Few music artists have been more compelling and controversial than Sinéad O’Connor, at least back in the day. The thing is that O’Connor hasn’t stopped making heads turn and eyebrows raise since her infamous Pope photo-tearing incident on Saturday Night Live. While the Irish singer-songwriter has made it to the top of her music game, she’s also suffered the lowest of lows.
O’Connor is now in her mid-50s and hasn’t been on our radar lately, probably because she’s been facing her inner demons. Well, to put it in her own words: she’s “spent most of the time in the nuthouse. I’ve been practically living there for six years.”
Ladies and gentlemen, this is a tribute to the artist Sinead O’Connor.
In 1985, Sinead O’Connor landed her first major gig doing the vocals and co-writing the song Heroine with U2’s the Edge for the Captive film soundtrack. By 1987, O’Connor started earning a reputation that stuck – as the sh*t disturber. As she was doing press for her album, O’Connor repeatedly called out U2. While becoming the new face of Irish music, she was denouncing Bono and the band as hypocrites and frauds.
U2’s bassist Adam Clayton responded in 1989, expressing doubts about her future success. “The fact of the matter is that we went to a lot of trouble to help Sinéad’s career in the early days… She’s talking crap. I don’t know why she’s doing it. It’s stupid. It’s immature. She’ll learn. But I know damn well that she won’t be making records in ten years.”
In 1986, O’Connor started working on her own debut, The Lion and the Cobra, but it all came to a screeching halt when the 19-year-old got pregnant by her drummer, John Reynolds (her first husband). She revealed years later that when she announced her pregnancy to the studio, they sent her to a doctor who pressured her to terminate the pregnancy.
She was told: “Your record company has spent one hundred thousand quid recording your record, and you owe it to them not to have the baby.” According to O’Connor, the doctor even tried to convince her that “terrible things would happen to the baby.” She even swore “on a stack of Bibles that that’s literally what happened.”
O’Connor succumbed to the pressure and went to get the abortion, but at the last minute, decided to keep the baby. She returned and kept working on her record. The original recording was then deemed “too Celtic” and was tossed out. O’Connor, then seven months pregnant, produced the album herself.
As it turns out, O’Connor has been married four times to four different men and has four children. But she’s also come out as a lesbian. In 2000, she told Curve that she’s gay, although she hasn’t been “very open about that.” For most of her life, she’s gone out with “blokes because I haven’t necessarily been terribly comfortable about being a big lesbian mule.”
For O’Connor, the part of her memoir Rememberings that “f***ed her up” was the Prince chapter. In the book, she recounted a really scary night with the artist formerly known as Prince. O’Connor was in America in 1991, not long after Nothing Compares 2 U was topping the charts.
For those who don’t know, Prince wrote the song for his side project, the Family, but had nothing to do with O’Connor’s recording. One day, however, she got a call saying that Prince would like to meet her. A car arrived and she was taken to his house.
She remembers that from the get-go Prince was acting strangely. He told her that he didn’t like the language she was using on TV and let her know how unhappy he was that she wasn’t his protegé. Then things got tense.
According to O’Connor, Prince ended up locking her in his house and insisted on them having a pillow fight. He then hit her with a hard object that was hidden inside the pillowcase. O’Connor managed to get away, but he chased her in his car. She escaped and laughed it off. Until now.
Now, when O’Connor recalls this event, she’s horrified. What would have happened if Prince had caught up to her? “I think he would have beat the sh*t out of me,” she confessed. What was the scariest moment of that night? “When he was sitting on a chair by the front door, and he wouldn’t let me out,” she stated.
O’Connor said his eyes went white. “It was the scariest thing I’ve seen in my life.” To O’Connor, Prince was “a walking devil.” She said she’s heard of women being put in the hospital because of the man. From that moment on, she stayed far away from him.
In her book, she wrote about her famous boyfriends like Peter Gabriel, who was divorced from his first wife at the time in the early ’90s. She said that he regarded her as his “weekend p***y.” Did it upset her? Yes. She explained that it really hurt because he was the one who chased her for about a year, as if he was in love with her.
She described him as the type of guy who would put a note under the door to tell you he’s going on a date with another girl. Because of Gabriel, O’Connor says she always drilled it into her sons that you shouldn’t tell a woman you love her to get her into bed.
Despite coming out as a lesbian, O’Connor has been married to four men. The first was John Reynolds, the Grammy-award-winning producer and musician. She was 21 when they got married in 1987, after he produced her first album. They were together until 1991 when O’Connor had an abortion. They did have one son together, though – her eldest son, Jake.
