Sinéad O’Connor, acclaimed Dublin singer, dies aged 56

Michael D Higgins leads tributes to Irish musician, saying the country has lost an ‘extraordinarily beautiful, unique voice’

Sinead O'Connor on stage at the Olympic Ballroom in 1988. Photograph: Independent Newspapers Ireland/NLI Collection

Irish singer Sinéad O’Connor has died at the age of 56, her family has announced.

In a statement, the singer’s family said: “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 acclaimed Dublin performer released 10 studio albums, while her song Nothing Compares 2 U was named the number one world single in 1990 by the Billboard Music Awards. Her version of the ballad, written by musician Prince, topped the charts around the globe and earned her three Grammy nominations.

The accompanying music video, directed by English filmmaker John Maybury, consisted mostly of a close-up of O’Connor’s face as she sung the lyrics and became as famous as her recording of the song.


In 1991, O’Connor was named artist of the year by Rolling Stone magazine on the back of the song’s success.

O’Connor was presented with the inaugural award for Classic Irish Album at the RTÉ Choice Music Awards earlier this year.

Sinéad O'Connor receives the Classic Irish Album award for I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got at the RTÉ Choice Music Prize at Vicar Street on March 9th. Photograph: Kieran Frost/Redferns

The singer received a standing ovation as she dedicated the award for the album, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, to “each and every member of Ireland’s refugee community”.

“You’re very welcome in Ireland. I love you very much and I wish you happiness,” she said.

President Michael D Higgins led the tributes to O’Connor, saying his “first reaction on hearing the news of Sinéad’s loss was to remember her extraordinarily beautiful, unique voice”.

“To those of us who had the privilege of knowing her, one couldn’t but always be struck by the depth of her fearless commitment to the important issues which she brought to public attention, no matter how uncomfortable those truths may have been,” he said.

Sinéad O’Connor on her teenage years: ‘I steal everything. I’m not a nice person. I’m trouble’Opens in new window ]

Sinéad O’Connor’s first Irish Times interview, from 1986: ‘I don’t need to drink or take drugs. All I need to do is sing’Opens in new window ]

“What Ireland has lost at such a relatively young age is one of our greatest and most gifted composers, songwriters and performers of recent decades, one who had a unique talent and extraordinary connection with her audience, all of whom held such love and warmth for her ... May her spirit find the peace she sought in so many different ways.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar expressed his sorrow at the death of the singer in a post on social media. “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,” said Mr Varadkar.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said he was “devastated” to learn of her death. “One of our greatest musical icons, and someone deeply loved by the people of Ireland, and beyond. Our hearts goes out to her children, her family, friends and all who knew and loved her,” he said.

Minister for Culture and Arts Catherine Martin said she was “so sorry” that the “immensely talented” O’Connor had died.

“Her unique voice and innate musicality was incredibly special ... My thoughts are with her family and all who are heartbroken on hearing this news Ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann.”

Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill said Ireland had lost “one of our most powerful and successful singer, songwriter and female artists”.

“A big loss not least to her family & friends, but all her many followers across the world.”

O’Connor drew controversy and divided opinion during her long career in music and time in public life.

In 1992, she tore up a photograph of Pope John Paul II on US television programme Saturday Night Live in an act of protest against child sex abuse in the Catholic Church.

Sinéad O'Connor tears up a photo of Pope John Paul II during a live appearance in New York on NBC's Saturday Night Live on October 5th,1992. Photograph: NBC-TV/AP

“I’m not sorry I did it. It was brilliant,” she later said of her protest. “But it was very traumatising,” she added. “It was open season on treating me like a crazy bitch.”

The year before that high-profile protest, she boycotted the Grammy Awards, the music industry’s answer to the Oscars, saying she did not want “to be part of a world that measures artistic ability by material success”.

She refused the playing of US national anthem before her concerts, drawing further public scorn.

In more recent years, O’Connor became better known for her spiritualism and activism, and spoke publicly about her mental health struggles.

In 2007, O’Connor told US talkshow Oprah Winfrey that she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder four years previously and that before her diagnosis she had struggled with thoughts of suicide and overwhelming fear.

