On January 15th, news that The Cranberries frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan was found dead in a London hotel room shocked the world. While the cause of death is still unknown‒and likely will be until April, says a London coroner‒it is being described as sudden, but unsuspicious. The singer had been dealing with multiple health issues, including bipolar personality disorder and chronic back pain so intense that it led to the cancellation of the band’s 2017 reunion tour. Her death has left a silence in its wake‒one that lingers‒as fans, friends, and family alike struggle to find proper words to describe her monumental impact on alternative rock.
A feminist, fashion icon of the 1990s, O’Riordan’s influence is undeniable. When her Irish lilt first began cracking over the U.S. radio waves in the form of hit singles “Dreams” and “Linger,” it became clear that the zipper of popular culture had snagged on something unusual, but big. When they embarked on their first U.S. tour in 1993, O’Riordan was a 22-year-old firecracker with a pixie cut standing alongside her three ‘Cranboys,’ who L.A. Times called “unfailingly polite” at the time. Her life had not been easy up until that point‒with a younger brother who had died at birth, alleged sexual abuse, and strict rules that discouraged participation in an all-male rock band.
Yet, it was a classic adolescent heartbreak that inspired the band’s first big hit, “Linger,” the airy pop ballad that can still leave goosebumps on your arm over a decade after its initial release. This was the beauty of Dolores O’Riordan, especially in her earlier years. She was not afraid of honesty, even when it required putting her own emotions on the line. Even when other Irish acts were attempting to mask the accents in their voices (think Bono during the 80s.) The frontwoman, who bandmates described as initially shy, knew how important using her frenzied and fantastic voice was.
This is exactly what she did on “Zombie,” the croony and complicated breakout track that solidified The Cranberries in the alternative rock canon. The single, which came from sophomore album No Need To Argue, describes a terrorist attack that resulted in the death of multiple children in her native country. Perhaps one of the most groundbreaking moments of her career, the visceral tone that she takes in the chorus as she belts out the repetition of the word “zombie” is still being remembered and praised today; it was only recently that Eminem sampled the track on his newest album Revival.
Although the peak of The Cranberries’ commercial and critical success came to them early in their career, they recorded three more studio albums together before taking a break in 2003. While some of her more politically-charged lyrics failed to wow in the same way that “Zombie” did, her voice never wavered. She recorded two solo albums during the band’s break‒Are You Listening? and No Baggage, released in 2007 and 2009, respectively‒and had a brief stint as a judge on Ireland’s The Voice. She never stopped being the harsh, harrowing beauty queen that showed women they could be feminine and fatal in the same glance. Delicate and dangerous, in one breath. Throughout her career, O’Riordan fought for a woman’s right to express her anger‒at her government, at her partners, at herself.
When the band reunited in 2009, they tried to capture the same bolt of lightning that had ignited their career in 1993. O’Riordan’s vocals were still striking; this fact was inarguable, but life was still proving to not be so “lovey-dovey” for her. In 2014, she ended her 20 year marriage to former Duran Duran tour manager Don Burton. A year later, she was charged with “air rage,” for which she later apologized. It was only this year that she began publicly discussing her diagnosis of bipolar disorder, which she said she had been diagnosed with two years prior.
According to her bandmate and lifelong friend Noel Hogan, she was disappointed about canceling the reunion tour and was looking to record new music. He told Rolling Stone that when he had spoken to her the Friday before her death, she seemed “great” and excited about the future. That Sunday, she had emailed him new tracks she had been working on. Hogan wrote, “Dolores’ legacy will be her music. She was so passionate about it.” Anyone who has heard her sing even just a few bars would agree; her’s is the type of legacy the lingers in the air for long after she’s gone.
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Dolores O’Riordan, A Legacy That Lingers: Featured image courtesy of Carolyn Cole/LA Times