July 25, 2023 | Alicia B.

Bittersweet Facts About Dolores O'Riordan, The It Girl of 90s Rock


Dolores wasn’t just the lead singer of the legendary band The Cranberries, she was the dictionary definition of a rockstar. But behind the rock and roll, Ireland’s pride and joy battled demons that sent her racing towards disaster and an infamous air rage meltdown.


1. She Had The Worst Childhood

Born in 1971, Dolores O'Riordan was the youngest of nine children. But her two siblings were forever strangers because they didn’t survive infancy. Tragedy kept coming for this poor family. Her father suffered brain damage after an accident when Dolores was only three. Four years later, one of her sisters accidentally burned their house down. Even with all of this, the worst was yet to come.

Dolores O'Riordan wearing black jacket and black pants is playing on stage on white guitar. - 2012yakub88 , Shutterstock

2. She Has Many Secrets

Dolores once confessed, “I have a lot of secrets about my childhood”—and eventually revealed the worst one. When she was eight, someone sexually abused her. This went on for four years. Even worse, her tormentor was someone she trusted—someone her whole family and community trusted. Dolores escaped in the only way she could.

Screenshot: Dolores O'Riordan looking at camera and singing - from Dolores (TV documentary,2018)Dave Fanning, Dolores (TV documentary,2018)

3. She Found An Escape

Dolores escaped by grabbing every opportunity to sing and play instruments. She introduced herself to her new school by declaring, "My name is Dolores O'Riordan...I'm going to be a rock star”. If anyone laughed, Dolores quickly shut them up: When she sang, everyone couldn’t help but stop and listen. Well, everyone except her mother.

Screenshot: Dolores O'Riordan is looking at side - from Dolores (TV documentary,2018)Dave Fanning, Dolores (TV documentary,2018)

4. She Was A Rebel With A Cause

The “I’m going to be a rock star” schtick was adorable at 12, but concerning at 18. Dolores’s mother urged her daughter to become a nun or music teacher instead. But Dolores was an unstoppable force. She dropped out of school and ran away from home with a boyfriend. For over a year, Dolores didn’t have a dollar to her name… Was her mom right? Then destiny came calling.

Dolores O'Riordan seating and looking at camera - 2001Roger Woolman, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

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5. She Found Her Calling

In 1989, Mike Hogan, Noel Hogan, Fergal Lawler, and Niall Quinn formed the Cranberry Saw Us. They lasted less than a year before Niall, the lead singer, left. But he told them that his girlfriend knew a girl looking for a band. While the band agreed to meet her, they didn’t know what to expect. They definitely weren’t expecting Dolores.

Dolores O'Riordan wearing black coat is performing live on stage - 2007.Kuan, CC BY 2.0 , Wikimedia Commons

6. She Stunned Everyone

Dolores was small, but she left a big impression. The band admitted, “We were blown away that this small girl from Limerick had such an amazing voice. The fact that she wasn’t already in a band was a miracle”. They couldn’t offer her the lead singer position fast enough. Her life, the band, and music would never be the same again.

Dolores O'Riordan is performing at stage - 2004Fabio Diena, Italy, CC BY-SA 4.0 , Wikimedia Commons

7. She Started From The Bottom

The cranberry saw them, but barely anyone else did. While the band’s EP only sold 300 copies, a studio owner knew potential when he saw it, and gave them more time to record. The band—now The Cranberries—crossed their fingers, and sent their fresh demo to labels across the UK. Others also saw this potential, and fought to sign the up-and-comers. The spotlight started shining on them, but Dolores didn’t exactly handle it well. 

Dolores O'Riordan is performing live on stage ,looking at people - 2012Nat Ch Villa from Montreal, Canada, CC BY 2.0 , Wikimedia Commons

8. She Was Too Shy

We’re not in Kansas (or Ballybricken) anymore. Dolores’s classical and church performances didn’t prepare her for the pressures of rock and roll. The band members spent their earliest tours sleeping on floors. Dolores spent her time on stage facing away from the audience. But as their first album inched closer and closer to completion—she had no choice but to sink or swim.

