Sineád O’Connor, the troubled Irish singer and activist who scored a global smash with Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” in 1990 and was banned from Saturday Night Live for tearing up a photo of Pope John Paul II during her performance two years later, has died at 56, according to a statement from her family provided to Irish TV and radio broadcaster RTÉ. No details on the cause, date or place of her death were given.
“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved Sinéad,” the statement reads. “Her family and friends are devastated and have requested privacy at this very difficult time.”
O’Connor was hospitalized in January 2022 after posting a series of disturbing, soon-deleted tweets in the wake of the suicide of her teenage son, Shane, that month. Her tweets hinted at suicidal thoughts. Shane O’Connor, 17, was found dead two days after he went missing from a treatment facility in Dublin.
She posted this tweet on July 17:
Sineád O’Connor, who changed her name to Shuhada’ Sadaqat after converting to Islam in 2018 and was known for her closely cropped hair, was one of Ireland’s rising stars by age 20. She shot to fame with her haunting cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which Prince wrote and recorded for his side project The Family. Her single hit No. 1 more than 20 countries — becoming the No. 1 single worldwide that year — and spent four weeks atop the Billboard 200 in 1990. The song’s was nominated for three Grammys including Record of the Year, and its stark video won three MTV VMAs including Video of the Year.
“Nothing Compares 2 U” was culled from her second album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, which was No. 1 in the U.S. for six weeks and has gone double platinum. It won a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Performance
Despite the commercial juggernauts that were the single and album, O’Connor struggled to follow their success. She had only one minor hit in the U.S. after “Nothing Compares 2 U” and only a spotty chart history around the world despite releasing eight more studio albums. Her 1992 follow-up, Am I Not Your Girl?, reached the U.S. Top 10, and 1994’s Universal Mother hit No. 19, but neither would spawn a hit single. Her most recent was I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss in 2014.
Born on December 8, 1966, in Dublin, O’Connor courted controversy throughout her career. As the musical guest on Saturday Night Live in 1992, she sang a cover of Bob Marley’s “War” that shifted its lyrical focus to child abuse by the Catholic Church. When the song ended, O’Connor produced a photo of the popular Pope John Paul II and ripped it in half.
Reaction was swift in the pre-social media world, and the singer was banned from SNL permanently.
O’Connor is the subject of Nothing Compares, a feature documentary that had its world premiere at Sundance in 2022 and later aired on Showtime. Here is the logline of director Kathryn Ferguson’s film: The story of O’Connor’s phenomenal rise to worldwide fame and subsequent exile from the pop mainstream. Focusing on her prophetic words and deeds from 1987-93, the film reflects on the legacy of this fearless trailblazer through a contemporary feminist lens.
In an interview in the documentary, O’Connor revealed the abusive upbringing that left her feeling betrayed by both church and community and ultimately led her to find the therapeutic power of music.
She received the inaugural award for Classic Irish Album for I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got at the RTÉ Choice Music Awards in March.
O’Connor’s autobiography, Rememberings, was published in 2021 by Dey Street Books.