When it comes to bad years, nothing compares to 2011-12 for Sinead O'Connor. After apparent suicide attempts, an on-again/off-again marriage, and other public mishaps, the singer has publicly announced that she is "very unwell, from bipolar disorder" after previously insisting that she'd been misdiagnosed with the malady. And not only has she canceled her tour dates for the rest of the year, O'Connor claims she's quitting the arts altogether, asking via Twitter if "anyone ha[s] a job for a very clever woman with massive heart and courage, who adores people and has to escape [the] music bizniz."
O'Connor has scrubbed her Twitter account and website clean, but before she did, she left fans a trail of since-deleted messages explaining herself. She begged for referrals to a new vocation that "must be [a] Dublin- or Wicklow-based job and require love of people. NOT showbiz job... The singing part was fun, though. But that's only like 4% of one's time... The rest? Meh... This is the happiest day of my life. No more s---. Ever."
If you're uninclined to take O'Connor at her word that she's never been happier, there's good reason for that, based on patterns of behavior where epiphanies are followed by further cries for help. England's Daily Mail quoted an unnamed "associate" as saying O'Connor had been suffering "a ten-year nervous breakdown."
For better or worse, the lure of unfiltered social media for celebrities—well and unwell—has made it possible to have that kind of breakdown in public, self-documented, in real time.
Sinead O'Connor and fourth husband Barry Herridge, getting married in Las VegasThe Twitter-memorialized part of O'Connor's immolation began last fall, as she tweeted about her need for a man in her life in the wake of the April 2011 dissolution of her third marriage. She even specifically described to her tens of thousands of followers just what kind of sexual needs a proper suitor would need to meet. This online sweepstakes came up with a winner in the form of fourth husband Barry Herridge, whom she wed in a quickie Vegas ceremony on December 8. But things began to sour on their wedding night when she insisted on taking a cab to score some marijuana and the barely-wed couple ended up "some place that was very dangerous" and "she was handed a load of crack... I wasn't scared—but he's a drugs counselor. What was I thinking?"
But just days after she's announced the end of the marriage, it seemed to be back on again after all, as she breathlessly tweeted details of the couple's renewed sex life. "Guess who had a mad love-making affair with her own husband last night?" she wrote on Twitter on January 3. "Sinead got laid!... Yay!! Me husband is a big hairy caveman and came to claim me with his club, and now I'm in cave-land. Yay!!" The secret to their newfound success, she suggested, was that they had decided to live apart and act like a courting couple, while calling off the divorce. "We decided to... stay married but we did rush so we gonna return to b-friend g-friend... and be sickeningly happy and go [to] counseling and move in in like a year like regular people."
But O'Connor's belief that they could be like "regular people" was short-lived, and one week later, she was back on Twitter to admit she was spiraling out of control and beg for a therapist referral before she harmed herself.
"Morning," she tweeted on January 11. "I realize I will be in trouble for doing this but… Ireland is a VERY hard place to find help in. So having tried other ways first, I'm asking, does anyone know a psychiatrist in Dublin or Wicklow who could urgently see me today please? I'm really unwell… and in danger." She cited an article in the European press "about them trying to lose Barry his job, and everyone being s--- to him for marrying me has spun me off and I'm ill and I desperately need to get back on meds today. Am in serious danger." She gave out her personal Me.com email address, and mentioned that she'd just broken her ankle, as well. "Me don't wanna leave me kids. Or [mess] up me work. I'm sorry worrying anyone..."
Within two days, she'd announced the true dissolution of her marriage on her website. She blamed journalists and others who "caused enormous damage deliberately and maliciously to my innocent flower of a husband, purely because he was with me... I became very ill as result of what was done to my husband and I was unable to cope. And became very depressed... I will never again associate myself romantically with anyone as I could not bear to see these things done again to someone I love."
The Sun, not always Britain's most reticent or reliable paper, reported that O'Connor actually had made suicide attempts, once before being hospitalized in late January and once during. But O'Connor downplayed the severity of the warnings she'd publicly issued, explaining, "People who express suicidal feelings are least likely to act on them. Anyone who gives you the remotest bit of s--- for expressing suicidal feelings is a wanker and is to be politely asked to permanently vacate your precious company. Even if it's your mudda-fuggin Mama."
