Editor’s Note: Upon the news of Sinead O’Connor’s passing at the age of 56, we are re-publishing this story written in 2018, in which writer Janet Siroto worried about the singer. O’Connor’s family announced her death in a statement today: “It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved Sinead,” the statement said. “Her family and friends are devastated and have requested privacy at this very difficult time.” RIP to an iconic and singular woman.
“I’ll remember it. … And Dublin in a rainstorm.” Do you remember when you heard the song “Troy” for the first time in 1987 and became acquainted with the singer behind it, Sinéad O’Connor—a bald, beautiful Irish 21-year-old with a stunning voice and a demeanor that was by turns bashful and ferocious?
I sure do. She was a force of nature, seemingly so young and so wise—and so immensely talented. I played that record (or maybe it was a cassette in my Walkman) on heavy repeat. As the years passed, I always loved that voice and vision. Everyone else can have the sentimental “Nothing Compares 2 U”: I was listening to “The Last Day of Our Acquaintance,” a wrenching song about divorce; “No Man’s Woman,” a female-empowerment anthem; and the gorgeous “If You Had a Vineyard” about Israel and Palestine.
She’s been more than just a voice, a look, and a pro-woman spirit.
But Sinéad (as I always think of her, despite a couple of name changes) has been more than just a voice, a look, a pro-woman spirit—she’s been a troubled person in the public eye. From tearing up a photo of the Pope on Saturday Night Live (and presciently railing against the abuses of the Catholic Church), to talking about the intensely abusive childhood she endured, to discussing her bipolar diagnosis, to warring with her exes (she’s been married four times), her life’s ups and downs have been well chronicled. She’s changed her name to Magda Davitt to be “free of the patriarchal slave names. Free of the parental curses,” and she’s changed her religion—from Catholicism to Rastafarian to Islam, now calling herself Shuhada’.
What Happened to Sinéad O’Connor?
To many—to too many—she’s become the weirdo to laugh at as she rages and stumbles. Heartbreakingly, she’s become embroiled in all kinds of sad spectacles. When she publicly warned Miley Cyrus that she’d be “prostituted” then tossed aside by the music industry, Miley responded by basically ridiculing her as crazy.
This fall, when she converted to Islam, her tweets were shared by many with nasty, guffawing comments.
When Sinéad took to social media to say she was scared and alone in a motel room in New Jersey and thinking of ending her life, many in the media and public were entertained. This fall, when she converted to Islam, her tweets were shared by many with nasty, guffawing comments—a situation she certainly didn’t help by tweeting, “But truly I never wanna spend time with white people again (if that’s what non–muslims are called). Not for one moment, for any reason. They are disgusting.”
One can guess what happened next: a barrage of comments like, “So in addition to having serious mental health issues and being a rather unpleasant dick, she’s also kind of dumb?”—and much worse. Her Twitter account disappeared a few days ago, then popped back up.
Has anyone got her back? Is anyone close enough to her to help her? I wonder. And then: How does one get close and help her when the likes of Dr. Phil have tried and apparently failed?
Thinking of what this last year or so has shown us in terms of suicides and senseless deaths by self-medication gone wrong, I am hoping someone—or several someones—can intervene. I’m praying for Sinéad, not because I want her to be back in front of audiences or recording new music, not because she has to live up to rock-star status. But because she sounds like one of the most vulnerable people out there right now, with too many spectators and too little support.
Janet Siroto has held the Editor-in-Chief position at Time Inc.’s Family Life magazine, as well as senior editorial positions at Cosmopolitan, Redbook and Good Housekeeping. Her writing work has appeared in New York, The New York Times, Vogue and many others.
A version of this piece was originally published in November 2018.