“Rip­ping up a pic­ture of the Pope was the best day of my life”


THE video, posted from a room in a Trav­elodge mo­tel “in the arse-end of New Jersey”, was pro­foundly dis­tress­ing.

The Ir­ish singer song­writer Sinéad O’Con­nor, who in 2003 was di­ag­nosed with bipo­lar dis­or­der, had up­loaded the 12-minute video to Face­book, and in it she dis­cussed her men­tal health and al­luded to sui­ci­dal thoughts.

“I hope that this video is some­how help­ful,” she be­gan, wip­ing away tears. “Not ac­tu­ally to me but the fact I know that I’m only one of mil­lions of mil­lions of mil­lions of peo­ple in the world that are just like me, ac­tu­ally, that don’t have nec­es­sar­ily the re­sources that I have on my heart, or my purse, for that mat­ter.”

She said she suf­fered from “three men­tal ill­nesses” and was all by her­self, the only per­son in her life be­ing her psy­chi­a­trist, “the sweet­est man on Earth, who says I’m his hero”.

Men­tal ill­ness, she said, “was a bit like drugs – it doesn’t give a s**t who you are”. “Peo­ple who suf­fer from men­tal ill­ness are the most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple on Earth. We can’t take care of us. You’ve got to take care of us.”

Many of O’Con­nor’s fans im­me­di­ately ral­lied to her sup­port. The singer An­nie Len­nox, writ­ing on Face­book, said: “I re­alise that Sinéad has some se­ri­ous men­tal health is­sues, but she ap­pears to be com­pletely out on a limb and I’m con­cerned for her safety ... It’s ter­ri­ble to see her in such a vul­ner­a­ble state.”

How­ever, in a state­ment posted on Face­book a few days later, O’Con­nor said she was well and was in a “won­der­ful, lov­ing hos­pi­tal … I have good peo­ple around me and I will never be lonely again. My mis­sion from now on will be to ded­i­cate my life to the abol­ish­ment of stigma to­ward men­tally ill peo­ple and in par­tic­u­lar to the abol­ish­ment of the aban­don­ment of men­tally ill peo­ple by their fam­i­lies”.

O’Con­nor, 50, has long been one of mu­sic’s most out­spo­ken and con­fronta­tional artists, a fierce op­po­nent of the Vat­i­can’s at­ti­tude to­wards, among other is­sues, child sex­ual abuse. She once de­scribed the Vat­i­can as a “nest of dev­ils and a haven for crim­i­nals”.

She has been frank about her sex­u­al­ity, about her per­sonal re­la­tion­ships (she has had four mar­riages, and has four chil­dren and one grand­child). She has pub­licly chided Mi­ley Cyrus for al­low­ing her­self to be “pimped”, after watch­ing her re­veal­ing mu­sic videos.

Four years ago, Rolling Stone mag­a­zine in­cluded her in a list of “15 rock & roll rebels”. O’Con­nor, it said, “has made a ca­reer of kick­ing against estab­lish­ment no­tions, starting with her trade­mark shaved head, a di­rect state­ment about the ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion of women”. It said she once an­gered Frank Si­na­tra by re­fus­ing to per­form at a venue in New Jersey if it played the na­tional an­them prior to the show. “I don’t do any­thing in or­der to cause trou­ble,” she said. “It just so hap­pens that what I do nat­u­rally causes trou­ble.” In 1999, she was or­dained a pri­est by the break­away Latin Tri­den­tine church.

Amid all of this it is easy to for­get just what a great singer she is – her Grammy-nom­i­nated se­cond al­bum, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, re­leased in 1990, brought her to wide­spread pub­lic at­ten­tion, thanks largely to Noth­ing Com­pares 2U, an in­tense love song writ­ten by Prince. It was a huge hit and has been in­cluded in sev­eral polls of the great­est-ever songs or of all time love/break-up songs.

Her third al­bum, Am I Not Your Girl?, re­leased in 1992, con­sisted of ver­sions of songs that meant a great deal to her. But that Oc­to­ber, on the US TV show Satur­day Night Live, she tore up a pho­to­graph of Pope John Paul II while singing Bob Mar­ley’s anti-racist song, War. “Fight the real en­emy!” she said, fling­ing the pieces at the cam­era.

It was said to be the sin­gle most con­tro­ver­sial mo­ment in the pro­gramme’s his­tory, even though the TV au­di­ence was largely un­aware that child abuse within the church was an ac­tual is­sue.

Thir­teen days after SNL, O’Con­nor was one of the stel­lar names guest­ing on a Bob Dy­lan 30th an­niver­sary con­cert at Madi­son Square Gar­den. She was greeted by a ca­coph­ony of boos (and some cheers) and, up­set but de­fi­ant, she roar-sang a few lines from War be­fore walk­ing off, the boos still ring­ing in her ears, to be com­forted by Kris Kristof­fer­son.

“I’m highly af­fected by sound,” she told Un­cut mag­a­zine in March 2013, “and [the mix­ture of boos and cheers] was mak­ing me want to vomit. So, when Kris helped me off­stage, I was try­ing to sup­press the urge to vomit over him.” Her ca­reer took a long time to re­cover – which seems ab­surd given what we now know about pae­dophilia in the Catholic Church. In 2010, Pope Bene­dict is­sued a frank pub­lic apol­ogy to the vic­tims of pae­dophile priests in Ire­land. If O’Con­nor has made head­lines of late, it has largely been down to her per­sonal is­sues and her state­ments on, for ex­am­ple, Cyrus, though there was a well-re­ceived al­bum three years ago, called I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss.

In a typ­i­cally forth­right in­ter­view in 2010 she re­called that fate­ful episode on SNL. “The day I ripped up the pic­ture of the Pope”, she said, “was the best day of my life be­cause then I be­came me. I could be­come the kind of artist I wanted to be. And now 99 per cent of my life is rolling around the house and look­ing after the kids. I wouldn’t go back to it for a mil­lion years.”

Singer Sinéad O’Con­nor, who was di­ag­nosed with bipo­lar dis­or­der in 2003, dis­cussed her men­tal health and al­luded to sui­ci­dal thoughts in a video posted on so­cial me­dia Main im­age: Twit­ter

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