Remembering one of the most jaw-dropping moments on Saturday Night Live
In 1992 Sinéad O’Connor Rips Up A Photo Of The Pope On Live TV
On October 3, 1992, Sinéad O’Connor appeared on Saturday Night Live as a musical guest. She performed an a cappella cover of Bob Marley’s “War” rewriting a few of the lyrics to address child abuse, in addition to the song’s initial topics of racism and the horrors of war. She then presented a photo of Pope John Paul II to the camera while singing the word “evil,” after which she tore the photo into pieces, said “Fight the real enemy,” and threw the pieces towards the camera. O’Connor was pissed off about child abuse scandals within the Catholic Church, so she decided to use her platform on SNL to make a point. O’Connor told the Irish magazine Hot Press, “When the Boomtown Rats went to No 1 in England with Rat Trap, Bob Geldof went on Top of the Pops and ripped up a photo of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, who had been No 1 for weeks and weeks before. And I thought, ‘Yeah, fuck! What if someone ripped up a picture of the pope?’ Half of me was just like: ‘Jesus, I’d love to just see what’d happen.'” Blowback from destroying a picture of the pope on live national television is to be expected and, one would imagine, desired. But at the time, the Saturday Night Live incident was not well understood. At the time, the public was largely unaware of the sex abuse crisis hiding within the church. 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 rips 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!” Pesci also said that had he hosted when she pulled that stunt, “I would have gave her such a smack.” 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. O’Connor’s antipathy to the Roman Catholic Church remains to this day. “What I think is wrong is that the people running the show are misrepresenting what Catholicism actually is,” she told the Guardian. Until her death, O’Connor said that she had no regrets, but it definitely dealt a near-lethal blow to her career.
By Ken Warren, 2018
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