Sinéad O'Connor

Coincidentally, the day that Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is also Sinéad O'Connor's birthday.

The Irish chanteuse's musical success and failures are hard to separate from her public image as a spiritually inclined, politically committed woman prone to making controversial statements and taking public stances against religious and national symbols.

Sinéad O' Connor was born Dec. 8, 1966, in Dublin, Ireland, the third of four children raised in conservative Dublin by an engineer father and dressmaker mother. After her mother's 1985 death in a car crash, O'Connor claimed her mom had abused her.

O'Connor's parents separated when she was 8; traumatized by this, she subsequently was expelled from schools, arrested for shoplifting and sent to reform school.

When she was 15, O'Connor sang Barbra Streisand's "Evergreen" at a wedding, where she was discovered by Paul Byrne, drummer for In Tua Nua, a band friendly with Irish superstars U2. O'Connor co-wrote a song for In Tua Nua and pursued performing, covering songs by artists such as Bob Dylan in Irish coffeehouses.

O'Connor also studied singing and piano at Dublin's college of music. Ensign Records became interested in her and requested she move to London. There she worked with U2's the Edge on the soundtrack to the 1986 film "The Captive."

The Lion and the Cobra (1987), O'Connor's self-produced debut LP, included orchestral folk rock and dance pop. The album sold moderately well and got O'Connor noticed by critics, who were curious about the striking young singer.

O'Connor first ignited a public outcry when she called U2's work "bombastic." She enraged many of her countrymen by defending the IRA, and angered some in the industry by firing her manager.

Her completely shaved head and attractive features were all over music magazines when her 1990 cover of Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U" (from the chart-topping, triple-platinum I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got) hit #1 in the U.S. for a month and topped charts around the world. Later she told the press that Prince had physically threatened her.

Frank Sinatra then publicly attacked O'Connor after she refused to perform a scheduled New Jersey concert at a venue that traditionally played the Star Spangled Banner before its shows. That same year, she cancelled a "Saturday Night Live" appearance when she learned that provocative comedian Andrew Dice Clay would host the show.

Am I Not Your Girl? (1992) was a collection of torch songs. During the year of its release she made her most controversial and career-threatening move by tearing up a photo of Pope John Paul II during a "Saturday Night Live" performance. Two weeks later, she was loudly booed at a Dylan tribute concert at Madison Square Garden.

The following year, O'Connor toured with Peter Gabriel's WOMAD festival and reportedly attempted suicide. Universal Mother (1994) featured spoken-word political manifestos, ballads and hip-hop tinged tunes.

In 1995 she performed dates at the Lollapalooza festival, but she eventually withdrew because of her pregnancy. O'Connor issued the Gospel Oak EP, featuring "This is a Rebel Song" and "This is to Mother You" (RealAudio excerpt), in 1997.

Last year she played several Lilith Fair dates and signed with Atlantic Records. Earlier this year O'Connor was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in the Latin Tridentine Church and will be known as Mother Bernadette Maria of the Order of Mater Dei.

Other birthdays Wednesday: Bernie Krause (Weavers), 61; Jerry Butler (Impressions), 60; Robert Elliott (Hollies), 57; Ray Shulman (Gentle Giant), 50; Gregg Allman, 52; Warren Cuccurullo (Missing Persons, Duran Duran), 43; Phil Collen (Def Leppard), 42; Paul Rutherford (Frankie Goes to Hollywood), 40; Marty Friedman (Megadeth), 37; Bushwick Bill (Geto Boys), 33; Ryan Newell (Sister Hazel), 27; and Jim Morrison (Doors), 1943-1971.