There are lots of rags-to-riches stories, and there are lots of eccentric celebrities. But there was only one Sinéad O’Connor. She clawed her way out of a horrific childhood to pop stardom. But the higher they rise, the harder they fall.
In kindergarten, Sinéad won a prize for being able to curl up into the smallest ball, but her teachers and classmates would’ve been horrified to learn why she was so good at it. At home, her parents–who eventually divorced–were extremely horrible to Sinéad and her four siblings. This left permanent scars and sent her down a dark path.
The songstress admitted she was addicted to stealing. While Sinéad felt guilty, she wouldn’t—or maybe couldn’t—stop. Even worse, these thefts were shameless. For example, she would take flowers from people’s gardens. She then had the audacity to knock on their doors and sell them those flowers.
Eventually, she pushed her luck too far.
Workers at a shoe shop thought it was harmless to let a girl into the staff room to try items on. They thought wrong. Sinéad swiped an employee’s wallet and got away with it. Then she had the nerve to return in hopes of doing it again.
But the employees didn’t forget her, and they certainly didn’t forgive.
They trapped her in the store and called the authorities. Sinéad begged them not to tell her mom, but Johanna Marie O'Grady was far from innocent herself.
Turns out, Sinéad got her sticky fingers from her mama. Johanna even went as far as taking money out of collection plates at church, and encouraged her daughter to ask strangers for “donations". This was one of the countless things that strained their relationship to the point where Sinéad went to live with her dad instead.
But Sinéad couldn’t leave her crooked life behind—and paid the price.
At 15, Sinéad’s luck finally ran out, and she did an 18-month stint at an asylum. On the bright side, she got into music and writing while there.
But unfortunately, the institution was strict and even cruel. Sinéad even sometimes had to sleep in the nursing home next door.
She admitted, "I have never—and probably will never—experience such panic and terror and agony over anything". Considering what life threw at her next, this says a lot.
Most kids would feel nothing but devastation if their mom didn’t survive a car accident. But Johanna wasn’t most moms, and Sinéad wasn’t most kids. After Johanna's passing, she noticed that a photograph of Pope John Paul II was the only photograph on her mom’s wall.
Sinéad saved it, but this had nothing to do with grief, sentimentality, or faith. To her, it represented the lies, mistreatment, and neglect that Irish children experienced.
Sinéad planned to destroy it when the time was right—but had no idea she’d also destroy her life alongside it.
Things were finally looking up for Sinéad: She signed to a record label and started working on her first album. Naturally, it didn’t take long for it to come crashing down. Sinéad soon realized that she and the industry weren’t on the same page.
It started when Nigel, an executive, demanded that she dress more femininely and grow out her mohawk.
Sinéad's retaliation was brazen.
One day later, Sinéad marched into a barber’s shop and announced, “I want to look like a boy". This horrified the barber, who begged her not to cut off her locks. Eventually, he reluctantly caved. Just like that, Sinéad had her signature look.
Her shaved head appalled some people, but she was over the moon:
“I love it. I looked like an alien. Looked like Star Trek. Didn’t matter what I wore now". But her battle with executives was far from over.
In the midst of recording, Sinéad discovered that she was pregnant with her first child and son Jake. While it was a surprise, she couldn’t have been happier. John Reynolds, her boyfriend and baby daddy?
Not so much. In that instant, she fell out of love with him, though she stayed for the sake of their child.
It got even worse when Sinéad shared the news with her label. The start of her motherhood was the end of much more.
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Sinéad’s label’s reaction to the news was shocking. Nigel kindly advised her to see the company’s doctor. But if it seems too good to be true…it is. Instead of medical care, she got a lecture that “Your record company has spent a hundred thousand pounds recording your album. You owe it to them not to have this baby".
This doctor even told Sinéad that she couldn’t be a musician and a mother. She sobbed her eyes out, then made a decision that could have ended her.
The pregnancy was Sinéad’s final straw. As she put it, Nigel could “shove his hundred thousand. And his producer". But starting over again was the biggest gamble of her life. She only made £5,000 a year, while she took on a £100,000 debt to make her album, The Lion and the Cobra.
To make matters worse, Sinéad wasn’t sure if the music was any good. On top of that, she was super pregnant. Basically, her risk could end her career before it even started.
Sometimes gambles don’t pay off, but sometimes they do. The universe was finally on Sinéad’s side in 1987. The Lion and the Cobra was a critical and commercial success. It even nabbed a Grammy nomination. The gamble of Sinéad’s life paid off, but it came at a price.
Two years later, her marriage with John fell apart, and she never got over their bad blood.
