(CNN) — Irish singer Sinéad O’Connor, who became as well known for her remarkable music as her personal struggles, has died, according to RTE, Ireland’s public broadcaster. She was 56.
, who became as well known for her remarkable music as her personal struggles, has died, according to RTE, Ireland’s public broadcaster. She was 56.
The news of her death was confirmed by RTE, who shared a family statement:
“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.”
No cause of death was immediately available. CNN has reached out to representatives and family members for O’Connor.
Her first album, “The Lion and the Cobra,” was released to critical acclaim in 1987, but it was O’Connor’s 1990 sophomore album, “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got” which broke her through as a well-known artist.
Her rendition of the Prince song “Nothing Compares 2 U” shot to No. 1 in 1990, buoyed by the music video which featured O’Connor, with close-cropped hair and a dark turtleneck.
The song was nominated for multiple Grammys and scored O’Connor wins for both MTV video of the year and best video by a female artist. Other songs on the album that reaped praise for the singer included the pointed and politically charged anthem “Black Boys on Mopeds.”
In the years following, the singer-songwriter was embroiled in controversy, once ripping a photo of the pope on “Saturday Night Live,” later becoming a priest of a Catholic group and taking to social media to air personal problems and outbursts.
The singer is survived by her three children. Her 17-year-old son Shane died in 2022.
Born in Dublin in 1966, O’Connor spoke often of her difficult childhood as the third of four children. Her mother, she said, was troubled and abusive.
“She used to go to houses that were for sale just so she could rob s–t out of them,” O’Connor told The Independent in a 2013 interview. “I suppose it was funny, in a way, without being funny at all. You know, she’d go to hospitals and nick the crucifixes off the wall.”
O’Connor said her mother, who died in a car crash when the singer was 19, “couldn’t help herself, God rest her soul” and that she began to steal as a way to appease her.
“It was an illness,” the singer said. “And so that was part of what was going on at home: I’d steal to pacify her.
Sent away to reform school as a teen after she was caught shoplifting, O’Connor turned to music for solace and was discovered at the age of 15 by the drummer for the band In Tua Nua while singing at a wedding.
She eventually left boarding school at the age of 16 and struggled to support herself while singing before moving to London, where she worked with U2 guitarist the Edge on the soundtrack for the 1986 film “The Captive” while also putting together her debut album.
By the time she broke through with her second album, O’Connor was a mother, having given birth to a son, Jake, by first husband, musician John Reynolds. She would go on to have three other children: a daughter, Roisine, from her second marriage to journalist Nick Sommerlad; a son, Shane, from a relationship with musician Donal Lunny; and son Yeshua from a relationship with businessman Frank Bonadio.
In 1990, she boycotted appearing on “Saturday Night Live” in protest over plans to have Andrew Dice Clay host, as she complained that his humor was both misogynistic and homophobic. That same year singer Frank Sinatra said during a concert that he would like to “kick her a–” because of O’Connor’s stated policy that she did not allow the national anthem to be played at her shows.
In 1992, O’Connor made headlines around the world after a controversial performance on “Saturday Night Live” in which she ripped a photo of Pope John Paul II in half while saying “Fight the real enemy.” The incident was lampooned and ultimately harmed O’Connor’s career because of the outrage.
She continued to make music, with standouts including her cover of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” in 1992 and 1994’s “Fire on Babylon.” The singer continued to make music for many years, spanning various styles and genres, releasing a total of ten studio albums, including the ethereal 2000 record “Faith and Courage.” Her last album, “‘m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss,” came out in 2014.
Nonetheless, O’Connor never reached the commercial or critical success of her earlier work. Instead, she made headlines in 1999 after she was ordained as a priest in the Latin Tridentine church, though in 2014 she told Billboard she had stepped back from that office.
“I’m not interested in causing more trouble than I already am, and neither am I interested in making a circus of the sacraments,” she said.
She also took a similar approach to her sexuality, coming out as a lesbian in 2000 and then telling Entertainment Weekly a few years later that “I’m three-quarters heterosexual, a quarter gay. I lean a bit more towards the hairy blokes.”
In 2011, O’Connor married Barry Herridge, whom she met on the Internet. The couple split 18 days later before reuniting.
Personal struggles aired publicly
The advent of social media made it possible for fans to witness first-hand the events unfolding in O’Connor’s life. In 2012, she used Twitter to send out a plea for help: “does any1 know a psychiatrist in dublin or wicklow who could urgently see me today please,” she wrote. “im really un-well… and in danger.”
In 2015 and 2016 authorities were asked to find her – the former because she had posted on Facebook that she had overdosed in an Irish hotel and the latter after she was reported missing after failing to return from a bike ride in a Chicago suburb. In both instances, she was found safe.
She continued to struggle with her mental health in 2017, and posted a tearful video of herself discussing her mental illness to her Facebook page. The footage showed her crying in a motel room and lamenting that her family had abandoned her in the wake of mental health issues.
“People who suffer from mental illness are the most vulnerable people on Earth,” O’Connor said in the video. “You’ve got to take care of us. We’re not like everybody.”
That same year, she changed her name to Magda Davitt, a name she took to be “free of parental curses.” She changed her name again in 2018 to Shuhada’ Davitt, after announcing her conversion to Islam following a series of posts at the time that included O’Connor singing the Islamic call to prayer.
The singer went on to release her memoir in 2021 titled “Rememberings,” where she told her story of “growing up in a family falling apart; her early forays into the Dublin music scene; her adventures and misadventures in the world of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll; the fulfillment of being a mother; her ongoing spiritual quest – and through it all, her abiding passion for music,” according to an official synopsis.
The following year, O’Connor’s 17-year-old son Shane died after going missing in the days prior. At the time, she shared a sequence of brief statements on her Twitter account saying her son “decided to end his earthly struggle” and called him “the very light of my life.”
She was admitted to the hospital a week after Shane’s death after posting a series of statements on her social media describing her plans to take her own life, and expressing guilt for her son’s death. She later updated her fans with an apology for the alarming posts, and reassured her followers that she was seeking help.
Later on Wednesday, Irish leader Leo Varadkar paid tribute to O’Connor.
“Really sorry to hear of the passing of Sinéad O’Connor,” Varadkar wrote on Twitter.
“Her music was loved around the world and her talent was unmatched and beyond compare. Condolences to her family, her friends and all who loved her music,” he added.
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