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Tributes flood in to Sinéad O’Connor after death at 56

Massive Attack, Russell Crowe and ANOHNI were among those reflecting on her life and legacy

By Joe Goggins

Sinéad O'Connor on stage in France, 2014
O'Connor's fearlessness and defiance formed the basis of many tributes. (Photo: Thesupermat/Wikimedia Commons)

Tributes to Sinéad O’Connor from across the world of entertainment have flooded in after the Irish singer died at the age of 56.

O’Connor’s passing was announced by her family last night (July 26), in a short statement to Irih national broadcaster RTÉ. The news prompted an outpouring of heartfelt messages across social media, as O’Connor’s friends, peers and fans reflected on her life and artistic impact. “How do you eulogise someone that you never knew well, but were blessed to have the honour of working with?” wrote Massive Attack on Twitter; the pair collaborated with her on their record 100th Window.

“Honestly. To bear witness to her voice, intimately in the studio,” they went on. “On the road every single person stopped—dropped their tools during soundcheck. The fire in her eyes made you understand that her activism was a soulful reflex & not a political gesture.” Elsewhere, other collaborators of O’Connor’s paid tribute, with Jah Wobble, with whom she worked on his track ‘Visions of You’, saying that she had “the essence of a Celtic female warrior”, while Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan shared: “I knew Sinéad a little, having met her at a show of hers and then later when she was living at the Walker’s home outside of Chicago.”

“Fiercely honest and sweet and funny, she was talented in ways I’m not sure she completely understood,” Corgan added. “But Sinéad stands alone as a figure from our generation who was always true to the piercing voice within and without. And for that I will always admire and respect her. And never forget that she was once cancelled for an act of simple resistance. Her crime? Tearing up a photo.”

Many of the tributes to O’Connor were imbued with an admiration for her fearlessness and an anger at how harshly treated the singer was over the course of a career defined by her defiance. “I can’t think of an artist who’s given more than Sinéad and I can’t think of an artist who’s been punished more than Sinéad, for telling the truth,” said ANOHNI in a video posted to Instagram, before singing O’Connor’s ‘I Am Enough for Myself’.

Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth paid his own tribute on Instagram. “An artist, feminist, thinker, seeker, someone in this generation which we have all been coexisting with all these decades,” he said. “Someone we hoped, in whatever aspects of fragility their lives were challenged, if not ravaged by, could survive the propensity of this continuously maddening reality of sexist, racist oppression and war infesting the Earth…I can see from everyone’s writings today how we are completely blessed to have been sharing the pathways with such a remarkable person.”

Other messages were more succinct. Shirley Manson of Garbage simply tweeted, “I am hearbroken.” Michael Stipe of R.E.M. said, “there are no words.” Billy Bragg, meanwhile, used his own Twitter page to say, “Sinéad O’Connor was braver than brave. May she rest in peace.”

O’Connor’s passing comes eighteen months after her son, Shane, took his own life at the age of 17. In a moving, multi-tweet remembrance of a fleeting encounter with O’Connor last summer, actor Russell Crowe confirmed that she remained her firebrand self. “In a conversation without fences we roamed through the recent Dublin heatwave, local politics, American politics, the ongoing fight for indigenous recognition in many places, but particularly in Australia, her warm memory of  New Zealand, faith, music, movies and her brother the writer. I had the opportunity to tell her she was a hero of mine.”

“Peace be with your courageous heart Sinéad,” his message concluded.