Sinéad O’Connor, the gifted Irish singer-songwriter who became a superstar in her mid-20s and was known as much for her private struggles and provocative actions as for her fierce and expressive music, has died at 56.
“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,” the singer's family said in a statement reported Wednesday by the BBC and RTE. No cause was disclosed.
She was public about her mental illness, saying that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. O’Connor posted a Facebook video in 2017 from a New Jersey motel where she had been living, saying that she was staying alive for the sake of others and that if it were up to her, she’d be “gone.”
O’Connor was born on Dec. 8, 1966. She had a difficult childhood, with a mother she alleged was abusive and encouraged her to shoplift.
When her teenage son Shane died by suicide last year, O’Connor tweeted there was “no point living without him” and she was soon hospitalized.
Recognizable by her shaved head, O’Connor began her career singing on the streets of Dublin and soon rose to international fame.
She was a star from her 1987 debut album, “The Lion and the Cobra,” and became a sensation in 1990 with her cover of Prince’s ballad “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a seething, shattering performance that topped charts from Europe to Australia and was heightened by a promotional video featuring the gray-eyed O’Connor in intense close-up.
She was a lifelong non-conformist — she said she shaved her head in response to record executives pressuring her to be conventionally glamorous — but her political and cultural stances and troubled private life often overshadowed her music.
She also feuded with Frank Sinatra over her refusal to allow the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at one of her shows. Around the same time, she skipped the Grammy ceremony, saying it was too commercialized.
Her performance with a local band caught the eye of a small record label, and, in 1987, O’Connor released, “The Lion and the Cobra,” which sold hundreds of thousands of copies and featured the hit “Mandinka,” driven by a hard-rock guitar riff and O’Connor’s piercing vocals. O’Connor, then 20 and pregnant, co-produced the album.
“I suppose I’ve got to say that music saved me,” she said in an interview with the Independent newspaper in 2013. “I didn’t have any other abilities, and there was no learning support for girls like me, not in Ireland at that time. It was either jail or music. I got lucky.”
“Nothing Compares 2 U” received three Grammy nominations and was the featured track on her acclaimed album, “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got,” which helped lead Rolling Stone to name her Artist of the Year in 1991.
“She proved that a recording artist could refuse to compromise and still connect with millions of listeners hungry for music of substance,” the magazine declared.
O’Connor’s other musical credits included the albums, “Universal Mother” and “Faith and Courage,” a cover of Cole Porter’s “You Do Something to Me,” from the AIDS fundraising album “Red Hot + Blue,” and backing vocals on Peter Gabriel’s “Blood of Eden.” She received eight Grammy nominations and in 1991 won for best alternative musical performance.
O’Connor announced she was retiring from music in 2003, but continued to record new material. Her most recent album was “ I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss,” released in 2014 and she sang the theme song for Season 7 of “Outlander.”