Shane MacGowan's Relationship With Sinead O'Connor (And Why She Once Reported Him To The Police)

In July 2023, Irish music said goodbye to one of its most internationally acclaimed talents. At 56 years old, Sinead O'Connor was reported dead. As controversial as she became after achieving fame in the '80s and '90s, tributes to the singer and activist quickly poured in. Irish president Michael Higgins issued a formal statement, celebrities like Patton Oswald took to social media to share their condolences, and Morrissey — no stranger to controversy himself — wrote up a message on his personal website that was part tribute to O'Connor and part screed against those people praising her in death who had condemned or ignored her during her darkest episodes in life.

One man who had long been close with O'Connor despite her struggles was fellow Irish performer Shane MacGowan, who had come up in music around the same time. At the time of O'Connor's death, MacGowan was in intensive care for an infection (he was released in November 2023). But his wife, Victoria Mary Clarke, shared a photo of MacGowan and O'Connor together and wished the artist goodbye on X, formerly Twitter. "Thank you ... Sinead or your love and your friendship and your compassion and your humor and your incredible music," wrote Clarke. MacGowan re-tweeted the message with a brief addition: "Sinead I love you and I hope you are at peace." He himself passed away not long after his discharge from the hospital, inspiring his own wave of tributes from the likes of President Higgins.

O'Connor once reported MacGowan to the police

While Shane MacGowan and Sinead O'Connor came onto the Irish music scene at around the same time, they didn't have matching career trajectories. After leaving behind reform school and an abusive home life, O'Connor played in local pubs with a small group before being signed to produce her own albums. Her breakthrough came with "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got" in 1990. Meanwhile, MacGowan, who moved back and forth between Ireland and England growing up, was first noted for his poetry. His initial attempt to break into music fizzled in the late '70s, but he found fame and fortune as part of the Pogues in the 1980s.

By 1994, MacGowan was out of the band he had co-founded, a consequence of drug and alcohol abuse that often overshadowed his work. But and O'Connor came together through a song MacGowan had originally written as part of the Pogues — a track for the film "Sid and Nancy" called "Haunted." His cover with O'Connor, released as a single in 1995, was a hit for the pair, spawning a music video (above) and a sometimes-awkward promotional appearance on "Kenny Live" back in Ireland (via YouTube).

But O'Connor came to have the same concerns about MacGowan's substance abuse as his old bandmates had. According to the Irish Times, after she found MacGowan passed out from heroin at his London home in November 1999, she reported him to the police. He was arrested for possession.

The two remained friends through ups and downs

When she reported Shane MacGowan to the police for heroin in 1999, Sinead O'Connor insisted that it was out of concern for her friend and colleague. "I love Shane, and it makes me angry to see him destroy himself selfishly in front of those who love him," she said at the time (per The Irish Times). MacGowan didn't initially see it that way. "At the time I was furious, obviously," he said in a later interview, stressing that he didn't recommend that anyone report their friends to the authorities (per the Irish Mirror). But he also said that he was grateful to O'Connor for her actions that day, and that it hadn't ended their friendship. "It ended my relationship with heroin," he said.

The two remained close friends — close enough that O'Connor named her son Shane after MacGowan. But O'Connor remained concerned about his issues with addiction. She was quoted in 2021's "A Furious Devotion: The Authorised Story of Shane MacGowan" as bemoaning her friend's bed-ridden state, still using drugs and alcohol and refusing to go into the hospital for mobility issues because "he gave up." The comments sparked a polite but strong rebuttal from MacGowan's wife through The Irish Sun.

Despite the exchange of words, MacGowan was quick to offer his sympathy when O'Connor's son and his namesake died of suicide in 2022. "Sinead you have always been there for me and for so many people," he wrote on X. "I pray that you can be comforted & find strength, healing & peace in your own sorrow & loss."

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).