She said at the time that medication had helped her find more balance, but “it’s a work in progress”. O’Connor had also voiced support for other young women performers facing intense public scrutiny, including Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus.

O’Connor, who married four times, was ordained a priest in the Latin Tridentine church, an independent Catholic church not in communion with Rome, in 1999.

The singer converted to Islam in 2018 and changed her name to Shuhada Sadaqat, though continued to perform under the name Sinéad O’Connor. In 2021, O’Connor released a memoir Rememberings, while last year a film on her life was directed by Kathryn Ferguson.

On July 12th, O’Connor posted on her official Facebook page that she had moved back to London, was finishing an album and planned to release it early next year. She said she intended to tour Australia and New Zealand towards the end of 2024 followed by Europe, the United States and other locations in early 2025.

The circumstances of her death remain unclear.

O’Connor is survived by her three children. Her son, Shane, died last year aged 17.

Former Late Late Show host Ryan Tubridy said he was “devastated” by the news of O’Connor’s death.

“We spoke days ago and she was as kind, powerful, passionate, determined and decent as ever,” he said in a post on Instagram.

Addressing O’Connor directly, he said: “Rest in peace Sinéad, you were ahead of your time and deserve whatever peace comes your way.”

Broadcaster Dave Fanning said O’Connor would be remembered for her music and her “fearlessness” and “in terms of how she went out there all the time, believed in everything she was doing, wasn’t always right and had absolutely no regrets at all”.

Canadian rock star Bryan Adams said he loved working with the Irish singer. “I loved working with you making photos, doing gigs in Ireland together and chats, all my love to your family,” he tweeted.

REM singer Michael Stipe said: “There are no words,” on his Instagram account alongside a photograph he posted of himself with O’Connor.

Hollywood star Russell Crowe posted a story on Twitter recounting a chance meeting with O’Connor – whom he described as “a hero of mine” – outside a pub in Dalkey, south Dublin, while he was working in Ireland last year.

“What an amazing woman. Peace be with your courageous heart Sinéad,” he tweeted.

Billy Corgan, lead singer of American rock band The Smashing Pumpkins, said O’Connor was “fiercely honest and sweet and funny”.

“She was talented in ways I’m not sure she completely understood,” he said.

Ian Brown of The Stone Roses tweeted: “RIP SINEAD O’CONNOR A Beautiful Soul. Hearin Collaborating with and hearing Sinead sing my songs in the studio in Dublin was magical and a highlight of my musical life.”

Musician Tim Burgess of the Charlatans said: “Sinead was the true embodiment of a punk spirit. She did not compromise and that made her life more of a struggle. Hoping that she has found peace.”

American rapper and actor Ice T paid tribute to O’Connor, saying she “stood for something”. In a Twitter post, he wrote: “Respect to Sinead ... She stood for something ... Unlike most people ... Rest Easy”.

The Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO) said: “Our hearts go out to family, friends, and all who were moved by her music, as we reflect on the profound impact she made on the world.”

Irish band Aslan paid tribute to O’Connor – both originating from Dublin. O’Connor collaborated with the band on Up In Arms in 2001.

Aslan lead singer Christy Dignam died in June.

A post on the band’s Facebook page read: “Two Legends taken from us so closely together… No words … Rest in Peace Sinead”.

British singer Alison Moyet said O’Connor had a voice that “cracked stone with force by increment”. In a post on Twitter, she wrote: “Heavy hearted at the loss of Sinead O’Connor. Wanted to reach out to her often but didn’t. I remember her launch. Astounding presence. Voice that cracked stone with force & by increment.

“As beautiful as any girl around & never traded on that card. I loved that about her. Iconoclast.”

US film and TV composer Bear McCreary reflected on writing new songs with the “wise and visionary” Sinead O’Connor in a social media post. McCreary tweeted that he was “gutted”.

“She was the warrior poet I expected her to be — wise and visionary, but also hilarious. She and I laughed a lot. We were writing new songs together, which will now never be complete. We’ve all lost an icon. I’ve lost a friend. #RIP.”

The pair had worked together on the latest version of the theme for Outlander.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times