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Sinéad O'Connor's Saturday Night Live Performance

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The scene that caused controversy.

Sinéad O'Connor appeared on Saturday Night Live as a musical guest twice, once on September 29, 1990, and again in October 3, 1992. NBC received controversy when O'Connor presented a picture of Pope John Paul II then rips it into pieces during her second episode as a musical guest.


O'Connor sang an a cappella version of Bob Marley's "War", which she intended as a protest against sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church, referring to child abuse rather than racism. O'Connor then presented a photo of Pope John Paul II to the camera while singing the word "evil", then tears the photo into pieces, saying "Fight the real enemy", and threw the pieces towards the camera, causing the audience to be silent.


Saturday Night Live had no foreknowledge of O'Connor's plan during the dress rehearsal she held up a photo of a refugee child. NBC Vice President of Late Night Rick Ludwin recalled that when he saw O'Connor's action he "literally jumped out of [his] chair." SNL writer Paula Pell recalled personnel in the control booth discussing the cameras cutting away from the singer. The audience was completely silent, with no booing or applause. Executive producer Lorne Michaels recalled that "the air went out the studio." Michaels, who ordered that the applause sign not be used, described the incident as "on a certain level, a betrayal," but also "a serious expression of belief."

A nationwide audience saw O'Connor's live performance, which the New York Daily Newss cover called a "HOLY TERROR." NBC received more than 500 calls on October 4, 1992, Sunday and 400 more on October 5, 1992, Monday, with all but seven criticizing O'Connor; the network received 4,400 calls in total. Contrary to rumor, NBC was not fined by the Federal Communications Commission for O'Connor's act; the FCC has no regulatory power over such behavior. NBC did not edit the performance out of the West coast tape-delayed broadcast that night, but reruns of the episode use footage from the dress rehearsal.


After O'Connor's incident, she was permanently banned from Saturday Night Live. On April 24, 2010, MSNBC aired the live version during an interview with O'Connor on The Rachel Maddow Show. In a 1993 issue of The Irish Times, O'Connor wrote a public letter where she asked people to "stop hurting" her.

The stunt was also subject to further parodies and ridicules, such as when Madonna was the guest singer in 1993, she repeated the stunt, using the same words but tearing up a picture of Joseph Buttafuoco. As the hoopla had died down by that point, Madonna's stunt received little outrage. Arsenio Hall parodied the stunt on his talk show by having a look-alike of the Pope on set, who tore up a photo of Sinead O'Connor. Two weeks after the incident, SNL made light of it by having Jan Hooks as Sinead hosting "The Sinead O'Connor Goodtime Happy Jamboree", a sketch with leprechauns and lively Irish folk music that gets interrupted by huge booing, causing O'Connor to walk off stage. Later in the episode, O'Connor tries to explain she mistook the Pope's picture for Hitler's only to get booed again, causing O'Connor to lose it. Adam Sandler, who is in the audience, shouts that the reason for all this booing is "We don't want you to hate, we want you to love others!"

As part of SNL's apology to the audience, during his opening monologue the following week, host Joe Pesci held up the photo, explaining that he had taped it back together. He then tore up another photo - of O'Connor herself - to huge applause. Pesci made some remarks which were in-between jokes and seriousness such as "Pope John Paul II forgave the man who shot him, I am sure he is not bothered by this", as well "If she defaced any images of Italian popes, watch out!" Although some comments were taken in jest, Pesci also said that had he hosted when she pulled that stunt, "I would have gave her such a smack."

In a 2002 interview with Salon, when asked if she would change anything about the SNL appearance, O'Connor replied, "Hell, no!" In 2010, TV Guide Network listed the incident at No. 24 on their list of 25 Biggest TV Blunders.