Sinéad O’Connor Was Blacklisted From Hollywood After Her SNL Performance

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By: Alyssa Miller | Published: Feb 07, 2024

The Grammy Award-winning singer Sinéad O’Connor was an Irish singer, songwriter, and activist who wasn’t afraid to buck against the norms and challenge the public’s ideas. While O’Connor’s performances were always a form of protest, her 1992 appearance on “Saturday Night Live” made her infamous in the best way.

Sinead O'Connor ripping the photo of the Pope

Source: NBC/YouTube

What happened during O’Connor’s performance on “SNL” and why did the public react the way they did? Let’s get into it.

The Format of “SNL”

The now-iconic late-night live television sketch comedy and variety show has been running each week since launching in 1975. Every episode, the show’s celebrity host welcomes a musical guest who takes center stage to belt out two or three electrifying tracks.

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30 Rockefeller Plaza during SNL's 40th anniversary

Source: Anthony Quintano/Flickr

Being booked to perform on “SNL” can make or break a musician as an enormous audience in the studio and watching at-home tunes in.

Musical Acts Often Use the Moment to Rebel

While most musicians thrive on this big moment in their career, some take the time to make headlines, be it political or personal. Elvis Costello did it when he changed songs midway through his set. Rage Against The Machine did it when they hung the U.S. flag upside down.

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Rage Against The Machine, Zack De La Rocha, Tim Commerford, Brad Wilk, Tom Morello, Brielpoort, Deinze, Belgium

Source: Photo by Gie Knaeps/Getty Images

One of the most infamous moments in “SNL” history was Sinéad O’Connor ripping up a picture of the Pope on national television.

Sinéad O’Connor’s Shocking “SNL” Protest 

During her performance of an acapella rendition of Bob Marley’s song “War,” which condemns the racism experienced by Black people globally, the Irish singer lifted a photo of Pope John Paul II while singing the word “evil.”

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Sinead O'Connor standing in front of a microphone on the SNL stage

Source: NBC/YouTube

When the song ended, O’Connor tore the pircutre to shreds and tossed the pieces toward the camera.

O’Connor Stunned the U.S. Into Silence

From the picture to the song choice, which O’Connor picked to condemn the rampant abuse in the Catholic Church according to her memoir, the infamous performance was a form of protest. At the end of her performance, O’Connor looked into the camera and said, “Fight the real enemy.”

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Sinead O'Connor staring into the camera as the pieces of the photo fall

Source: NBC/YouTube

The revelation in the singer’s final note left the audience speechless. The cast and crew of “SNL” also had no clue that O’Connor was planning this moment since she would hold up an image of a refugee child during rehearsals.

“SNL” and NBC Heads React to the Moment 

Unplanned moments like this do not fly with “SNL” showrunner Lorne Michaels and NBC Vice-President of Late Night Rick Ludwin. Far Out Magazine reports that Ludwin “Literally jumped out of [his] chair” as soon as he witnessed the religious protest from the singer.

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Sinead O'Connor singing into the microphone

Source: NBC/YouTube

NBC swiftly issued a lifetime ban to O’Connor as the reeling “SNL” crew tried to pick up the pieces after the shocking incident.

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O’Connor’s Abuse Didn’t Stop at the Ban

However, the repercussions of O’Connor’s stunt didn’t stop with a ban. Outraged by her performance, Joe Pesci, Madonna, and a chorus of other celebrities launched into ridicule of O’Connor. As she exited 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York, O’Connor and her assistant faced a barrage of eggs from angry onlookers.

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Irish singer Sinead O'Connor performs at Paradiso, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 16 March 1988.

Source: Paul Bergen/Redferns

Maybe the world wasn’t ready for the shocking stunt, but O’Connor wanted to push the general public toward unmasking the harm she knew was coming from the Catholic Church.

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"SNL" and NBC Blacklist O’Connor

The Irish protest singer often discussed the reason why she pulled the stunt over the years. “When the Boomtown Rats went to number one in England with Rat Trap, [Bob] Geldof went on “Top of the Pops and ripped up a photo of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, who had been No. 1 for weeks and weeks before,” she told Hot Press (via Far Out Magazine).

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Sinead O'Connor singing on a stage

Source: Nick/Flickr

“And I thought, ‘… What if someone ripped up a picture of the pope?’ Half of me was just like: ‘Jesus, I’d love to just see what’d happen,’” O’Connor said.

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O’Connor vs. The Catholic Church

“In Ireland, we see our people are manifesting the highest incidence in Europe of child abuse,” O’Connor told Time Magazine (via The Atlantic). “This is a direct result of the fact that they’re not in contact with their history as Irish people and the fact that in the schools, the priests have been beating the shit out of the children for years and sexually abusing them.”

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A greyscale photo of Sinead O'Connor

Source: Michel Linssen/Redferns

O’Connor continued: “This is the example that’s been set for the people of Ireland. They have been controlled by the church, the very people who authorized what was done to them, who gave permission for what was done to them.”

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The U.S. Discovers What O’Connor Was Warning Them About

Eventually, the U.S. did find out about the abuse from the Catholic Church after The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team uncovered the cases of widespread and systemic abuse in the Boston area by numerous Catholic priests.

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A medium size shot of Trinity Church in Boston, MA

Source: Picasa/Wikimedia Commons

The team at The Globe earned the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for uncovering this horrible truth that had been happening for decades.

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The “Brilliant” and “Traumatizing” Moment for O’Connor

In 2021, O’Connor told the New York Times that her stunt on “SNL” was both “brilliant” and “traumatizing.”

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Sinéad O’Connor at Cornouaille 2014.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

“Ten years after the pope ripping episode, you all then found out in America that this was going on,” O’Connor told Carson Daly on “Today.” “We always say Americans, they think nothing happened until they found out about it.”

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The Catholic Church Apologizes 

In 2001, a decade after O’Connor’s appearance, Pope John Paul II apologized for the rampant abuse by the Catholic clergy. However, both Pope John Paul II and his successor, Pope Benedict XVI knew about the abuse but refused to take the accusations seriously.

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Pope John Paul II waving to a crowd

Source: Wikimedia Commons

In 2020, the Vatican tore the lid off a decades-long scandal with a 461-page report detailing the abuse. This seems to be one of the many ways Pope Francis is trying to change, update, and hold the Catholic Church responsible in the modern era.

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O’Connor Reminds Us to Fight for What We Believe In

Sinéad O’Connor was always an activist, using her music and stardom to fight for the rights and beliefs she held onto. Singing for O’Connor was a platform for social commentary and activism, influenced by artists like Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, and other great Irish singers.

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Sinead O'Connor in a purple shirt singing on stage

Source: Wikimedia Commons

While O’Connor is no longer with us, she serves as a reminder to use our platforms to speak out for what we believe in and not fear the repercussions of our actions.

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