The most important thing Sinead O’Connor destroyed on the October 3, 1992 episode of Saturday Night Live wasn’t a picture of Pope John Paul II, but her career. If you watched O’Connor’s performance the one and only time it officially aired (Comedy Central reruns substitute the dress-rehearsal performance, which features O’Connor holding up a picture of a little girl without ripping it), you knew something weird was up. She sang a positively frightening A cappella rendition of Bob Marley‘s “War,” substituting in a lyric about child abuse. When she got to a line about evil, she held up a picture of the then-Pope, snarled, “Fight the real enemy!” and tore it up. The shocked silence from the audience gave no indication of the furor that would follow: she was publicly threatened with violence, loudly booed at a Bob Dylan tribute concert at a few weeks later, and record sales and radio play shriveled into nothing.
Though not explicitly stated, her move on Saturday Night Live was meant as a swipe at child abuse in the Catholic Church. In 2002, when the Church was rocked by a scandal that involved child-molesting priests, Salon.com asked O’Connor if she would have done anything different that night on SNL. Her response: “Hell no!”