Controversial Irish singer Sinéad O'Connor--once famously booed offstage for tearing up a picture of the pope and somewhat infamous in the GLBT community for coming out as a lesbian and then marrying a man a year or so later--declared Thursday that she's had it with the music business and with being famous. "As of July 2003, I shall be retiring from the music business in order to pursue a different career," wrote O'Connor--who distinguished herself in the 1990s as much with her shaven head and brash opinions as with her music--on a Web site devoted to all things Sinéad, www.sinead-oconnor.com. Although the site is not the official home page for the singer, Lellie Capwell, a spokeswomen for Vanguard Records, O'Connor's U.S. label, confirmed the message is authentic.
Speculation of her retirement has surfaced in the past, but recent reports suggest that O'Connor, 36, recently canceled several European performances because she is suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. Some critics credit O'Connor, known for her angry visage and for wearing baggy clothes, with helping to alter the image of women in rock, paving the way for performers ranging from Liz Phair to Courtney Love to Alanis Morissette.
O'Connor was born in Dublin on December 8, 1966, and endured a traumatic childhood. Her parents divorced when she was 8, and she has claimed her mother abused her. After being expelled from Catholic school, O'Connor was arrested for shoplifting and shuttled off to a reformatory. Her life was turned around by music, however, when she was discovered by the drummer of Irish band In Tua Nua while singing at a wedding.
In her Web message O'Connor asked to be left alone once she detaches herself from the music industry: "I would request that as of July, since I seek no longer to be a 'famous' person and instead I wish to live a 'normal' life, could people please afford me my privacy."
Before retiring, O'Connor plans to complete several projects. "The last recordings I will make will be (believe it or not) a track for Dolly Parton's upcoming tribute album and a track for [Irish accordionist] Sharon Shannon's forthcoming album," she wrote on the Web site. O'Connor plans to release a concert and documentary DVD titled Goodnight, Thank You. You've Been a Lovely Audience in July, featuring older songs and selections from last year's Vanguard album Sean-Nós Nua, a collection of traditional Irish songs that marked a return to her musical roots.
O'Connor's second album, 1990's I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, reached number 1 on Billboard's album chart and established her as a major star, albeit a controversial one. Public opinion has always been sharply divided because of her vocal opposition to what she has perceived as abuse of power by the Catholic Church in Ireland. O'Connor also angered many Americans for refusing to perform in New Jersey if "The Star Spangled Banner" was played prior to her appearance, drawing criticism from crooner Frank Sinatra, who threatened to "kick her ass." She refused to appear on Saturday Night Live in response to the misogynistic persona of guest host Andrew Dice Clay. After finally appearing on the show in the early 1990s, O'Connor ended her performance by ripping up a photo of Pope John Paul II, resulting in a wave of condemnation unlike any she'd previously encountered. Two weeks after the performance O'Connor appeared at a Bob Dylan tribute concert at New York City's Madison Square Garden and was promptly booed off the stage.
In 2000, O'Connor told Curve magazine that she was a lesbian, but in a 2002 Advocate interview she said, "I don't remember exactly, but this woman reporter asked why did I think lesbians liked me so much or why was I so popular with lesbians, and I said it was probably because they thought I was one of them, meaning that I don't believe in gay or straight and I don't believe love is conditional. But obviously the reporter ran with it and the paper hyped it, because it probably sold a lot of issues, and, really, I was quite happy for them to do that. I didn't mind. I think [the gay press] should do whatever they can to sell as many papers as anybody else.... I suppose some people are confused...but that's where I stand."