Belfast Telegraph

Dolores O'Riordan, Just 18 when she penned hit track Linger, found fame a roller-coaster ride - the remarkable life and tragic death of Cranberries star

 

If any seasoned music observers in the early-Nineties had been asked to select a fledgling Irish band with the potential to sell albums in U2-like quantities, they would have exhausted virtually every possibility before they arrived at the Cranberries.

The pun-loving band, initially known as the Cranberry Saw Us, weren't much of a prospect at the time.

The band only boasted a handful of robustly penned songs and a shy singer who seemed ill at ease in the spotlight.

That the Limerick outfit operated outside the sometimes self-congratulatory Dublin music scene would have made their path to the big time even less likely.

Editor's Viewpoint: Reluctant superstar Dolores O'Riordan whose music will continue to linger

But those who had bothered to pay attention recognised that there was something different, something special about the quartet fronted by the diminutive female vocalist.

They signed to a coveted major label, Island Records, and went into the studio with Stephen Street, the English producer acclaimed for his work with The Smiths.

The result was an album with a title that hinted at a desire for glory - Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We? - and a handful of tracks that have subsequently burrowed their way into Irish pop music lore.

Dolores O'Riordan was just 21 when that spirited debut was released on March 1, 1993.

It is astonishing to think she was even younger - only 18 - when she wrote its most emblematic track, Linger.

It was the song that would catapult the Cranberries into the rarefied space only enjoyed by the world's biggest bands.

They had gone to America as support to Suede - then one of rock's hottest tickets - and returned as fully fledged sensations.

They were never the same again. In many ways, fame came too soon for Dolores, the youngest of seven children who was named by her devoutly Catholic mother, Eileen, in honour of the Lady of the Seven Delours (Our Lady of Sorrows).

One can only wonder now how her life might have panned out if success arrived in slow-burn fashion. She came of age at a time when the record industry was at its apex.

CDs were only a decade in existence and were selling in enormous quantities.

The second offering from the Limerick band, No Need to Argue, emerged 18 months later, in October 1994, and shifted 17 million copies.

While the Cranberries' jangle pop-inspired debut attracted positive reviews, its follow-up met with critical brickbats. While many celebrated the ballsiness of O'Riordan's singing and her determination not to downplay her strong Limerick accent, others sneered at subject matter that seemed too lofty for bombastic stadium rock.

Her response to the Troubles, Zombie, was derided by many in Ireland, but it remained a totemic anthem in places like France and Italy, where the band enjoyed astonishing popularity.

Although she was one of the most noted frontwomen of the Nineties, Dolores never seemed entirely comfortable in the role.

While people like Bono seem born to command a stage, she struggled with the expectation to be always 'on' - whether performing with her band, or in the course of a private life which was picked apart by the tabloids.

Unlike U2, where each of the four have held a fascination for media and fans, all the focus was on O'Riordan. Her bandmates, including co-songwriter Noel Hogan, remained comparatively anonymous.

"It would have been easier if we had had more experience with the actual music industry," she said last year, while promoting an acoustic album of old Cranberries songs, recorded with the Irish Chamber Orchestra. "We were very young and very naive, sheltered. Fame was extraordinary, really.

"It was a very dramatic change from living in a country area outside Limerick to suddenly being dropped into cities such as London and New York. For as long as I could, I held on to those years like I was gripping a roller-coaster ride."

But her new-found success took its toll. "I got sick, had a meltdown - it was too much work that caused it."

She was just 25 at the time.

Few who bought their albums or went to their concerts could have imagined how Dolores was suffering from the pressures of fame.

In 2014, around the time she acted as a judge on RTE's The Voice of Ireland, she told the Sunday Independent's Barry Egan that she had been close to the end of her tether. "You get to the point where you want to die because you think that you'll get peace when you're dead and you can't get any worse than you are."

From 1996's To The Faithful Departed onwards, each Cranberries album failed to deliver the gold-dust of their first. Sales declined, too.