Despite some bitterness between the former couple, Reynolds produced half of O’Connor’s albums (five out of ten). Their most recent collaboration was in 2014 for I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss. In 2013, he served as the drummer on O’Connor’s world tour. A year later, she became a first-time grandmother as Jake had a baby boy.
Not all of her children have been the result of marriage. After her divorce to Reynolds, O’Connor dated Irish Times columnist John Waters, and together they had a daughter named Roisin, who was born in 1995. A brutal custody battle ensued, though, and Waters was awarded custody.
In 2002, O’Connor’s second husband, Nick Sommerlad, quit his job at The Daily Mirror after the newspaper reported a libel action involving Waters. Waters sued The Sunday Times in Ireland over their reports of him being a bad father to Roisin.
This leads us to the second husband…
In 2001, journalist Nick Sommerlad (a relative of Queen Silvia of Sweden) proposed to O’Connor. The couple had only been dating for a few months at that point. By 2004, they were married in Wales, where Sommerlad’s family lives.
Before the year was over, Sommerlad and O’Connor were divorced. Apparently, the couple split in the summer of 2002 but kept it a secret until 2003. A friend of O’Connor’s told the newspaper that “they fell madly in love when they first met. Despite the huge love, there is between them, they found that having married so early in the relationship was a pressure that neither could cope with.”
According to this friend, O’Connor vowed never to marry again…
By 2010, O’Connor was walking down the aisle again. This time to Australian musician Steven Cooney. They had actually met back in the 1980s when Cooney was playing guitar in her backing band. At the time of the wedding, she was 45, and he was 57.
O’Connor said at the time of their split that “Steve is lovely so it’s not his fault but mine… It was an extremely happy marriage… I’m heartbroken about it breaking up.” Cooney was a longtime friend and collaborator of O’Connor’s, so it only makes sense that this was a hard pill to swallow.
O’Connor had her third child, Shane, in 2004 with musician Donal Lunny – one of Ireland’s most admired traditional music stars. Lunny revealed recently that he doesn’t speak to or hear from his son very often, who is living overseas.
In February 2021, O’Connor had her Twitter fans pray for her 16-year-old son after a “hideous day from hell.” She didn’t say what happened to Shane, which only makes it more troubling for people to understand. What we do know, however, is that in 2019, when Shane was 14, he went missing from his home in Dublin. Thankfully, he was found safe and sound.
In 2006, O’Connor’s youngest child, Yeshua Bonadio, was born. The father is Frank Bonadio, a businessman who was married at the time to O’Connor’s friend, singer Mary Coughlan. Coughlan later opened up about the love triangle, insisting that her relationship with Frank ended before he was seen kissing O’Connor in America.
Photos of Bonadio and O’Connor kissing in New York emerged, followed by a string of X-rated text messages between O’Connor and Coughlan. “Nobody really knew that I had split from Frank for about a year-and-a-half,” Coughlan said. “I just didn’t tell anybody.”
O’Connor’s last and most bizarre marriage occurred in late 2011, when she married Barry Herridge in Las Vegas. Strange rumors circulated that O’Connor took Herridge, a therapist, to buy drugs after their wedding. The couple then split a few days later, after having been married for only seven days.
Then, reports emerged that the two were back together. But then again, they broke up. Apparently, the singer and therapist met online. Come February 2014, The Daily Mirror reported that the couple were going to remarry. O’Connor told the newspaper: “Barry has been my absolute harbor whenever seas were rough…”
O’Connor also divulged that Herridge stuck by her when she was “extremely ill because of kidney stones and various frights.” It’s unclear, though, if those re-nuptials ever took place. Yes, the singer has been through the wedding wringer, and she addressed the issue in 2014.
O’Connor told The Irish Independent: “I wish I hadn’t ever got married. Silly cow. Four times. What a twat. Now I can’t ever get married once and properly. Anyway, I look stupid in dresses. And clearly, I’m a crap wife.” Who knew the Irish singer was such a potty mouth, too?
If you’re anything like me, you’ve asked yourself, “What does Sinead O’Connor even look like with hair?” Well, the reason it’s so hard to even fathom is because she’s been shaving her head for, like, ever.
Initially, she shaved her in protest against traditional views of women, but years later, she actually started to grow it back. However, after being asked if she was Enya, O’Connor shaved it off again. “I don’t feel like me unless I have my hair shaved. So even when I’m an old lady, I’m going to have it.”
Another reason is that she doesn’t want to resemble her mother. And you’ll understand why…
Of course, you’ve seen (or at least heard of) the famous 1992 incident on SNL when O’Connor tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II. Did you know that she became a Catholic priest afterward? The singer seemed to have a tricky relationship with Christianity, which might be why she converted to Islam recently (more on that later).
