Sinéad O’Connor dies at 56, leaving a legacy as rich as it was complicated

    1 of 3 2 of 3

      Known as one of the most uncompromising, and troubled, talents in the history of alternative music, renegade trailblazer Sinéad O’Connor had died at the age of 56. No cause of her passing has been given by her family.

      The Irish-born singer released 10 albums over the course of her career, bubbling up through the underground before becoming a global superstar with a 1990 cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”. The video for the song, which had the singer walking fog-shrouded park in a vampire cloak and army boots, her head shaved to a stubble, has become one of the most iconic in the history of pop music. 

      Throughout her career O’Connor was famously outspoken, her views on politics and social justice frequently getting her into trouble with the music-industry establishment. At the height of popularity she used a 1992 Saturday Night Live appearance to rip up a picture of the Pope, leading to a global backlash. That act­—meant to shine a light on the abuse of children by the Catholic church—led to a lifetime ban from the show, and blackballing in the industry.

      O’Connor was no less vocal in her art, with “Black Boys on Mopeds” off her 1990 breakthrough I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got tackling systemic racism. In some ways anticipating the Black Lives Matter movement that would happen decades later, the song wrapped around the 1983 shooting of an unarmed Black youth, Colin Roach, by UK police.

      Through the years, the singer publicly struggled with her mental health. A 2015 tour was cancelled due to “exhaustion due to an existing not resolved medical situation.” That same year she publicly severed contact with her family, including a son who died last year at 17.

      In 2017, O’Connor posted a 12-minute Facebook clip in which she announced she was almost homeless and suicidal, living in a New Jersey Travelodge motel.

      Over the course of her life she enlisted as a minister in the Irish Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church, and converted to Islam at the end of last decade, changing her name to Shuhada’ Davitt.

      But, rightly so, it’s her art that O’Connor is being remembered for today. 

      While not her most well-known song, 1987’s “I Want Your (Hands on Me)” might be the singer’s most powerful. Combining elements of tribal pop, electro-tinted dance, and early hip-hop, the track was as mesmerizing as O’Connor was in the video with her shaved head, leather jacket, and attitude that practically says “fuck you”—especially if you’re on the wrong side of all that’s right.

      Here's what O'Connor's peers are saying about her today.