Sinéad’s Grammy nominations and wins didn’t shock anyone—but her response did. She refused to attend the show. Sinéad took it further by turning down any awards. She was at the top of pop music, but wanted to be anywhere else. She felt trapped in a prison—sorry, I meant industry—who only cared about sales.
Sinéad learned this the hard way after taking a bold stance.
Sinéad announced she rejected these awards to highlight the mistreatment and neglect of children. This should’ve been great PR, but people mocked and vilified her. The public wanted their pop stairs to be good girls who didn’t rock the boat. They got Sinéad O'Connor instead. She was many things, but a good girl wasn’t one of them.
Sinéad had the reputation of being crazy—and she had no idea the worst was coming soon.
October 3, 1992, is an infamous day in television—but it wasn’t supposed to be. Sinéad was just supposed to perform two songs on Saturday Night Live: "Success Had Made a Failure of Our Home" and a cover of Bob Marley’s "War". But after discovering how Irish priests had mistreated Irish children—and gotten away with it—she had other plans.
Pop culture and Sinéad’s life would never be the same again.
Remember that Sinéad kept that photo of the Pope until she felt ready to destroy it? She decided that the night of her SNL performance was the night. But Sinéad knew no one would ever greenlight this—so she lied.
During rehearsals, she held up a photo of a Brazilian child who'd died at the hands of authorities. Nobody thought it would make any waves.
But Sinéad knew she was an imposter. And soon enough, the world would know too.
Sinéad performed the first song perfectly, but the real show was just about to start. She started singing "War," and it looked like another flawless performance. But in the end, Sinéad held up the photo of the pope. The camera zoomed in as she'd asked.
Then, Sinéad shredded the photo.
She screamed, “Fight the real enemy”! into the microphone and blew out the candle. This stunned the audience into silence—and not in a good way.
The situation was even more dire backstage. SNL’s studio turned into a ghost town. You could hear a pin drop, it was that silent.
Even worse, Sinéad didn’t see a single person or open door. It was like the apocalypse and she was the only survivor.
Even her manager got rid of his phone and disappeared for days. Things got even worse—and physical—when she stepped outside the studio.
Outside, two men waited for Sinéad with bad intentions and a carton of eggs. They launched a surprise attack.
They threw eggs at Sinéad and her assistant Ciara. Then, the men fled the scene. But they didn’t know that the women were lightning fast. When the men tried to flee, Sinéad and Ciara caught up to them and cornered them in an alley.
Sinéad and Ciara could’ve been furious—and rightfully so—after the attack. Instead, they just laughed, and told the men, “Hey, don’t be throwing eggs at women". This shocked their attackers, who didn’t expect to be chased, and much less cornered.
The men started laughing too.
They even helped Sinéad and Ciara call a cab. That ended well, and I wish we could say the same for the rest of the world.
Sinéad didn’t just land herself in hot water. She boiled herself alive. While Sinéad continued to release music and tour—and was still pretty successful—she never reached her peaks again. On top of that, she now had an army of haters who’d never forgive and forget. They even held events where they crushed her CDs with steamrollers.
It gets worse.
It was hunting season, and Sinéad was the target. Even celebrities were out for blood. Joe Pesci threatened to smack her on SNL. Frank Sinatra said she was “one stupid broad". Madonna mocked her by jokingly ripping up a photo. According to The Washington Times, Sinéad was “the face of pure hatred". And that’s just to name a few.
Sinéad brushed it off, until one day, she couldn’t.
Excited was an understatement after Sinéad was asked to perform a Bob Dylan song at a concert honoring him. He’d even be in attendance. Bob wasn’t just a favorite artist, he was her biggest inspiration. She even cried while practicing.
Sinéad worked tirelessly to perfect her performance. She even bought a fancy new dress. All she wanted to do was to make Bob proud. Then, disaster struck.
Half the audience started booing the moment Sinéad stepped onto the stage. For a second, she thought people were booing her dress.
You see, Sinéad was so excited that she forgot about SNL. Then, the other half began cheering to drown the haters out, but the result was just a deafening uproar.
Sinéad panicked and paced on the stage until someone finally escorted her off, where only disappointment awaited her.
As thousands of his fans booed her, Sinéad wished Bob would come onstage and calm them down so she could sing. But he did nothing and said nothing.
They just stared at each other awkwardly for 30 seconds. Afterward, Sinéad visited Bob Dylan's manager, educated him on the church in Ireland, and asked for help.
But he didn’t just refuse, he thought she was crazy.