Screenshot: Dolores O'Riordan wearing dark coat is singing live on stage - from Dolores (TV documentary,2018)Dave Fanning, Dolores (TV documentary,2018)

9. She Made It

When the album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? came out, the world fell in love with Dolores’s mesmerizing voice and lyrics. Songs like “Dreams” and “Linger” were soundtracks of the 90s, and literal Hollywood soundtracks. The 22-year-old achieved the critical and commercial success that most spend their lives chasing. But were The Cranberries just another one hit wonder?

Screenshot: Dolores O'Riordan is wearing flowers on her head and looking at side - from Dolores (TV documentary,2018)Dave Fanning, Dolores (TV documentary,2018)

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10. She Risked Everything

As if The Cranberries didn’t already have enough pressure to defeat the sophomore slump, Dolores gambled with their fate. She wrote the protest song “Zombie” about the ongoing English-Irish tensions. Their manager revealed the label gave Dolores a million dollar check to replace it. She shredded the check and kept the song. All eyes were on them.

Screenshot: Dolores O'Riordan with golden hair and face singing - from Dolores (TV documentary,2018)Dave Fanning, Dolores (TV documentary,2018)

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11. She Beat The Odds

Sophomore slump? Dolores doesn’t know her. The Cranberries proved that they were here to stay with their next album, No Need to Argue. "Zombie?" While the song was controversial, it was also a monster hit, and their most legendary song. Few women or women-led bands reached these heights. 

Well, one fellow superstar had, and she was not happy. 1…2…3…catfight!

Screenshot: Dolores O'Riordan is looking at side upset - from Dolores (TV documentary,2018)Dave Fanning, Dolores (TV documentary,2018)

12. She Had A Rival

Enter, Sinéad O’Connor: fellow Irish musician and 90s it girl. The media couldn’t help but compare the Irishwomen. Sinéad couldn’t help but feel that Dolores was too similar to her. Whenever they crossed paths, Sinéad haughtily ignored Dolores and walked past without a word. Sinéad admitted she behaved immaturely, but she’d make it up to Dolores.

Sinead O'Connor wearing blue shirt is performing on stage live - 2014Bryan Ledgard, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

13. She Was A Style Icon

The 90s had a distinctive aesthetic, and Dolores shaped it from top to bottom. Her hair, either a pixie or buzzcut, was part of her signature look. Dolores even performed barefoot. Offstage, she wore Dr Marten boots, and sent sales through the roof. Dolores was an influencer, and she didn’t even have to try. But she still doubted whether most men found her attractive. But one man proved her so wrong.

Dolores O'Riordan wearing red dress is performing live on stage - 2010Poudou99, CC BY 3.0 , Wikimedia Commons

14. She Met Her Future Husband

Don Burton was a Canadian giant, Duran Duran’s manager, and infatuated with Dolores. Even after her manager exposed his crush, Dolores had her doubts: “I didn’t think he’d go for my kind of thing. Thought he’d go for mainstream and blonde”. It didn’t help that Don towered over her: “Jesus, he would be too big for me. I wouldn’t be able for him!” But love had a funny way of sneaking up on them.

Screenshot: Dolores O'Riordan wearing grey shirt is walking on the street - from Dolores (TV documentary,2018)Dave Fanning, Dolores (TV documentary,2018)

15. She Moved Fast

Dolores and Don’s relationship was many things, but slow and steady it was not. Commitment definitely wasn’t an issue for this 90s power couple. Dolores wasted no time to tattoo his name on her shoulder. After six months, they tied the knot. While it was the wedding of 1994, their outfits raised a few eyebrows. Okay…it was more than a few.

The Cramberries performing at concert live in Paris - 2010Poudou99, CC BY 3.0 , Wikimedia Commons

16. She Had A Unique Wedding

Dolores and Don’s union was the talk of the town but not always in a good way. Everyone expected the lavishness and the celebrity studded guest list. Their outfits? Not so much. Don showed up to church with a leather and snakeskin outfit, a ponytail, and a horse. Then, Dolores walked down the aisle with another horse, knee high boots, lace tights, and a see-through dress. She never stopped shocking everyone.

