Irish singer and activist Sinead O’Connor has died at the age of 56.
Her family announced the news “with great sadness”, saying that her “family and friends were devastated”. The cause of death has not been announced.
She is best known for her single Nothing Compares 2 U, released in 1990, which reached number one and brought her worldwide fame.
Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar said her music is “loved all over the world and her talent is unparalleled”.
Irish President Michael D. Higgins praised O’Connor’s “authenticity” as well as her “beautiful and unique voice”.
“What Ireland has lost at such a relatively young age is one of our greatest and most talented composers, songwriters and performers of recent decades, someone of unique talent and extraordinary connection to her audience, all of whom had such love and warmth for her,” he said.
Born Sinead Marie Bernadette O’Connor in Glenjeary, County Dublin, in December 1966, the singer had a difficult childhood.
As a teenager, she was placed in Dublin’s An Grianan Training Centre, once one of Magdalene’s notorious laundries, originally set up to imprison young girls deemed promiscuous.
A nun bought her a guitar and set her up with a music teacher – which launched O’Connor’s music career.
She released her critically acclaimed debut album The Lion And The Cobra in 1987, which entered the Top 40 in the UK and US.
Her follow-up was I Don’t Want What I Didn’t Get, which included Nothing Compares to 2 U.S.
Written by Prince, the song reached number one around the world, including the United States and the United Kingdom.
Outspoken in her social and political views, O’Connor released 10 studio albums between 1987 and 2014.
In 1991, she was named Artist of the Year by Rolling Stone magazine and received a Brit Award for International Solo Artist.
The following year, one of the most notable events in her career occurred when she tore a photo of Pope John Paul II on the American television program Saturday Night Live, where the invited actress was.
After an a cappella performance in Bob Marley’s War, she looked into the camera and said “Fight the real enemy”, protesting pedophilia in the Catholic Church.
Her actions led to a lifetime ban by NBC and protests against her in the United States, which saw copies of her records destroyed in New York’s Times Square.
“I’m not sorry I did it. It was amazing,” she said in an interview with The New York Times in 2021.
O’Connor’s last studio album, I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss, was released in 2014.
The Dublin singer converted to Islam in 2018, changing her name to Shuhada Sadaqat, but continuing to perform under her birth name. She released a memoir, Recollections, in 2021.
In January 2022, her 17-year-old son, Shane, was found dead after he was reported missing two days earlier.
She wrote on social media after his death, saying he had “decided to end his worldly struggle” and asked that “no one follow his example”.
The singer later canceled all of her live performances for the rest of 2022 due to her “ongoing grief” over her son’s death.
O’Connor paid tribute to Sheen in one of her recent tweets, calling him “the love of my life, the lamp of my soul, we were one soul in two halves.”
Belfast director Kathryn Ferguson, one of the few people who spoke to O’Connor before her death, said she was “devastated” by the news.
Ferguson has been working on a documentary about O’Connor, titled Nothing Compares, which is set to be released on Saturday.
“Our film, for me, was a love letter to Sinéad. It was shot over many years,” she told BBC Radio 4. “It was caused by the influence it had on me as a young girl growing up in Ireland.
“She’s one of the most amazing radical musicians we’ve got. And we were so lucky to have her.”
The singer’s social media was abuzz after her death was announced on Wednesday night.
Singer Alison Moyet said O’Connor had an “amazing presence” and a voice that “breaks stone mightily through overdrive”.
“As pretty as any girl in the neighborhood and never traded on that card. I loved that about her. Iconoclasm.”
Irish comedian Dara O’Brien said of her death: “This is just very sad news. Too bad. I hope she realizes how much love she had.”
Musician Tim Burgess of The Charlatans said, “Sinead was the true embodiment of the punk soul. She didn’t compromise and that made her life even more of a struggle. Hopefully she can find peace.”
Irish writer Marian Keyes described O’Connor’s death as “heartbreaking”.
“How she suffered. Poor poor Sinead. RIP, you amazing, brave, beautiful, unique wonder.”
Journalist Caitlin Moran wrote, “She was decades ahead of her time, and fearless. Settle into power, queen.”
Irish film director Mark Cousins added, “Sinéad O’Connor was our wild Irish side. That’s a big part of our imaginary lives.”
“RIP Sinéad O’Connor, I’ve loved working with you taking pictures, doing concerts in Ireland together and chatting, all my love is for your family,” wrote singer Brian Adams, who collaborated with O’Connor.
In a tweet, Irish mixed martial arts star Conor McGregor, whom O’Connor once sang in the ring for a UFC match in Las Vegas, wrote, “Ireland has lost an iconic voice and one of our best ever, by a small margin. And I’ve lost a friend.”
Nobody sang like Sinéad O’Connor. no one.
Her every note screamed with naked emotion. Screen Prince Nothing Compared has turned 2U into a mighty howl of pain and loss.
Those feelings were her companions. She had a traumatic childhood. Her parents divorced when she was eight, and her mother – who she later claimed abused her – died in a car accident in 1985.
As a teenager, she was arrested for shoplifting and sent to Magdalene Asylum, which she describes as a “jail” where “girls cry every day”.
All of those harrowing experiences, yet to come, are poured into her music. I Am Stretched On Your Grave is an eerily beautiful song about love and loss, while Three Babies, from their second album, reveals their grief after suffering multiple miscarriages.
She also bore the pain of others. Her single, Mandinka, contained slanted references to FGM. The 1990 film Black Boys On Mopeds addressed police brutality against black men, two years before the Los Angeles riots brought the issue to light.
Although she was a controversial figure, there was always tenderness towards her protests. When she tore up a picture of the Pope on American television, she was thinking of the victims of abuse, not of her own image.
Her later albums included guest spots for her children and hymns to peace and community. Earlier this year, it won the Classical Album Award in Ireland, dedicating it to the country’s refugee community.
Nothing compares to 2 U was the song: the song that made her famous against her wishes. In essence, she was a protest singer with a voice that demanded to be heard. This is how we must remember it.