Everyone thinks the SNL scandal derailed Sinéad’s life and career—but she insisted, “It wasn’t derailed. It was re-railed” onto a better path. Sinéad felt freed from the prison of pop stardom: “After SNL, I could just be me. Do what I love.
Be imperfect. Be mad, even".
And boy, her messy post-SNL love life proved this more than anything.
In 1996, Sinéad and writer John Waters welcomed their daughter Brigidine Roisin Waters into the world. But their relationship soon ended in flames—and a long and bitter custody battle ensued. Sinéad was never one to back down from a fight, but this time, she lost. So there was no love lost between those exes.
Sinéad even asked fans to sign her petition calling for his arrest for his problematic views. Her love life only gets crazier.
Sinéad and journalist Nick Sommerlad started dating in February 2001 and secretly married just six months later. Unfortunately, their marriage didn’t even last a year before they called it quits. They kept their split a secret, until they officially divorced in 2004.
Whatever happened was so bad that Sinéad now swore off marriage—but the universe had other plans.
Sinéad wasted no time after her divorce. She and Donal Lunny, a fellow hotshot in Irish music, hit it off. In 2004, they welcomed their son Shane into the world.
In case you’re keeping count, we’re at her third baby and third baby daddy.
Tragically, Sinéad would find out in the worst way that Shane was her most troubled—and heartbreaking—child.
Drama, thy name is Sinéad. Soon, her relationship with Lunny crashed and burned, and she was onto a more scandalous romance.
Her relationship with businessman Frank Bonadio blew up in their faces after Mary Coughlan, his wife, found out.
Their leaked explicit texts didn’t exactly calm her newfound nemesis. To make matters worse, Sinéad and Frank had baby Yeshua in 2006. Sinéad and Mary duked it out for years, even after the singer moved on.
In 2010, Sinéad broke her vow to never marry again. This time, she married Australian musician Steven Cooney.
Third time’s a charm? Nope. A year later, they called it quits: "Steve is lovely so it’s not his fault but mine... it was an extremely happy marriage...I’m heartbroken about it breaking up," she said. But it didn’t take long for her to replace him.
That same year, Sinéad and Irish therapist Barry Herridge married in Las Vegas. This time, their marriage ended after a whopping seven days—and it was all Sinéad’s fault. She took him on a “wild search” all over Vegas looking for illicit substances. Did I mention that Barry was an addiction counselor?
Sinéad confessed, “I wish I hadn't ever got married. Silly cow. Four times...Now I can't ever get married once and properly".
Sinéad was about to get a lot worse before anything got better. She had open surgery, a radical hysterectomy that removed her uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, and so much more—and everything went wrong. She might not have even needed to remove everything in the first place.
This major surgery had serious repercussions, but Sinéad claimed she received nothing but Tylenol afterward. It had drastic consequences.
Sinéad was heading straight to rock bottom. She spent six years in and out of mental health hospitals, where she finally got answers for her…well, everything. Turns out, it was bipolar disorder, PTSD, and surgical menopause.
She barely even remembered anything between 1992 and 2015 thanks to the botched surgery.
During this period, Sinéad ended up terrifying her friends and family.
Sinéad was reported missing in May 2016. After a desperate hunt, they eventually found her safe and sound. But Sinéad publicly lashed out at her first husband and first child: She berated them, accused them of abandoning her, and vowed to sue them.
Basically, she was a mess, and needed to make massive changes—and boy did she.
In 2018, Sinéad became a new person. She converted to Islam and even changed her name to Shuhada' Sadaqat (but she still answers to Sinéad O'Connor). After decades of being lost, it seemed that she finally found herself.
And along the way, Shuhada discovered peace—well, her version of it.
Shuhada became a loner in her Irish cottage—but she wasn't exactly the hostess with the mostess. The singer admitted to choosing uncomfortable furniture so visitors wouldn't overstay their welcome. But at long last, she was at peace after battling the world—that is, until a tragedy changed everything.
In January 2022, Shane, her 17-year-old son, had a mental health crisis and ended up in a hospital.
However, he went missing after that. She posted countless messages on social media like, “My world would collapse without you. You are my heart. Please don’t stop it from beating. Please don’t harm yourself".
Sadly, he pleas went unanswered. Days later, they discovered Shane’s body, and Shuhada experienced every parent’s worst nightmare. Grief-stricken, she tried to make sense of this tragedy:
“May he rest in peace and may no one follow his example. My baby. I love you so much. Please be at peace".
No parent should have to bury a child, but she had no choice.