In a BBC interview, she apologized for the SNL debacle: “I’m sorry I did that, it was a disrespectful thing to do. I have never even met the Pope. I am sure he is a lovely man. It was more an expression of frustration.”
It all started in 1999, seven years after the SNL happening. Not surprisingly, it derailed her once-promising career. O’Connor then became Mother Bernadette Mary, an ordained priestess of the Irish Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church (an independent Catholic group).
Like shaving her head, becoming a priestess is also a move against traditional male laws. The Roman Catholic Church denounces the act of ordaining women. She once said on a late-night talk show that had she not been a singer, she would been a Catholic priest. After her ordination, she asked to be called Mother Bernadette Mary (her birth name was Sinead Marie Bernadette O’Connor).
As recently as August 2018, O’Connor asked Pope Francis to excommunicate her via an open letter, just as she had asked of Pope Benedict and John Paul II. Back in 2002, O’Connor credited her Christian faith in helping her overcome the effects of her child abuse.
It’s the reason she ripped up that photo in the first place – in protest of child sex abuse in the Catholic church. At the time, people dismissed her as a crazy activist. Two weeks later, she was booed off the stage at a Bob Dylan tribute concert. Even her records were publicly smashed.
O’Connor has published her memoirs. The book Rememberings, for instance, was a long time in the making. In it, she wrote, for the first time, about the childhood abuse she suffered for years at the hands of her mother.
O’Connor was born in Dublin in 1966, the third of five children. The family was middle-class, well off, Catholic and dysfunctional. When her parents divorced, her father (a structural engineer turned barrister) became the second man in Ireland to be awarded custody of his children. In 1979, O’Connor went to live with her father and his new wife.
At 15, O’Connor’s shoplifting and absenteeism from school led to her being placed in a Magdalene asylum for 18 months.
In 1993, O’Connor wrote a public letter to The Irish Times, asking people to “stop hurting” her. Her letter read: “If only I can fight off the voices of my parents / and gather a sense of self-esteem / Then I’ll be able to REALLY sing.”
The letter involved accusations of child abuse by her parents, whom O’Connor had mentioned in interviews. O’Connor’s brother, Joseph, wrote to the newspaper defending their father, but agreed regarding their mother’s “extreme and violent abuse, both emotional and physical.” The singer stated: “Our family is very messed up. We can’t communicate with each other. We are all in agony. I, for one, am in agony.”
In Rememberings, she describes the way she once saw the world as a young girl. She wrote about the fear she felt on the day her father left. Her mother moved her and her siblings into the garden hut and locked them out of the house. O’Connor was eight years old.
The singer tragically recounted the experience: “I knelt on the ground… and wailed up to the landing window to get her to let us into the house when it got dark. That is when I officially lost my mind and became afraid of the size of the sky.”
O’Connor has referenced that incident as one that shaped much of her life. It’s why she says she’s agoraphobic. (Agoraphobia is a fear of being in situations where escaping might be difficult or that help wouldn’t be available if things were to go wrong).
“I find it difficult being outside,” she explained. “I don’t mind when it turns into black night, but once the hours of dusk come, I get very anxious.” Much more harrowing are the moments O’Connor described in her book about her mother’s physical and sexual abuse.
O’Connor is convinced that her mother wanted to destroy her reproductive organs: “She had a thing about wanting me to be a boy. She didn’t want girls.” It also didn’t help that she looked a lot like her mother. She always felt as though her mother was abusive because she was the child “who reminded her most of herself.”
“I think that’s why I continue to shave my head, because if I have hair I look more like her and I don’t like to see her in the mirror. There’s no picture of her in the book.” According to O’Connor, it was her mother who forced her to steal as a little girl.
At church, they would collect money in charity boxes, and Marie (her mother) would steal all the donations. At times, it reached £200 a night. Her mother was a kleptomaniac, stealing for fun. The family had money, so it was by no means out of necessity.
O’Connor admitted that she never wanted to steal – she just became addicted to it, like her mother. When her father took the kids on a vacation when O’Connor was 13 or 14, she stole a rug out of the hotel room. She would steal things from shops for her schoolfriends.
Young Sinead was also a fast runner. She would put the clothes that she wanted on, walk to the exit, and then sprint. At 14, she got caught stealing a pair of gold shoes for a friend, which is when she was sent to the asylum run by nuns. At 18, her mother was killed in a car crash.
In the past, O’Connor insisted that she loved her mother despite everything and never recovered from her death. But these days, the singer admits that she was relieved when her mother died. When asked if she thinks her mother was ill or just cruel, O’Connor said she thinks she was “an evil person.”
