Passionate tributes to the complex genius of Sinéad O’Connor, who died Wednesday at age 56, continue to pour in, while the cause of the Irish singer-songwriter’s shocking death remains a mystery for now.
On Thursday, the London Inner South Coroner’s Court confirmed it had been notified of her death, stating that “the coroner therefore [has requested] an autopsy to be conducted,” the results of which “may not available for several weeks.” According to another statement released July 26 by London’s Metropolitan Police, authorities had responded to “reports of an unresponsive woman at a residential address” in South London at 11:18 A.M. on Wednesday. A “56-year-old woman” was pronounced dead at the scene, and “a file will be prepared for the coroner.”
The eight-time Grammy nominee’s death “is not being treated as suspicious,” and the coroner made it clear that “no medical cause of death was given.” However, many tributes have seemingly blamed the “Nothing Compares 2 U” star’s demise, or at least her fragile mental state during her final years, on the vicious treatment she received from the media — particularly after she ripped up a photograph of Pope John Paul II on an October 1992 episode of Saturday Night Live, a meaningful but misunderstood and ultimately career-derailing protest that made her an early victim of cancel culture. Among O’Connor’s most vocal defenders has been Morrissey, who is of Irish Catholic descent and has been the target of multiple “cancelations” himself. The former Smiths frontman took to his personal blog to rage against the press, music industry, and fairweather fans that “stayed safely silent” when O’Connor was struggling mentally and “hadn’t the guts to support her when she was alive.”
“She had only so much ‘self’ to give. She was dropped by her label after selling 7 million albums for them. She became crazed, yes, but uninteresting, never. She had done nothing wrong. She had proud vulnerability … and there is a certain music industry hatred for singers who don’t ‘fit in’ (this I know only too well), and they are never praised until death — when, finally, they can’t answer back,” Morrissey wrote, comparing the O’Connor tragedy to fallen female superstars like Judy Garland, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, Marilyn Monroe, and Billie Holiday. “You praise her now ONLY because it is too late… The press will label artists as pests because of what they withhold … and they would call Sinéad sad, fat, shocking, insane … oh but not today! Music CEOs who had put on their most charming smile as they refused her for their roster are queuing-up to call her a ‘feminist icon’ … when it was YOU who talked Sinead into giving up … because she refused to be labelled, and she was degraded, as those few who move the world are always degraded. Why is ANYBODY surprised that Sinead O’Connor is dead?”
Alternative cabaret artist and O’Connor superfan Amanda Palmer expressed similar outrage in an eloquent essay posted on her Facebook page. “She was fierceness and honestly incarnate. She howled her heart out so purely that people had no idea what to make of it,” Palmer wrote. “This is a woman who ripped up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live (when it had no ‘safety delay’) to draw attention to the sex abuse happening in the Catholic . … Twelve days later she took the stage at Madison Square Garden for a Bob Dylan tribute festival and you could barely hear her sing over the boos and jeers from the crowd. … That feeling. Many women have been there. I have been there too, shaking, as it feels like the whole world is trying to shout and drown you out, and put you in your place. Wondering if I am the crazy one. Wondering if this many people are right. Or wrong. Or even real. She was right about the church. She was very f***ing right. She was right about so many things. Now that she is dead, I know she’ll be lauded and applauded. But back then? That night? How do you imagine she felt that night, crawling into bed, having been abused by a crowd of thousands? How would you feel? What would that do to you? Would you care if the world turned around, forty years later, and said: ‘Sorry about that, you were actually very brave?’
“She was hated, she was scorned, she was cancelled for being honest over and over again. That SNL move was the beginning of the end of a career in many ways. She never recovered,” Palmer continued. ‘”‘Too much,’ they said. ‘Go away.’ She used her voice. She kept on speaking. She was loud. Being a loud woman is not f***ing convenient, for anyone. Ever. Not around here. … Dismissed as crazy. She struggled, and she struggled, and she struggled. She was punished, she was mocked, she was ridiculed. … What the world did to Sinéad was death by a thousand cuts. The world lauded her, worshipped her, bought her, sold her, forgave her, claimed her, disavowed her. Over and over in cycles. How could anyone survive that? … The world loved the taste of her. The world didn’t know how to digest her. The world spit her out. … Sinéad, rest in world-changing ripped paper phoenix-pieces from the stage, rising and burning into the white night stars. Find peace at last. I hope you forgive us what we could not give you.”
Garbage’s always outspoken frontwoman Shirley Manson, for whom O’Connor undoubtedly paved the way, posted a more succinct but equally “heartbroken” statement on Instagram that “this disgusting world broke [O’Connor] and kept on breaking her.” The Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan posted, “Never forget that she was cancelled for an act of simple resistance. Her crime? Tearing up a photo.” And rap legend Ice-T was another one of the many to pay tribute, tweeting, “Respect to Sinéad … She stood for something… Unlike most people.”
Two other fierce women who owe an artistic debut to O’Connor, tourmates Pink and Brandi Carlile, paid softer tribute, joining forces onstage in Cincinnati Thursday to beautifully sing O’Connor’s Prince-penned signature song, “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Carlile shared a clip of the duet on Instagram, calling it a “bittersweet moment,” while Pink posted, “Rest in peace Sinéad O’Connor” in her Instagram Stories, along with emojis of a dove and broken heart.
“It was like a canceling,” Kathryn Ferguson, the director of the O’Connor documentary Nothing Compares, told Yahoo Entertainment in 2022, recalling that O’Connor received multiple death threats and her critics even hired a steamroller to crush her records in Times Square after the SNL scandal. “I would say that she’s one of the first female superstars that was really canceled, which is harrowing when you look back on it. … How people thought they could talk about her and mock her is way more disturbing than anything she did.”
However, O’Connor never apologized for the SNL stunt. In her 2021 autobiography Rememberings, she wrote, “A lot of people say or think that tearing up the Pope’s photo derailed my career. I feel that having a No. 1 record derailed my career and my tearing the photo put me back on the right track. I had to make my living performing live again. And that’s what I was born for. I wasn’t born to be a pop star. … Everyone wants a pop star, see? But I am a protest singer. I just had stuff to get off my chest. I had no desire for fame.”
Once the results of O’Connor’s autopsy are known, the coroner’s court will decide if an inquest is needed.
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