Dolores O'Riordan wearing black suit is singing live on stage on blue background - 2012Eva Rinaldi, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

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17. She Made Princess Diana Cry

There was no one and no voice like Dolores. She proved it at a 1995 charity concert, and received the royal seal of approval. Princess Diana admitted Dolores’s performance moved her to tears. Does that make Dolores the people’s rockstar? In the mid-1990s, Dolores was on top of the world. Well, she was until her demons sent everything toppling down a year later.

Screenshot: Dolores O'Riordan performing live on stage with Luciano Pavarotti - from Dolores (TV documentary,2018)Dave Fanning, Dolores (TV documentary,2018)

18. She Wasn’t Well

Everything seemed amazing with The Cranberries’ third album To the Faithful Departed and world tour. Key word: seemed. Dolores confessed, “I was putting on this charade, this perfect face”. Underneath the rock and roll, Dolores struggled with anorexia, depression, bipolar disorder, and alcoholism—all largely thanks to her childhood. Dolores continued her charade until she couldn’t.

Dolores O'Riordan is performing live on stage,looking at people - 2012Nat Ch Villa from Montreal, Canada, CC BY 2.0 , Wikimedia Commons

19. She Really Struggled

Halfway into the tour, Dolores realized she couldn’t do it anymore and canceled. Rumors about her health—or lack thereof—spread like wildfire. Meanwhile, their record label “went mental," while the band supported Dolores. But it planted more seeds of discontent that slapped an expiration date on The Cranberries. It was the beginning of the end.

Dolores O'Riordan is making a hand gestures while performing live on stage - 2010Alterna2 http://www.alterna2.com, CC BY 2.0 , Wikimedia Commons

20. She Went Through A Breakup

Once Dolores got back into the swing of it, The Cranberries continued pumping out hit albums and world tours. But the cracks began to deepen. A producer admitted "perhaps she could have tempered her behavior and been more measured, but that wasn't her way”. These differences led to the band breaking up in 2003. But their story wasn’t over yet.

Dolores O'Riordan wearing black jacket singing on the stage - 2012Eva Rinaldi, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

21. She Hated Fame

Dolores realized fame was a gilded prison, and it was time to break out. Moving to Canada with Don and their four kids brought her back down to earth—and she loved every second of it. She was “like any ordinary person” there. But like a siren, music still called to her. For the first time since 1990, Dolores had to make music without The Cranberries. The world—and Dolores herself—wondered if she could do it.

Dolores O'Riordan is performing live on stage on the grey background - 2012Eva Rinaldi, CC BY-SA 2.0 ,Wikimedia Commons

22. She Went Solo

The world wondered who Dolores was without The Cranberries. Dolores wondered that herself. Everyone got their answer with Are You Listening? in 2007. It was a moderate critical and commercial success, but paled in comparison to The Cranberries. But she continued to pump out music, schedule tours, and make health-related cancellations. Dolores didn’t know that she and the past were about to collide.  

Dolores O'Riordan with hands up is smiling and looking at camera - 2012Eva Rinaldi, CC BY-SA 2.0 , Wikimedia Commons

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23. She Reunited With Her Band

Absence really does make the heart grow fonder. The Cranberries reunited for a concert in 2009 that changed everything. Dolores admitted "the minute we started playing it felt like we'd never stopped…it's a chemistry. It just fits". Turns out, the feeling was mutual among the other members. To the delight of fans, The Cranberries were ready to kiss and make up.

The Cramberries performing live on stage - 2010Poudou99, CC BY 3.0 , Wikimedia Commons

24. She Got The Band Back Together

While The Cranberries got back together, Dolores fell apart. The band didn’t waste any time after their reunion performance, and dove into a 107-show world tour. But history repeated itself when the band canceled concerts due to her health issues. As The Cranberries continued to make music and tour, they realized that Dolores's back and vocal cord injuries weren’t going away. 

Dolores O'Riordan wearing black hat is performing on stage - 2012Eva Rinaldi, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

25. She Had Nightmares

Even in her sleep, the past refused to leave Dolores alone. She dreamed about meeting her childhood tormentor night after night. These nightmares turned out to be premonitions. In 2011, her father passed. As if that wasn’t tragic enough, it gets worse. At his funeral, Dolores spotted the man who still huanted her. He didn’t just see Dolores too, he headed straight towards her.