O’Connor started writing her memoir in 2015, when she was in a good place. She then endured a prolonged and catastrophic breakdown, which was partly the result of one of her children becoming seriously ill (she also had a hysterectomy that year).
She explained that she went through “surgical menopause, which is like menopause multiplied by 10,000.” She stopped writing for four years. The first half of her memoir was written on a laptop at home, but the second half was “dictated from the nuthouse.” After the hysterectomy, O’Connor’s mental health took a sharp fall.
O’Connor admitted herself to a psychiatric hospital in Dublin in 2016 as an inpatient. O’Connor assumed that like everybody else in her life, the staff wouldn’t be able to cope with her either. As soon as she arrived at the locked ward, she had hard work to do.
She says she was “hard work” when she arrived on the locked ward. She “tested” them, thinking they would throw her out. But three years in, she realized she wasn’t going anywhere. In fact, they loved her “very much indeed,” she recalled. In part, Rememberings is dedicated to St. Patrick’s – the hospital she calls her second home.
In 2007, during an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, O’Connor disclosed that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder four years prior, and that she attempted suicide on her 33rd birthday in 1999. Then, in 2014, during a Where Are They Now? segment on Oprah, O’Connor said that she had actually received three “second opinions” by psychiatrists, all telling her that she was NOT bipolar.
By the time she made it to St. Patrick’s, she learned about her mental health, later stating that she’s “10% bipolar, apparently,” as well as “40% complex traumatic stress and the rest is borderline personality disorder.”
In 2017, O’Connor convinced herself that everyone in the U.K. had given up on her, so she went to America to see friends. She ended up living alone in a motel in desperation. It was then that she posted a teary video on Facebook, telling the world that she needed help.
“My entire life is revolving around not dying, and that’s not living.” She returned to Ireland and readmitted herself to the hospital. O’Connor says that she wasn’t only mentally ill, she was in physical agony with gallstones. Social media hasn’t been showing her best side…
She’s said once: “Twitter is really for lonesome people, isn’t it? And I was desperately, desperately lonely.” Her 12-minute Facebook video revealed how lonely she really was, especially after losing custody of her 13-year-old son.
It’s been the main reason she wanted to take her life. A month after that post, O’Connor appeared on the Dr. Phil Show for the 16th season debut episode. According to Dr. Phil, O’Connor came for the interview because she wanted to “destigmatize mental illness.” She believes it’s an issue that has been more and more prevalent among musicians.
In 2017, she changed her legal (off-stage) name to Magda Davitt. Why? Well, she revealed in an interview that she wanted to be “free of the patriarchal slave names. Free of the parental curses.” Then, in 2018, she made an even more drastic move.
Magda Davitt became Shuhada Sadaqat when she converted to Islam. She called her conversion the “natural conclusion of any intelligent theologian’s journey.” There was a ceremony and everything, which was conducted in Ireland. In a Twitter message, she thanked her fellow Muslims for their support. She also posted photos of herself wearing a hijab.
O’Connor says she’s always had self-esteem issues, and it was her sister Éimear who tried to give her a boost. O’Connor recalled when her sister made her look in the mirror at the age of 23 and 24 and say, “I am loving, I am lovable, I love and accept myself exactly as I am.”
To this day, she sometimes does it when in front of the mirror, but she doesn’t always believe herself when she says it. Her last stay at St. Patrick’s was her longest, which was eight months. Nearing the end of her stay, O’Connor said she started to appreciate her talent for the first time.
She was planning to go on tour again (before the pandemic hit) and was worried that she might have forgotten the lyrics to her songs. So, she went on YouTube to remind herself – something she’s admittedly never done before – and was pleasantly surprised.
“I thought, holy sh*t, that’s me; that’s quite good!” When asked in a recent interview if she thinks she was beautiful (in her early videos), she said she thought she was a “pretty girl.” But “not anymore.”
In an interview, O’Connor was asked why she’s had so few hit records. The answer was simple – it’s just never been a priority for her. She sees music as a form of therapy. She did Top of the Pops and simply regarded it as an opportunity to get stuff off her chest.
“The only reason to make an album is because you’ll go crazy if you don’t,” she explained. Nonetheless, she earned a fortune from her “therapy.” She decided to give away half of her earnings from her second album, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.
She gave the money away because a priest once told her that when she grows up and gets a job, she needs to pay back the money she stole. And so, she donated to different charities and people. It’s actually something she purposely didn’t mention in her book.
When asked why, she explained: “Because you’re not supposed to say when you’ve done a good deed.” Despite everything that’s happened to O’Connor, she’s never lost her faith. She just chose Islam as hers. Well, at least for now.