Today, the world learned that iconic Irish musician and political activist Sinéad O'Connor passed away at the age of 56, according to a statement released by her family this afternoon.
O'Connor, who legally changed her name to Shuhada Sadaqat but still performed under her birth name, was born in the Glenageary suburb of Dublin in 1965. Her family sent her to a reformatory that'd once been a Magdelene laundry (the term for the abusive homes for "promiscuous" women run by the Catholic Church in Ireland during 18th through 20th centuries), where she suffered from abuse.
The experience spurred the outspoken and political nature she would one day be known for. At the reformatory, she also discovered a love for music, prompting her to write music, pull together a debut EP, and eventually move to London in her mid-teens to focus on her music career.
Soon, she'd earn Grammy nominations and wins, go on popular world tours, and release international hits like "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got," "Nothing Compares 2 U," "Drink Before the War," and "You Made Me the Thief of Your Heart." Her incredible vocal range and deeply emotional lyrics brought her worldwide adoration. Meanwhile, with her shaved head, androgynous wardrobe, and frequent use of emotional close-ups in her music videos, she challenged the male gaze of the mainstream music industry and defied the gendered expectations put on women—particularly female pop stars.
O'Connor was also famous for her political activism, and spoke out on topics such as child abuse, sex abuse, refugee crises, and the Troubles in Northern Ireland. In 1992, she even tore up a photo of the pope as a means of protesting the rampant abuse committed and covered up by members of the Catholic clergy years before such abuse was widely acknowledged. She also refused to attend the Grammys or accept her Grammy in 1989, explaining that she felt the awards show valued materialism rather than artistic achievement.
O'Connor's cause of death has not yet been shared publicly, but the artist had been struggling with her mental health since the death by suicide of her beloved 17-year-old son, Shane, in 2022. Celebrities including Questlove, Melissa Etheridge, Ice-T, Sam Smith, Dan Levy, and more have publicly mourned her, as have political figures including Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
Without a doubt, O'Connor will always be remembered for the inimitable impact she's had on music, feminism, fashion, and political activism, and her art will continue to help people from all over the world feel seen.
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Gabrielle Ulubay is an E-Commerce Writer at Marie Claire and writes about all things beauty, sexual wellness, and fashion. She's also written about sex, gender, and politics for publications like The New York Times, Bustle, and HuffPost Personal since 2018. She has worked extensively in the e-commerce and sales spaces since 2020, including two years at Drizly, where she developed an expertise in finding the best, highest quality goods and experiences money can buy. As a film school graduate, she loves all things media and can be found making art when she's not busy writing.
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