B&W Screenshot: Dolores O'Riordan singing with her eyes closed (close up) - from Dolores (TV documentary,2018)Dave Fanning, Dolores (TV documentary,2018)

26. Her Worst Fear Came True

Dolores could hide her past, but she couldn’t run from it. She’d spent decades hiding her darkest secret and blocking our her most devastating memories. When she came face to face with the worst man from her past, she reportedly called him out for his disturbing transgressions—right to his face. But though there was a courage in facing her demons, Dolores had so much further to fall.Screenshot: Dolores O'Riordan walking on the street - from Dolores (TV documentary,2018)Dave Fanning, Dolores (TV documentary,2018)

27. She Wanted To End It

Dolores O'Riordan made a shocking and tragic confession. In 2013, she attempted to end everything by taking too many pills. It didn’t work, so she figured, “I am meant to stay here for the kids,” but her substance problems didn’t stop there. 

Dolores admitted that she used drinking and smoking to cope: “I have a bad day, when I have bad memories and I can't control them and I hit the bottle. I kind of binge drink. That is kind of my biggest flaw at the moment”. Her biggest flaw turned out to be her fatal flaw.

Screenshot: Dolores O'Riordan wearing white shirt is walking outside - from Dolores (TV documentary,2018)Dave Fanning, Dolores (TV documentary,2018)

28. She Had A Breakdown

On November 10, 2014, Dolores boarded a flight from New York to Shannon. It was a flight she’d taken countless times. But there was something wrong today, and people noticed. Someone even tweeted, “So Dolores ‘Cranberry’ O’Riordan just boarded our JFK/SNN flight wearing red & black Superhero mask ...  #strange”. 

On the flight, some major drama went down—and Dolores caused it.

Dolores O'Riordan is performing live on stage pointing up with her arm - 2010Alterna2 http://www.alterna2.com, CC BY 2.0 ,Wikimedia Commons

29. She Caused An Air Rage Scandal

Dolores snapped 20 minutes before the plane landed. She went after a flight attendant, and it got physical. Dolores even stomped on the attendant’s foot and fractured it. The crew detained her and called law enforcement who waited at the airport. Her air rage episode should’ve ended there, but the drama was just beginning.

Screenshot: Dolores O'Riordan seating on the chair and looking down - from Dolores (TV documentary,2018)Dave Fanning, Dolores (TV documentary,2018)

30. She Resisted Arrest

Attacking a flight attendant was already bad enough, but Dolores made it so much worse. She went after officers, and escaped arrest not once, but twice. While they apprehended her, it was clear she refused to give up without a fight. Somehow, Dolores escaped custody. She then hit an officer’s shoulder and waist. She made a run for it.

B&W Screenshot: Dolores O'Riordan wearing black shirt and singing - from Dolores (TV documentary,2018)Dave Fanning, Dolores (TV documentary,2018)

31. She Beat Another Officer

As Dolores fled the scene, another officer chased her. After he apprehended her, Dolores resisted arrest again. She responded by head-butting him and spitting on his face. The officer had to get an x-ray, and take five days off due to the head injury. Dolores shocked witnesses—and the world—with what she screamed at them. 

Dolores O'Riordan wearing red dress is singing on the stage - 2010Poudou99, CC BY 3.0 , Wikimedia Commons

32. She Played The Fame Card

The officers made sure she couldn’t escape again, but Dolores wasn’t done. She was many things and a quitter wasn’t one of them. Dolores told the officers, “You can’t arrest me. I’m an icon. I’m the Queen of Limerick. You don’t know who you are dealing with. I pay my taxes so I pay your wages and I am going to sue you”. Shockingly, they took her in anyway.

Dolores O'Riordan with black hair is performing and looking at side - 2016Bart Notermans from Rotterdam, The Netherlands, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

33. She Alarmed Everyone

Dolores may have been a rockstar and national treasure, but on that day, she was a prisoner detained in the back of a patrol car. Dolores continued to break down: she banged and kicked anything she could reach. She even tried to break the windows. The officers realized they needed to restrain her even more to get her to the station.

Dolores O'Riordan is singing and looking up - 2010Alterna2 http://www.alterna2.com, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

34. They Released Her

At the station, officers detained and started questioning her. It didn’t last long. Dolores complained that she didn’t feel well, which put a stop to the interrogation. The officers released her and drove her to a hospital. After doctors examined her, they discharged Dolores into her mother’s care. This run-in with the law was just the beginning.