After 2001's barely remembered Wake Up and Smell the Coffee, it would be a further 11 years before the band would release another album. In 2012 they released Roses, which would turn out to be their final studio offering. O'Riordan married former Duran Duran tour manager Don Burton in 1994, and the couple had three children - a son, Taylor Baxter (20), and two daughters, Molly Leigh (16) and Dakota Rain (12) - plus a son, Donnie, from Burton's previous relationship.

While she spent much of the lengthy Cranberries hiatus out of the limelight and enjoying the business of parenthood, she did launch a solo career. But hopes that she could translate her global Cranberries success as a solo artist were dashed.

There was little love for her 2007 debut album Are You Listening? - a title that gave unkind music critics plenty of ammunition - and it sold poorly.

Worse was to come two years later, however, when her second solo offering, No Baggage, barely dented the Irish album charts and was critically mauled.

Her marriage to Burton ended after 20 years in 2014 and the pair soon divorced.

Despite a love-hate relationship with the industry, O'Riordan continued to make music right to the end.

She was reportedly in a studio in London working on a new album when she died suddenly.

She would surely have felt emboldened by the response to Something Else - that acoustic-orchestral release from last year which shone light on her best songs, albeit ones written at the very start of her career.

No doubt the fruits of her most recent labours will eventually be released and may well garner a poignancy that comes with dying so young.

Despite her gifts, it's difficult not to think of the words her mother, Eileen, had told Barry Egan in that interview four years ago: "I remember my own mother - who was 92 when she died in 1997 - saying to Dolores one morning, 'You'd have been better off if you'd kept your little job in Cassidy's in Limerick'."

Dolores had worked there part-time during school and just before she penned Linger.

On the basis of the trauma that arrived with sudden, all-encompassing fame, perhaps her grandmother had been right. But then, few would have known of Dolores O'Riordan, and her songs of love and hope that went all over the world.

Abuse, depression, addiction ... in her own words

Being abused from the age of eight

"For four years, when I was a little girl I was sexually abused. I was only a kid. You think it is your own fault. I buried it. It is what you do initially. You bury it because you are ashamed of it. You think: Oh my God. How horrible and disgusting I am. You have this terrible self-loathing. And then I got famous when I was 18 and my career took over. It was even harder then. So then I developed anorexia. When I Googled anorexia and studied it, I found out it was a common pathology that develops later in life. So I was putting on this charade, this perfect face. I had anorexia, then depression, a breakdown. I knew why I hated myself. I knew why I loathed myself. I knew why I wanted to make myself disappear. It was something that I noticed manifested itself in my behaviour and the pathologies I began to develop in my early adult life, such as my eating disorder, depression and eventually the breakdowns. I think I am getting stronger for sure. But I'll always be a bit of a train wreck. Nobody's perfect. Those people who pretend they are perfect aren't perfect."

Her abuser

"I had nightmares for a year before my father's death about meeting him. My father had just died. I didn't see him for years and then I saw him at my dad's funeral. I had blocked him out of my life."

Addiction

"I am pretty good but sometimes I hit the bottle. Everything is way worse the next morning. I chain smoke when I drink. I have a bad day when I have bad memories and I can't control them and I hit the bottle. I kind of binge drink. This is kind of my biggest flaw at the moment."

Dark thoughts

"I tried to overdose last year (2013). I suppose I am meant to stay here for the kids. It's just an acknowledgement for me now - not revenge. I'm not that type but it will free me to go into group therapy as I go on with my life and I can be a better mother. I cannot have sleeping tablets around, because if I have a few drinks I'll take them. On tour, it was just so easy to say: I can't sleep, I've had a couple of drinks, maybe I'll take one. Then you take another. They you don't wake up. That can happen. I am careful now."

Motherhood

"Looking back now I never thought that I'd be here with two boys and two girls - a beautiful 22-year-old (her stepson Donnie), a beautiful 16-year-old, a beautiful 13-year-old and a beautiful nine-year-old (Mollie, Dakota and Taylor). I realise that life isn't about money, fame. Actually, all that c***. It's love that's important."

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