On October 3, 1992, singer Sinead O’Connor appeared on Saturday Night Live and performed an a cappella version of the Bob Marley song “War.” As she sang the final word in the song, “evil,” she held up a photograph of Pope John Paul II. Then she ripped it into several pieces and said, “Fight the real enemy” and tossed the shredded photograph toward the camera. Then people lost their fucking minds.
–On This Day in History, Shit Went Down: October 3, 1992–
O’Connor said she tore up the photo as a protest against the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse of children. Many years later she added that the photo had belonged to her mother, who she described as a devil, and said that she’d wanted to destroy it for years because “It represented lies and liars and abuse.” In her version of Marley’s song, she changed the word “racism” to “child abuse.”
Immediately following the show, two men chased her down the street outside the TV studio and threw eggs at her. NBC banned her for life. Media excoriated her. Frank Sinatra called her a “stupid broad,” and Madonna was equally unkind. Her records were piled up and run over with a steam roller in Manhattan.
Two weeks after SNL Sinead appeared at a sold-out Bob Dylan tribute concert in Madison Square Garden. Her friend Kris Kristofferson introduced her, saying her name was “synonymous with courage and integrity.” The boos were so loud it made it impossible for her to perform.
O’Connor has no regrets for what she did. Many proclaimed the stunt derailed her career, but she disagrees. Rather, she said that having a number 1 record was what derailed it. Her album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got turned her into a pop star, which she never wanted to be. She wrote, “my tearing the photo put me back on the right track” because it forced her to make her living performing live again, which she said she was born for. She never wanted to be a “good girl” pop star. She said it was “imprisoning;” it didn’t allow her to express her true opinions, and Sinead has a lot of opinions. She said the job of an Irish artist is “to cause riots in the streets.”
“Christianity did nothing but rape the people of Ireland, both metaphorically and literally,” she said. She converted to Islam (yeah, irony) and adopted the name Shuhada, but continues to use Sinead professionally. Speaking of which, she continues to have a dedicated following and draws crowds to her performances.
– James Fell
Subscribe to awesome shit at JamesFell.Substack.com