In her new memoir, Rememberings, the iconic Irish singer, 54, writes about her intentions behind the shocking incident, which resulted in her being banned from NBC for life.
In an excerpt published in Rolling Stone, O'Connor explains that the catalyst for the incident stemmed from her own anger of growing up in an unhappy home in Ireland. When her mother passed away, she discovered a photograph of the pope from his 1979 visit to her home country. During the appearance, the pope "made a show" of telling the “young people of Ireland" that he "loves" them.
"What a load of claptrap. Nobody loved us. Not even God," writes O'Connor. "Even our mothers and fathers couldn’t stand us."
She continues, "My intention had always been to destroy my mother’s photo of the pope. It represented lies and liars and abuse. The type of people who kept these things were devils like my mother. I never knew when or where or how I would destroy it, but destroy it I would when the right moment came. And with that in mind, I carefully brought it everywhere I lived from that day forward. Because nobody ever gave a s*** about the children of Ireland."
After learning that a local drug dealer had been using children as drug runners, and fueled by recent articles "about children who have been ravaged by priests but whose stories are not believed by the police or bishops their parents report it to," O'Connor decided to change a few lyrics to the song she intended to sing on SNL, an a capella version of Bob Marley’s “War," as "a declaration of war against child abuse."
Of the decision, she writes, "So I’ve been thinking even more of destroying my mother’s photo of JP2. And I decide tonight is the night."
During the dress rehearsal for the performance, O'Connor tore up a photo of a Brazilian child who was killed by police, asking the cameraman "to zoom in on the photo during the actual show."
"No one suspects a thing," she adds, noting her awareness of the uproar that's bound to follow.
"I know if I do this there’ll be war. But I don’t care. I know my Scripture. Nothing can touch me. I reject the world. Nobody can do a thing to me that hasn’t been done already," she remembers thinking. "I can sing in the streets like I used to. It’s not like anyone will tear my throat out."
O'Connor also describes the moment on live TV in which she tore the photo, leaving the audience in "total stunned silence."
She writes, "And when I walk backstage, literally not a human being is in sight. All doors have closed. Everyone has vanished. Including my own manager, who locks himself in his room for three days and unplugs his phone."
The swift backlash that "hurts me a lot less than rapes hurt those Irish children," she adds, writing that the notoriety "re-railed" her career.
"A lot of people say or think that tearing up the pope’s photo derailed my career," she writes. "That’s not how I feel about it. I feel that having a number-one record derailed my career and my tearing the photo put me back on the right track. I had to make my living performing live again. And that’s what I was born for. I wasn’t born to be a pop star."
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