Sinead O’Connor Was More Than That Pope Photo

It’s easy to love a martyr once she’s gone — but Sinead O’Connor was a real person, and we weren’t kind.

Jude Ellison S. Doyle
7 min readJul 28

Sinead O’Connor in 2008, before everyone decided to like her again. Photo by Dariusz Majgier on Shutterstock.

I grieved Sinead O’Connor’s death by telling somebody with more power than me to get fucked. It was probably deserved. This person had been awful to me during a period when people were inundating me with abuse based largely around my then-current diagnosis of bipolar disorder; a bunch of people disagreed with me about an unrelated topic, and they knew I had a diagnosis, so they said I should be locked up, given electroshock therapy, that it would be funny if I killed myself, etc. When I said they were doing this, they said that I was making it up, or else hallucinating, because, as everyone knew, I was crazy. Who were you going to believe? All these upstanding Internet citizens, or someone with bipolar disorder?

I didn’t think someone who had taken part in that — who, at the very least, loudly supported the people doing it — deserved to write about what a shame it was that people had been mean to Sinead O’Connor when she ripped up that picture of the Pope on SNL. I don’t think you get to sit there and piously declare that you would have supported a dead woman who was publicly crucified for her principles thirty-one years ago — not when the actual people you’ve hurt, in that exact same way, are all still out there, still alive, still trying to stanch the bleeding.

So, yeah: I told that person, who no doubt can make my life more difficult, to get fucked, and I meant it. I hope the fucking is currently in progress. It’s also the kind of thing I try not to do any more. Because, well, it makes you look crazy, and who wants that?

This cycle — someone calls you crazy, so you get mad, so they point to how mad you are as proof that you’re crazy, so you get even madder, so they point to that — has defined life for a lot of women in the public eye. It gets a lot worse when those women actually do have mental illnesses, or, really, any form of neurodivergence.

Amy Winehouse had an eating disorder. Whitney Houston was almost certainly carrying trauma from her abusive marriage. Courtney Love has been diagnosed as autistic. Britney Spears has bipolar disorder. Sinead O’Connor was diagnosed…

Jude Ellison S. Doyle

Author of “Trainwreck” (Melville House, ‘16) and “Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers” (Melville House, ‘19). Columns published far and wide across the Internet.

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