She has been described as an activist, a cultural icon, a woman who has fearlessly fought for the rights of people everywhere. A symbol of protest, a figure of fight.



She has also been described as an embodiment of hate. Someone who crosses boundaries–a woman who, above all, is always up to no good.


That woman is Sinéad O’Connor, and this is her story.


From her piercing blue eyes, to her shaved head, she was an anomaly in the artistic world, and she made sure that the world knew she had no desire of changing.


A powerful mezzo-soprano, equipped with astonishing emotional range–Sinéad was the type of artist who almost demanded your attention:


But, did she want that? 


From the moment she released her first album, she received worldwide fame, fortune, adoration–all of the things that anyone would kill for. I mean, how could you have it all and still be unsatisfied?


If we’re both so curious…perhaps we should ask her. 


“Fame is a curse…it was the worst phase of my life, which I thank God I’ll never have to go through again.” – Sinéad O’Connor


Keep that in mind for later.


Sinéad O’Connor was born in Dublin, Ireland, on December 8th, 1966.


Her home life was extremely troubled, and from a young age she endured horrendous abuse at the hands of her mother.


“She ran a torture chamber. My earliest memory, she’s telling me I shouldn’t have been born. She didn’t want me … She was a person who took delight, would smile in hurting you.” – Sinéad O’Connor


The abuse continued until she ran away from home at age 13. Two years later, however, she was convicted of shoplifting, and was ordered to spend 18 months in an asylum. 


In 1985, (when Sinéad was 18), her life was upended when her mother passed away in a car crash. Her passing left Sinéad grappling with conflicting feelings, confusion: She’s my mother, but should I grieve for someone who hurt me so badly?


“I hate not being able to love her. I hate that I can’t put my arms around her and tell her I love her and tell her she’s all right and mother her.” Sinéad said in 2017, revealing that she had forgiven her mother for the years of abuse she endured. 


“I think that’s part of where my suicidal instinct comes from — is that I want my mother. I cannot wait for the day when I actually get to heaven so that I can see my mother again.”


Her love of music began at an early age. 


When she was a teenager, she meets Paul Byrne, the drummer for In Tua Nua, a popular Irish rock band. After meeting Paul, she’s invited to their studio, where she co-writes their hit song, “Take My Hand.”


Sinéad travels all over Dublin in her teens, often busking in streets, playing guitar in pubs, and even working for a singing telegram service for a short time.


However, she soon hits her big break. While performing with a Dublin band called Ton Ton Macoute, Sinéad catches the attention of two owners of Ensign Records. They approach her, with the intention of signing her to their label:


She accepts.


Now, Sinéad was not the type of woman to give in. In her 2021 memoir Rememberings, Sinéad writes that her decision to shave her head came after a music producer told her to start wearing, “short skirts, and high heels, and makeup.”


She buzzed her hair the next day.


“I didn’t want to be sold on that. If I was going to be successful, I wanted it to be because I was a good musician.”

— Sinéad O'Connor


Her first album, The Lion and the Cobra, comes out in 1987–and is received with open arms from critics. Applauded for her complex story-telling, and her haunting vocals, Sinéad begins to garner a fanbase.


Fast forward to 1990. After three years of work, Sinéad releases her second album–I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got. 


The world is stunned.


It goes on to hit Number One on the charts, securing four Grammy nominations (including Best Album & Song), “Nothing Compares 2 U” wins Best Video from MTV, and Sinéad is named Artist of the Year from Rolling Stone in 1991. 


It should be all up from here.




The year is 1992. Joe Pesci, famous for his role in Goodfellas, is hosting Saturday Night Live.


Sinéad O’Connor is the musical guest.


“Ladies and gentlemen. Sinéad O’Connor!” Joe Pesci exclaims.


The camera moves towards the stage. Sinéad is dressed in a white, lacy blouse. She is wearing a small, silver necklace. In her eyes, you can see a revolution brewing.


She begins to sing a cover of Bob Marley’s “War.”


“We have confidence in good over evil,” she sings, but as she finishes the line, she holds up a picture of Pope John Paul II. 


Once she sings the word evil, she begins to rip up the photo. 


“Fight the real enemy!” she proclaims, as the camera fades to commercial.


This moment shapes Sinéad’s career forever.


She’s blacklisted, at every festival she performs at, she’s booed: America has made its choice. Sinéad O’Connor, and her career, was over.


Her next three albums don’t chart, and fall through the cracks. 


In her book Rememberings, she speaks about the 1992 SNL incident. She says that the picture belonged to her mother, and that she took it from her childhood home: She planned to tear it when the time was right


“I carefully brought it everywhere I lived from that day forward, because no one ever gave a sh–t about the children of Ireland.”


Sinéad spent the rest of her life fighting tirelessly for her beliefs. 


A list of Sinéad O’Connor’s acts of activism throughout her career:


  1. In 1990, she wrote “Black Boys On Mopeds” which shed light on institutionalized racism, and police brutality.
  2. In 1990, she called out MTV after they stopped airing rap videos. “Censorship in any form is bad, but when it’s racism disguised as censorship, it’s even worse.”
  3. In 1990, Sinéad appears on The Late Late Show, wearing a T-shirt supporting the Dublin AIDS Alliance.
  4. In 2017, Sinéad organized a donation of clothing to go to trans youth in Dublin.
  5. In 1991, Sinéad released “My Special Child”, which talks about her abortion, and protests for women’s rights over bodily autonomy. 


So, where does that leave us? Sinéad O’Connor was “canceled” before there was even a word for it. 


Was she boundary breaking, or boundary crossing? 


On July 26th, 2023, Sinéad O’Connor passes away. 18 months after the suicide of her 17-year-old son, Shane. Her cause of death has not yet been released. 


She is remembered for her voice: Both on stage, and off. 


“I don’t do anything in order to cause trouble. It just so happens that what I do naturally causes trouble. I’m proud to be a troublemaker.”

— Sinéad O'Connor

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