Was this any way to promote a comeback album?
Yes, in the midst of all this turmoil, O'Connor had her first album in a decade coming out. And if critics had their knives sharpened for the Feb. 21 release of How About I Be Me (And You Be You), they promptly dulled them when the disc turned out to be, from almost all accounts, a fairly solid and mature work. On the Metacritic review aggregation site, it scored a very respectable grade of 75. England's Mojo called it an "admirably impassioned return." Billboard spoke for many in writing: "With Sinead O'Connor's propensity to generate sensational headlines, we sometimes forget just how exceptional and original of a singer/songwriter she can be."
The night before the album release, she played a critical show in L.A. The Los Angeles Times described the scene: "As she made her way to the microphone, many were perhaps wondering whether she had endured some sort of breakdown, and if so, how it would manifest itself during the concert. There were probably even a few gawkers in attendance. But as the capacity crowd welcomed her with a collective cheer that seemed filled with compassion, O'Connor flashed a big smile and those dimples shined; her eyes lighted up, and a palpable sense of relief filled the El Rey. She's OK. Now, can she still sing? Yes. Holy mother of God, yes... Whatever lows she had endured prior to landing on this stage were no match for the tremendous highs she remains able to achieve."
Perhaps O'Connor had found just the shrink she needed when she tweeted that cry for help in late January, and all the appreciative crowds and good reviews would usher in a happy ending?
It might have seemed that way. But one warning sign came when O'Connor's propensity for using the web to troll for boyfriends again reared its head and she announced that she had joined a dating site, Plenty of Fish—even out her screen name, "VeryCareful1," for anyone who wanted to look her up there. On the website, she described herself this way: "Safe, kind, sweet, nice and VERY snuggly fellas required to snuggle safe, kind, sweet, nice and VERY snuggly woman who has repeatedly proven incapable of wife or girlfriend-dom, [who] nevertheless wants to be held now and then as all women do ... No one under 38 please. No freaks. No sex-hunters. No fans. No songwriters wanting me to do their songs. No musicians looking for jobs. Am not here for the beer."
Not surprisingly, O'Connor even had an on-again/off-again relationship with the dating website, at one point declaring that the site was "s---, actually," adding that "I'm gonna buy myself a massive-like cuddly dog or something" instead of looking for a man, before soon announcing that she was still actively using Plenty of Fish, and the previous statements were " just a joke... It's all good on the site again. I'm getting lots of male attention."
If she was looking for salvation in a rebound relationship, she didn't find it there. She pulled out of a festival in Mexico, citing "extreme exhaustion."
A few days ago, she warned fans in Munich not to show up for her gig there, tweeting, "Asking about jobs, as music biz is very bad for Sinead. Anyone have a job for a very clever woman with massive heart and courage, who adores people and has to escape music business as is very bad for her? Too much and too many long times away from home. All bad triggers for a woman with a mental illness. Can anyone come and take me home from Munich?"
In a subsequent post on her website, also since erased, she elaborated, "With enormous regret I must announce that I have to cancel all touring for the year as am very unwell due to bipolar disorder. As you all know I had a very serious breakdown between December and March and I had been advised by my doctor not to go on tour but didn't want to 'fail' or let anyone down as the tour was already booked to coincide with album release. So very stupidly I ignored his advice to my great detriment, attempting to be stronger than I actually am."
This came just hours after additional dates on the North American leg of her tour for May had been announced.
She's canceled her social-media accounts before, only to reappear, so she may be the girl who cried wolf when it comes to quitting anything. But she at least sounded like she meant it this time: "This account will close tonight for reasons of wishing to be out of limelight and showbiz. Shall reappear anonymously. Midnight is close down. Goodnight, thank you, you been a wonderful audience. X." Soon that message, too, was dust, leaving us to wonder whether O'Connor will be using the downtime to get the professional mental-health assistance she admits she needs... or signing up for Match.com.