No one could hurt you emotionally as much as Sinéad O’Connor. Of course, there was the song Nothing Compares 2 U. A solitary tear can be seen falling down her cheek in the footage. She was the heavenly skinhead, with her ethereal beauty. The troubled soul, though, with its scrambled and intertwined love, poetry, intelligence, anguish, and craziness, was what shattered your heart the most.
She informed me she had spent the better part of six years in a mental hospital when I last spoke with her in 2020. But Sinéad, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 56, would never use such phrase. She joyfully spit forth the offensive and unsayable words that she had taken back. “The majority of my time has been spent in a nuthouse. There, I’ve essentially lived for six years. She emphasized that calling it that was her right, not mine. “We patients alone get to call it the nuthouse.”
I spoke with Sinéad twice. You have to constantly consider if she was suitable for the interview or whether it may be exploitative. The solution remained elusive. We were linked to other people. When they were both in their twenties, my friend John and her went on dates. She had a thing for John-sounding guys. When he was packing up his home a few weeks ago in order to move, he stumbled across a photo of the two of them back when they were still dating. She was so vibrantly young. Hope and uncertainty appeared to be prevalent in the image.
In 2010, we first met in Bray, a town outside of Dublin. She was now a priest, had a rounder face, and was dressed in a tweed suit. She exuded an industrialist’s aura from the middle of the 20th century. We were conversing because Pope Benedict XVI had recently expressed regret to those who had endured years of sex abuse at the hands of Catholic priests in Ireland. She had been vindicated eighteen years after she tore up a photograph of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live in protest of abuse in the church. She maintained her faith in spite of everything. I enquired as to if she had received an ordination to mock the Catholic establishment. “No,” she affirmed, “I didn’t do anything to offend. It was only a small thing private between me and the Holy Spirit.”
She discussed her mother’s physical and sexual abuse that day. She frequently brought it up. She informed me that she had received a medal at school for tumbling into the smallest ball and that she was able to do it because she was accustomed to having her mother kick the crap out of her. Naturally, she never moved past it.
Although Sinéad had converted to Islam and adopted the name Shuhada Sadaqat, she maintained her chain smoking and foul language.
She also discussed how being diagnosed with bipolar helped her and how. “That’s how I used to feel,” she said when she asked if I had ever seen a cowboy movie in which the protagonist is shot in the back and has a sizable hole blown through his back. I had the impression that I had a sizable fissure inside of me while I traveled the globe. I felt like the cement had come and filled the hole a day after taking the drug.
We spoke on Zoom for several hours while in lockdown in 2020. She was sitting by a pipe outside her Wicklow home as the day gave way to night. In a sense, Sinéad had written a memoir titled Remembering. It was lovely, with poetic, elliptical words interspersed throughout the wreckage of her existence. She contrasted Iran, where she was raised, to Ireland, where she had grown up: “a theocracy, slightly less potent but in the same situation.”
She brought up her mother once more. Marie, a kleptomaniac, made her daughter commit thefts on her behalf. When Sinéad was 18 years old, Marie, who was died in a car accident, would steal all the money they had collected in charity boxes, sometimes as much as £200 per night.
Although Sinéad had converted to Islam and adopted the name Shuhada Sadaqat, she maintained her chain smoking and foul language. She used the term “fuck” as punctuation rather than as a swear word.
She was entertaining and humorous, but the years had been filled with so much sadness. She had a radical hysterectomy, which had left her in excruciating pain and suicidal. Her family members were unable to handle her. She claimed that she had begun to terrify them. She was extremely appreciative of the St. Patrick’s psychiatric hospital, which she thought of as her second home. “Thank God I spent a good chunk of the last six years there, or I wouldn’t be here today.” Her prior attempts at suicide were described as follows: “I would take the pills and tell God, ‘OK it’s up to you, you decide,’ and of course I would wake up three or four days later. Clearly, God finds me to be such a pain in likewise doesn’t want me. I’m a tough little shit. I wasn’t intended to pass away.
Sinéad was a master of language. She was funny even when she was at her worst. She complained that she had no libido. She lamented, “I don’t even look at policemen’s arses any more.” She told me one of my favorite jokes, which she probably also shared with me when we first met: “I went to the doctor. He admonished me to quit wanking. He said, “Because I’m trying to examine you,” when I asked why. She surpassed irreverence.
But Shane, the youngest of her four children by various men, was the subject she wanted to discuss the most of the time. After her hysterectomy, she was heartbroken to learn that he had been placed in care. She informed me that he had turned into a drug user and dealer. The love of her life was Shane. She had remorse, rage, and worry for him. There was an injunction in place, therefore we were unable to disclose it in the article.
I compared Sinéad to George Michael because she is equally talented, flawed, amusing, and terrifyingly vulnerable. She gave interviews infrequently, like Michael, but when she did, she spoke passionately. Over the course of the next few days, she obsessively texted, providing additional details, another incident about her mother (“One evening, some friends of M called over; she gave them dog chow on toast and said it was paté. Just keep in mind that my tale is not Angela’s fucking Ashes.
I’m OK, powerful little, she wrote in one of her last texts to me. She was, but ultimately she wasn’t strong enough. Her premature passing was maybe made all the more tragic by its inevitable nature.