DUBLIN (LifeSiteNews) — Award-winning and deeply troubled Irish Catholic singer Sinéad O’Connor, who sparked outrage in 1992 when she tore up a photograph of Pope John Paul II, died last night at age 56.
“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved Sinéad,” the singer’s family said in a statement, according to The Irish Times. “Her family and friends are devastated and have requested privacy at this very difficult time.”
Her cause of death has not been released.
O’Connor’s 17-year-old son Shane died by suicide last year. She tweeted about Shane just days before her death, commenting that she had “[b]een living as undead night creature since” he passed away last year.
“He was the love of my life, the lamp of my soul. We were one soul in two halves. He was the only person who ever loved me unconditionally,” she wrote.
O’Connor is survived by her other three children.
The singer, who released 10 studio albums and whose cover of the Prince song “Nothing Compares 2 U” propelled her to international acclaim and earned a spot as Billboard Music Awards’ number one world single in 1990, reportedly suffered from mental illness throughout her life as a result of the severe physical and sexual abuse she said she experienced as a child at the hands of her mother.
In an interview with American talk show host Dr. Phil, O’Connor said her mother beat her repeatedly as a child and even attempted to destroy her womb by attacking her abdomen. The singer said she later forgave her mother and the two became friends, though her mother never acknowledged having abused her.
When her mother passed away in a car accident, O’Connor said she was “devastated at the loss of her. She was my best friend.”
O’Connor, widely recognized for her close-shorn haircut, also said she was raped repeatedly by strangers as a child and began to dress in a masculine manner to protect herself.
Raised Catholic, O’Connor triggered outrage when she ripped up a photograph of then-Pope John Paul II during an October 1992 appearance on Saturday Night Live.
While performing a cover of Bob Marley’s “War,” she altered the words to suggest that the Catholic Church was “the real enemy” and tore up the photo, which she said had been hanging on her mother’s wall throughout her life. The stunt drew immediate backlash, and while O’Connor admitted “it was a disrespectful thing to do,” she said in a 2021 interview she didn’t regret doing it.
During a 1991 interview with SPIN, O’Connor spoke about her experience with abuse as a child and her belief that the “cause of all the world’s problems, as far as I’m concerned, is child abuse.”
That core belief appeared to form the foundation of her outrage directed against the Catholic Church as evidence emerged of sexual abuse of children by priests.
The Associated Press noted that O’Connor spent years urging a complete investigation into the Church’s involvement in allegedly covering up the abuses and rejected Pope Benedict XVI’s 2010 apology for reported incidents in Ireland because, she claimed, it did not go far enough.
The controversial entertainer would also spark backlash in 1999 when she became a “priestess” in the so-called “Latin Tridentine Church,” which is not in communion with Rome.
In 2018, she converted to Islam, taking on the name “Shuhada Sadaqat.”
The singer reportedly had several abortions, including one while on tour in 1990.
“The pregnancy had been planned, and I was madly in love with the father of the child. However, things didn’t really work out between us,” O’Connor told SPIN in 1991. “We were fighting. I was on tour, and I was feeling sick all the time. I didn’t know what to do, and he wasn’t really interested in the child.”
O’Connor recounted the experience of the abortion in a song entitled “My Special Child.”
Tributes to the troubled singer have flooded in after news of her passing.
Irish President Michael Higgins said he immediately remembered O’Connor’s “extraordinarily beautiful, unique voice” upon hearing of her death.
“May her spirit find the peace she sought in so many different ways,” Higgins said.
“Just heard of the death of the Irish singer Sinead O’Connor,” wrote Sister Mary Joseph, a Catholic religious sister with The Congregation of Servants of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
“She had a hard life, a terrible home life, from which she was deprived of love. May God have mercy on her soul,” she said. “May God in His infinite merciful love forgive, heal, comfort and give her eternal rest in His love and peace.”