Hard to believe it’s five years since Cranberries singer and songwriter Dolores O’Riordan was found dead in a bathtub at the London Hilton Hotel. On January 15th 2018, her gorgeous, lilting, voice was stilled forever.
As I gravitated to classic rock, hard rock, and metal, it wasn’t typical for me to purchase anything The Cranberries made. The category “alternative” was considered weak sauce in the pantheon of patriarchal rock starting with The Beatles and morphing over the years up to and including Slayer. Searching my basement cassette vault, I find only one female-fronted band for which I own most of the discography, Heart. But in a summer of my youth, 1993, captured by the incandescent “Dreams” and a singer that transcended popular music, I purchased the Cranberries’ debut album Everybody Else Is Doing It So Why Can’t We? By the time the 1994 follow-up No Need to Argue dropped, featuring the traumatized “Zombie,” the Irish quartet had become a 1990s supergroup in heavy rotation on MTV.
O’Riordan’s calls echoed while I scanned frustratingly similar news reports on the morning of her death. No cause had been determined; just a rock star and a bathtub. Jim Morrison was found the same way in 1971. Speculation was rampant on social media, and I’d no reason to doubt the unofficial narrative: O’ Riordan had likely died of some kind of overdose, like so many of my rockers.
Reports of her death were scant on information, but reading histories at Rolling Stone.com and other music sites I discovered things I’d never known about the talented girl from County Limerick. Affirmations about her bipolar disorder and depression. How she bore chronic back pain, and suffered from anorexia. Revelations about her self-alleged molestation as the most frail of girls, only six, had me ponder about what something like that does to a person.
Though we’ll never really know, initial theories about how O’ Riordan might’ve taken her life proved spurious when some of her final phone conversations were made public, calls in which she expressed excitement about upcoming projects, and hope for the future.
A long time, six months, passed before an official announcement about her death was released. On September 6th 2018, London Inner West coroner Dr. Shirley Radcliffe found O’ Riordan’s death to have been an accident, caused by alcohol intoxication and drowning. If the essence of what Dolores O’Riordan and the Cranberries brought to the stage and the listening experience of their millions of fans has escaped notice, this clip from Woodstock 1994 captures it perfectly.