When news broke on Monday morning that the lead singer of The Cranberries, Dolores O’Riordan, had passed away, the reaction on Twitter and news feeds was sudden and severe. It was a collective outpouring of disbelief and personal memories.
The Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Leo Varadkar, tweeted and put into words what many felt: “For anyone who grew up in Ireland in the 1990s, Dolores O’Riordan was the voice of a generation.”
Her voice stretched far beyond her home country, with hits like “Zombie” and “Linger” having long since joined the hit parade in the US, Canada, the UK, and far beyond. These were global hits, sung by a Limerick woman with personality, power and tenderness.
I’ve had the distinct memory of watching the group’s video for “Zombie” being played incessantly on The Beatbox, a Saturday morning show that pretty much passed for MTV in early 90s Ireland. The song seemed to push everything else aside, with O’Riordan’s insistent vocal line and tormented, gold-soaked figure seemingly burning itself onto TV screens for weeks.
Years later, when The Cranberries had achieved global stardom, broken up and then reformed, O’Riordan appeared on the country’s biggest talk show, The Late Late Show. They had a new album, they were back together, and she was damn sure they were going to make themselves known once more. It was a clear indication of her steeliness and ability to lead the hugely popular group again.
Ultimately, O’Riordan deserves to be remembered for achieving more than a handful of big hits.
She pushed out the boat in a number of ways:
She Had Her First US Top-Ten Hit When She Was Just 21, with ‘Linger’
One of The Cranberries’ stone-cold mega hits, “Linger” perfectly showcased what O’Riordan was capable of. While “Linger” was originally written by the band before she joined as an 18-year-old, O’Riordan contributed her own set of lyrics to the revamped song, and delivered a ethereal performance on the recording that soundtracked who knows how many smashed-up teenage hearts in the early 1990s. At a time when grunge was at its zenith, the Cranberries offered a melodic but highly memorable alternative, with O’Riordan starring in the black and white video as a fleeting, ghostly figure. It was a bewitching first appearance.
Her Huge Performance on “Zombie” was Fiercely Political
O’Riordan’s transformation to the goddess figure in the “Zombie” video is one of her most iconic performances. The video was was directed by Samuel Bayer, who was behind the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video and sure enough, this video resulted in a similarly huge hit (and the group’s biggest ever global single). Written in the wake of a deadly bombing in the UK, this much heavier song bemoaned the constant cycle of violence and the young victims impacted by the conflict in Northern Ireland tweeted “since 1916.” It would have been easy to write it about anything else, but O’Riordan choose to make their biggest song about something that truly mattered. The ceasefire that took place in 1994, the same year as the song’s release, seemed to grant it special resonance.
She Was A Certifiable Style Chameleon
O’Riordan should be rightly remembered as something of a style chameleon. Truly, she could be named as one of the all-time reigning queens of 90s hairstyles, with a dizzying range of cuts, colours and lengths throughout her career. From short pixie-style cuts, to flowing raven-black locks, to numerous bleached and dyed creations and even a Sinead O’Connor-esque buzzcut, the singer did it all and pulled it off with dazzling regularity. For a period, the public simply couldn’t tell what she was going to look like from one appearance to the next, and that’s the way it stayed right up until this year. Fans could always count on a real injection of style brought by O’Riordan into each distinct period that The Cranberries were active.
She Was a Total Natural On Screen
There is little doubt that O’Riordan enjoyed her time on screen almost as much as she did behind the mic. From appearing as herself (but y’know, just playing down the local club) on an episode of 90s witcharama Charmed, to appearing as a white-clad songstress serenading Adam Sandler in 2006’s Click, to steadfastly refusing to slap down young hopefuls and acting with true class and flamboyance in The Voice of Ireland talent show (a mere 4 years ago), Dolores onscreen was just as entertaining as you might expect. The character she showcased across these appearances gave us another insight into her talent, beyond the music that she was more readily associated with.
She Found Inspiration in Canada, Writing and Living in Rural Ontario
Last but not least, we can’t forget that she opted to live in Canada for many years. Not the bright lights of Toronto or Vancouver though, with O’Riordan instead opting for a family life in a quiet rural cottage near Peterborough, Ontario. For several years, she spent summers in the Great White North with her husband Don Burton (former tour manager for Duran Duran) before moving to Canada full-time in 2009.
In a wonderfully candid interview with local news outlet The Peterborough Examiner, O’Riordan expressed her coming to terms with the pressures of the fame she had attained: “I went through a really weird stage when we got really big. I really felt pressure to be accepted… over the years, I just got tired of trying to fit in.”
O’Riordan credited the home studio space she used in that “really gorgeous” Canadian location with helping her to write and create her first solo album.
Dolores O’Riordan was 46 years old. We miss her already.