A black and white photo of a young Sinead O'Connor holding a microphone mournfully.

Sinéad O’Connor Dies at 56: The Powerful Legacy of a Social Justice Icon

Irish singer Sinéad O’Connor first made her presence known to worldwide audiences with the single “Nothing Compares 2 U” in 1990, and quickly cemented herself as both a brilliant musician as well as a social justice activist who would not stay quiet. It was reported Wednesday that O’Connor has died at age 56.

Recommended Videos

“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 artist’s family said in a statement to The Irish Times.

O’Connor made history during her 1992 musical performance on Saturday Night Live, where the then-25-year-old sang an a cappella version of Bob Marley’s “War,” which she concluded by ripping apart a photograph of Pope John Paul II and uttering the unforgettable line: “Fight the real enemy.” The act was in defiance of the Catholic Church’s permissiveness of its ongoing history of child sexual abuse by church leaders, years before that conversation reached the level of mainstream pervasiveness it has today. The backlash against her was overwhelming.

O’Connor’s career was punctuated by many such controversial statements, some of which landed her in hot water among the general population and caused her to stagnate on the music charts. She was publicly criticized after the SNL incident and reportedly permanently blacklisted from the show, but did not cease spreading her message. In her 2021 memoir, O’Connor stated that she never regretted her controversial act on the SNL stage, and that in fact, it put her “back on the right track.”

Embed from Getty Images

The controversial artist’s roots were always in the social justice realm, even before her statement against pedophilia on national television. In the early days of her career, she took a stand in support of the Irish Republican Army. She also spoke out against pop icon Prince after the success of her single “Nothing Compares 2 U,” accusing the pop legend of physically threatening her, proving once again that she did not fear the backlash of the music industry or the public. O’Connor also notoriously never performed the national anthem before her live performances, and made a statement against the sexist standards of the music industry by shaving her head.

Evidence of O’Connor’s phoenix-like rebirth in recent years is evidenced by her presence on the Time 100 Women of the Year list in 2020, where the magazine praised her as a risk-taker in pursuit of justice for abused children. The late social justice activist also has a track record of speaking out in support of women’s rights, abortion, and anti-racism. Not identifying herself as a “pop star,” but rather as a “protest singer,” O’Connor states in her memoir, Rememberings, that she had things to say and ideas to express. No amount of controversy or backlash would stand in the way of that.

(featured image: Paul Bergen/Redferns)


The Mary Sue is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more
related content
Read Article Scarlett Johansson Calls BS on OpenAI, Reveals She Rejected ChatGPT Offer
Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff
Read Article Paramount Sued for Barring Server From ‘Mean Girls’ Party Because of His Weight
Jaquel Spivey plays Damian, Angourie Rice plays Cady and Auli'i Cravalho plays Janis in Mean Girls
Read Article What Happened to Wally the Emotional Support Alligator? Explained.
An alligator swimming.
Read Article Female Benedictine College Graduate Speaks Out After Harrison Butker’s Horrific Speech
Harrison Butker at the Super Bowl LVII on Opening Night and Susi Leisegang in a TikTok video
Read Article Charlyne Yi Says They Were ‘Coerced To Quit’ Taika Waititi Series Following Alleged Assault
Actress Charlyne Yi attends the premiere of "Twin Peaks" at Ace Hotel on May 19, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.
Related Content
Read Article Scarlett Johansson Calls BS on OpenAI, Reveals She Rejected ChatGPT Offer
Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff
Read Article Paramount Sued for Barring Server From ‘Mean Girls’ Party Because of His Weight
Jaquel Spivey plays Damian, Angourie Rice plays Cady and Auli'i Cravalho plays Janis in Mean Girls
Read Article What Happened to Wally the Emotional Support Alligator? Explained.
An alligator swimming.
Read Article Female Benedictine College Graduate Speaks Out After Harrison Butker’s Horrific Speech
Harrison Butker at the Super Bowl LVII on Opening Night and Susi Leisegang in a TikTok video
Read Article Charlyne Yi Says They Were ‘Coerced To Quit’ Taika Waititi Series Following Alleged Assault
Actress Charlyne Yi attends the premiere of "Twin Peaks" at Ace Hotel on May 19, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.
Author
Scout
Scout (she/her/hers) is a freelance news writer for The Mary Sue. When not scrolling Twitter, she's thinking about scrolling Twitter. She likes short walks on the beach, glitter pens, and burnt coffee. She does not read the comments.