Screenshot: Dolores O'Riordan looking sad at side - from Dolores (TV documentary,2018)Dave Fanning, Dolores (TV documentary,2018)

35. She Made A Serious Allegation

Dolores alleged that one of the officers grabbed her chest. If this happened, it was a tragic repeat of her past. But it might not have occurred. Dolores and her lawyer admitted this allegation was baseless. But the damage was done, and the officer admitted, “It ranks as one of the worst incidents that I have had to ever deal with”.

Screenshot: Dolores O'Riordan looking at camera - from Dolores (TV documentary,2018)Dave Fanning, Dolores (TV documentary,2018)

36. Her Rival Reached Out

It’s always the ones you least expect: Sinéad O'Connor, her rival, reached out. But Sinéad wanted to help, not gloat. Sinéad admitted, “I was furious with Dolores. But I’d never spoken to her a day in her life. When she got in trouble on the plane someone put her in touch; sort of like, two crazy girls can help each other”. Turns out, Ireland’s biggest artists had more in common than they wanted to accept.

Sinéad O’Connor wearing black sunglasses is performing live on stage - 2014Grussworte, CC BY-SA 3.0 ,Wikimedia Commons

37. She Couldn't Catch A Break

Dolores’s mother aired out her private life to the world. She revealed that after 20 years, Dolores and Don recently called it quits. Dolores was already going through it, and this may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. A week after the incident, Dolores finally spoke out. But what she revealed was shocking and didn’t help her case at all.

Screenshot: Dolores O'Riordan is looking at side - from Dolores (TV documentary,2018)Dave Fanning, Dolores (TV documentary,2018)

38. She Regretted Everything

Dolores didn’t just apologize to the flight attendant (if we can call it that), she revealed that they’ve known each other for years: “Carmel is lovely. I know Carmel a long time from flying over and back transatlantic since I had the little wee babies in the buggies. I really like her. She knows for a fact that it was an accident with my metal shoes… there were bad people having too much booze roaring at me. And I backed up and stood on her foot by an accident, like a child in the playground. I'm sorry Carmel”. She didn’t take this “apology” well. 

Screenshot: Dolores O'Riordan touching her hair and looking at front - from Dolores (TV documentary,2018)Dave Fanning, Dolores (TV documentary,2018)

39. The Flight Attendant Sued Her

Carmel didn’t forgive or forget. The flight attendant sued Dolores and claimed she couldn’t work for seven months thanks to the incident. This lawsuit turned out to be child’s play compared to the convictions the government prepared to hit her with. Dolores realized she wasn’t just in hot water—she was in boiling water and it could melt away her entire life.

Dolores O'Riordan is performing on stage on black and red background - 2012Eva Rinaldi, CC BY-SA 2.0 , Wikimedia Commons

40. She Was In Big Trouble

Dolores faced three charges and a future behind bars—but that's not the worst part. Having a record of lawbreaking could prevent her from traveling easily. This means she’d struggle to see her kids in Canada and work. Dolores pleaded guilty, and placed her life in the hands of a judge. 

Screenshot: Dolores O'Riordan wearing black hat is performing on stage - from Dolores (TV documentary,2018)Dave Fanning, Dolores (TV documentary,2018)

41. She Begged For Mercy

At the hearing, Dolores's lawyer explained why he felt Dolores deserved leniency. Not only had Dolores separated from Don, but she also hadn’t seen her kids in months and she lived out of a suitcase. To make matters worse, it was the second anniversary of her father’s passing. He even shared her medical history—and that changed everything.

Dolores O'Riordan is singing on a stage in purple background - 2012Eva Rinaldi, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

42. She Found Sympathy

The medic that examined Dolores soon after the incident concluded she was in a manic state. Dolores didn’t have control over herself or memories of the event. Another exam agreed with this conclusion, and added that while her bipolar disorder required treatment, the prognosis was good. 

Her lawyer insisted that Dolores never intended to harm anyone. The room held their breaths as they waited for the judge’s verdict.

