also earned her three MTV Video Music Awards including Video of the Year. The song was also named No. 1 World Single at the Billboard Music Awards.

In Rememberings, she recounted a bizarre evening when she was invited, alone, to Prince’s home in Los Angeles. “I’ve seen this before. I grew up with it,” she writes. “I know it like the back of my hand. I start mentally checking for exits without taking my eyes off him.

“I realize I don’t know where I am. I don’t know how to find the front door. I don’t know how to find a cab. I’m away off up in some hills very far from the highway is all I know.”

Feeling threatened, she decided to leave, refused a ride and started to walk home. When she saw a car on the road, she hoped to hitch a ride only to discover that Prince was inside. She again insisted that she would not get inside and ultimately found safe harbor. “I never wanted to see that devil again,” she writes.

From her trademark shaved head to her 1992 appearance on Saturday Night Live when she tore up Pope John Paul II’s photograph, O’Connor has fascinated and outraged millions. “Fight the real enemy,” she said.

In the book, she writes, “I feel that having a No. 1 record derailed my career and my tearing the photo put me back on the right track.”

It would be nearly a decade before the same Pope formally acknowledged the Catholic Church’s role in childhood sexual abuse.

Of the SNL incident, O’Connor told The New York Times in a May 2021 interview, “I’m not sorry I did it. It was brilliant.” When she took the stage to perform at the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary concert in 1992 shortly after her SNL appearance, the crowd booed her lustily.

In November 2020, she announced that she would be entering a treatment program due to “a very traumatic six years.” Her concerts, originally scheduled for 2021, were postponed until 2022 but never took place.

At the time, she wrote on her alternative Twitter account, “If you knew the six years I’ve had, you know what I’m talking about. And I will explain very clearly in 2022. Music business is a very unforgiving place for artists who need to postpone due to emotional or mental health issues.”

In Rememberings, O’Connor, who turned 56 on Dec. 8, 2022, recounts her painful tale of growing up in Dublin in a dysfunctional, abusive household. Inspired by a brother’s Bob Dylan records, she escaped into music. She relates her early forays with local Irish bands; we see Sinéad completing her first album while eight months pregnant, hanging with Rastas in the East Village, and soaring to popularity with her recording of “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

In 2015, she wrote a series of disturbing posts on her social media accounts.

The Dublin-born O’Connor had four children, one of whom took his own life at age 17 in 2022. She reportedly posted this video 10 days before her death.

Joan Jett wrote, “She was a warrior for truth and took the brunt of so much. There was no one else like her and the definition of perseverance. Rest in power Sinead!”

Marianne Faithfull wrote, “I’m still trying to take in the tragic news about Sinead. I got to know her a little bit when I lived in Ireland and we would bump into each other at gigs and on the scene. To talk of her voice and songwriting talent is to enter the realm of platitudes so just allow me to say she was brilliant and a trailblazer and leave it at that. Like many great artists she had her demons and existed as a mass of contradictions: She was fragile but fierce, funny but tragic. She spent her life in the pursuit of wisdom, trying to reconcile all these disparate elements of her character – a difficult thing to do, as I know only to well. I hope she has found peace now.”

Melissa Etheridge wrote, “This is such a tragedy. What a loss. She was haunted all her life. What a talent. I remember my first Grammy show meeting this small shy Irish girl.”

On August 8, thousands of fans lined the streets to pay their respects during her funeral procession.

Related: Musicians we’ve lost in 2023

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4 Comments so far

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  1. Slowchris
    #1 Slowchris 5 June, 2021, 19:17

    Retiring from what?

    Reply this comment
  2. JCB
    #2 JCB 27 July, 2023, 08:19

    A mediocre talent that faded away rather quickly. I never saw what others saw in her. Her voice was thin, and annoying. Sad for her family. Way too young to leave. RIP.

    Reply this comment
    • Bird Lives
      Bird Lives 27 July, 2023, 21:22

      I guess that depends on your definition of “mediocre” and “faded away.” Her voice stayed gorgeous to the end, her writing was always impressive and her choice of covers was stunning, including Queen of Denmark to Trouble in the World and of course Nobody Compares 2 U, which is the only Prince cover better than the original. But far beyond and more important, she was a passionate and absolutely fearless artist in the truest sense, refusing to trade on her sexuality, refusing to stay silent about troubles in the world, refusing to define herself by the revenue she generated for the record industry. She was bold, limitless, powerful and vulnerable. The deep tragedies and turmoil she experienced from an early age, and the emotional difficulties they caused her were not hidden, cloaked in PR, or translated into half hearted apologies. She was upfront about the cost of her humanity. She was gorgeous in every right sense of the word, a spectacularly skilled vocalist, writer, and interpreter, and a fearless champion for the protection of the innocent, always willing to sacrifice her own career progression in favor of that more important point — she knew that if she had a stage she had a responsibility to use if for good. She was all that — or…”a mediocre talent that faded away rather quickly.” All depends on your criteria. Before you solidify that opinion any further I urge you to reward yourself with a dip into her catalog, to read the testimonials about her impact other artists are posting on news of her passing, read at least a synopsis of her book, and revisit the news about how ten years after she ripped up the Pope’s photo, the Catholic Church grudgingly admitted providing safe harbor to the sexual abusers on staff, which was her point.

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