In 1990, Sinéad proved she was no one-hit wonder with her second album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got. The song "Nothing Compares 2 U" took her global. The first line, “it's been seven hours and 15 days since you took your love away” remains iconic (and a hilarious meme).
As it happens, Prince actually wrote the tune. But for decades, Sinéad hid her nasty past with the songwriter of her most iconic song.
Out of the blue, Prince called Sinéad to invite her over to his house. He’d even send a car. Sinéad and her friends freaked out. Her friends even fantasized about the pair falling in love.
But at the very least, everyone was certain they’d become friends. After all, her current manager, Steve Fargnoli used to manage him and even introduced them. But they were so, so wrong.
Prince’s driver picked her up for dinner at his mansion. It seemed like a fairytale—but it quickly took a chilling turn. Prince made a great first impression by treating his staff horribly.
But he smiled at Sinéad and asked if she wanted a drink. She asked for a nonalcoholic one. It was the wrong choice.
He slammed the glass down, and snapped, “Get it yourself". Sinéad realized Prince was no Prince Charming, and that she’d seen this film before…and there were no happy endings.
This anger was as familiar to Sinéad as the back of her hand (thanks mom and dad)!. It dawned on her that this is how horror movies start.
It was pitch black outside. She couldn't get home without his driver. Sinéad had no idea where she was—or even where the front door was. All she knew was that Prince had trapped her in the middle of nowhere. Prince then asked Sinéad to do something shocking.
Prince, all smiles and sunshine again, asked for a pillow fight.
Sinéad figured that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and hoped this would salvage the night. It only took one first thump for Sinéad to realize she couldn’t have been more wrong. She learned the hard way—literally—that Prince stuffed his pillow with painful objects.
He wanted to hurt her.
Sinéad wanted out.
Miraculously, they ended up beside the front door. She swung the door open and sprinted outside…only to find his driver sleeping in the limo. Sinéad tried calling another employee until she suddenly sensed a breeze and a sweet scent. It was him.
Prince ordered her back inside and instantly transported Sinéad back to her childhood.
She complied and returned to Prince Cruelty’s castle.
Initially, Prince gave Sinéad permission to leave…but she had to wake up his driver. Sinéad asked Prince to call a cab instead. Shockingly, Prince didn’t like pushback and stormed out. When he returned, it was like watching a reverse transformation where the Prince turns into the Beast.
As he stared Sinéad down, she could see his irises dissolving and his eyes going white. Sinéad knew she had to get out. No matter what.
Once again, Sinéad ran outside. This time, she screamed to wake up the driver and called another employee.
Before they could help her, Prince caught up with them and grabbed her by the elbow. He ordered them to back off. They obeyed. Prince dragged Sinéad back while he searched for his car keys.
That's when she made a run for it. Unfortunately, her nightmare was just beginning.
Sinéad just couldn't catch a break. After the world’s worst pillow fight, she played the worst game of hide and seek. She hid from Prince, while he drove around searching for her. Sinéad hid until sunrise. She then walked on the road, praying for a car to pass.
One car finally pulled up beside her…but it was Prince. Oh boy, here we go again.
Prince ordered Sinéad to get inside the car, and she hurled a choice word back at him. Prince got out and began chasing Sinéad around the car, and told her that he was going to hurt her. Now here was the worst game of cat and mouse.
Sinéad finally spotted another house. Jackpot. She rang the doorbell and didn't stop. Prince went back to his car and waited, while Sinéad prayed that someone would answer the door.
Prince eventually gave up and drove away without a single glance back. No one answered the door, so Sinéad walked until she found a phone booth. She called a friend to pick her up.
Remember how her friends were awestruck by Prince’s invitation? Now they were aghast. Then, Sinéad told her manager and learned the truth.
Turns out, Steve and Price had bad blood. Sinéad was the unknowing pawn caught in the middle. But she refused to let this experience intimidate her.
In the end, it seems that Sinead never quite got the peace she was always looking for. In 2021, she announced her retirement from performing music, only to seemingly change her mind again. But just recently she did show positive signs, even writing that she had moved to London and was releasing new music.
Which only makes the next event that much more heartbreaking.
On July 26, 2023, Sinead gave the world one last shock. Her family announced that the singer, who was just 56 years old, had passed. They gave no indication of the manner of her passing, and only stated that they wanted privacy at this time.
Rest in peace.
It doesn’t make up for the tragedy of her life, but Sinead could say “I told you so". It took years, but Pope John Paul II and his successors finally acknowledged the horrific amount of child mistreatment in the Catholic Church. But this confession came too little too late for the pop star who fell from grace for taking a stand no one was brave enough to.
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