Screenshot: Dolores O'Riordan is singing on stage with closed eyes - from Dolores (TV documentary,2018)Dave Fanning, Dolores (TV documentary,2018)

43. She Got Away With It

The judge declared that it would be “unfair” and “unjust” to convict someone so mentally ill. Instead of spending time behind bars, Dolores only spent €6,000 to pay a fine. The judge knew this would outrage many. He insisted “Let me be utterly clear that the defendant in this case is not being treated differently to anyone else”. Dolores was now free to pick up the pieces of her life.

Dolores O'Riordan wearing black dress and silver bracelet is performing on stage on blue background - 2012Nat Ch Villa from Montreal, Canada, CC BY 2.0 , Wikimedia Commons

44. She Was Optimistic

Her life was tough, but Dolores was tougher. She was ready to come back stronger than any 90s trend. Dolores excitedly worked with the other cranberries on their first album in six years and planned a tour. On January 15, 2018, she left ecstatic voicemails, raving about her new music. Tragically, it didn’t last.

B&W Screenshot: Dolores O'Riordan singing on microphone - from Dolores (TV documentary,2018)Dave Fanning, Dolores (TV documentary,2018)

45. She Went Too Soon

Later that day, a nightmare ensued. A cleaner found Dolores in her hotel bathtub submerged in water. She was only 46. With her history of mental illness, people wondered if she'd intentionally taken her life. Many assumed this was the cause. Heartbroken family, friends, and fans waited for—or dreaded—the coroner’s report.

Grave Of Dolores O'Riordan - 2018Sergio Perez Perez, CC BY 2.0 ,Wikimedia Commons

46. Her Passing Was Tragic

The truth about Dolores O'Riordan's passing was even more tragic. Turns out, it was a complete accident. Dolores drowned after drinking too much (four times the legal limit for driving, to be exact). She’d once confessed that drinking was her biggest problem. It was the end of a tragic life and a haunting voice. She was only just getting started.

B&W Screenshot: Dolores O'Riordan is singing on a microphone (close up) - from Dolores (TV documentary,2018)Dave Fanning, Dolores (TV documentary,2018)

47. She’s Still Facing Lawsuits

Carmel refuses to call it quits. Even after her passing, the flight attendant redirected her lawsuit at Dolores’s estate. But The Cranberries still have loyal fans who aren't taking this well. Enraged fans vented, “Kinda wish Dolores would have knocked her out now!” and, “It’s absurd, after five years. Carmel Coyne obviously wants money… Disgusting!”

Screenshot: Dolores O'Riordan seating on chair and singing - from Dolores (TV documentary,2018)Dave Fanning, Dolores (TV documentary,2018)

48. Her Band Called It Quits

A year after their lead singer’s unexpected passing, The Cranberries released In The End. It was their first album in six years, and the project that Dolores was so excited about. She never got to see it nab a Grammy nomination and positive reviews. After 30 years, The Cranberries parted ways again. This time, it was forever. 

While they tried to move on, another fellow star couldn’t.

The Cranberries performing live on stage in Barcelona - 2010Alterna2 http://www.alterna2.com, CC BY 2.0 , Wikimedia Commons

49. Her Ex Rival Made A Shocking Claim

Sinéad O'Connor once considered Dolores O'Riordan a rival, but she now covered “No Need To Argue” for a tribute album. After performing the song, she wrote, "Ended up not doing the cranberries song Monday and did it today instead and I swear I felt Dolores with me so we sang it together and it was amazing”. Then she went even further.

Sinéad O'Connor performing live on stage - 2013.Man Alive!, CC BY 2.0 ,Wikimedia Commons

50. She's Still Here

Sinéad stated, “Since everyone already thinks I’m Bats I may as well admit I trained as a medium for years”. She went even further and claimed that she’d spoken with Dolores, who wanted to send a message. But it wasn’t for her boyfriend, ex-husband, or children. It was for Armstrong, a mystery man who allegedly toured with Dolores. 

Sinéad claimed Dolores wanted to thank him for not taking advantage of her. No one knows if this was legitimate. But what we know for certain is that Dolores still speaks to us and future music lovers through her unforgettable music. The Cranberries are more bittersweet than anyone could have imagined. 

Sinéad O'connor wearing red clothes performing live on stage - 2013Man Alive!, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons


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