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The sadder, harder-edged songs would come later, like the much-loved Linger, about being trapped in the toxic romantic thrall of a cheating lout, and Zombie, considered the Cranberries’ classic, a protest against the cruelty of the Troubles that had the emotional maturity to mourn the death of innocent English children in a London bombing carried off by the IRA. There was no such gloom at the start. Dolores O’Riordan’s ascent to global fame began with Dreams, a lush, upbeat, and utterly joyous product of that universal, once-in-a-lifetime emotional rush: “I wrote that about my first love when I was living in Ireland”, she said to the music press. “It’s about feeling really in love for the first time.” Her life, she sang, was now changing for the better every day, in every possible way, leaving her dizzy, ecstatic, and sometimes a little bit scared:

And now I tell you openly
You have my heart so don’t hurt me
You’re what I couldn’t find
A totally amazing mind
So understanding and so kind
You’re everything to me

You remember. You were young once too. O’Riordan herself was barely 20 at the time, just old enough to be feeling something beyond mere adolescent infatuation, but still awfully young to be writing and recording such an accomplished and accessible popular gem, which wasn’t a massive hit, but grabbed the attention of all the right people in all the right places. It wasn’t just the undoubted qualities of the tune, either, it was that piercing, lilting, keening voice, pitched in the range of mezzo-soprano, and enlivened with the vocal intonations and inflections of the Celtic tradition and her distinctive Irish brogue, straight out of her home in County Limerick. How was such a great big sound pouring out of that tiny elfin frame?

As the Cranberries reached their zenith, O’Riordan cycled through what might have been taken as the usual ups and downs, stemming from the usual causes, the global success, the corrosive pressure of fame, the split and subsequent reformation of the group, the births of her children, the end of her marriage, and, as so often with artists who sometimes find themselves withering in the spotlight, battles with drugs, alcohol, and depression. Par for the maladjusted celebrity course, seemingly, but those paying attention could see there was something even more dangerous going on. There were struggles with anorexia, and in 2015 she was diagnosed bi-polar. Her bouts of depression grew longer and more intense. There was suicidal ideation. She sometimes behaved both erratically and violently in public, requiring, in one highly publicized incident, forcible removal from an Aer Lingus flight after flying into a rage in which she assaulted police officers and flight attendants alike, thus earning herself both criminal charges and a brief stint in a psychiatric hospital. Yet through it all, she remained generally beloved, and hugely successful. She participated in all sorts of projects, and even took on a TV role as a mentor on the Irish version of The Voice. By 2018, she’d accumulated a net worth north of 65 million dollars, and was reckoned to be something like the 4th or 5th richest woman in all of Ireland. Without knowing more, one might have expected her to be living a comfortable, contented life.

By then, though, the roots of her almost crippling psychiatric problems were better understood. A few years earlier, she’d disclosed how as a child she’d suffered horrific sexual abuse at the hands of a family friend, who’d assaulted her repeatedly from when she was only eight until she was about twelve. She managed to compartmentalize the trauma for many years, but was sent into a tail spin by running into the perpetrator again in 2011, at her Dad’s funeral, itself an already deeply upsetting ordeal. He said he wanted to apologize. She needed years of intensive psychotherapy in the aftermath, which may have helped, but didn’t provide any magical cures. She kept working, and the Cranberries went out on repeated tours, but there were frequent cancellations, and continual signs that she was buckling again under the strains.

So much fame, beauty, wealth, and talent, and none of it sufficient against the damage done by one predatory male, long before any of us had ever heard that wonderful voice.

She put on a brave face, as best she could. In 2017, she told Irish News reporter Lorraine Wiley that “there have been times when I’ve struggled. The death of my father and mother-in-law was very hard. Looking back, I think depression, whatever the cause, is one of the worst things to go through. Then again, I’ve also had a lot of joy in my life, especially with my children. You get ups as well as downs. Sure isn’t that what life’s all about?”

There were plans to do some recording with longtime friend Dave Davies of the Kinks, and in January of 2018 O’Riordan was in talks with record executives about a new Cranberries album, in the course of which she travelled to London, where she checked into the Park Lane Hilton.

Staff discovered her dead in the bathtub on the morning of January 15. There were rumours of fentanyl, which turned out to be false, but the truth was hardly less awful; she’d drunk herself to an astonishing blood alcohol concentration of 0.33, over four times the level that grounds a conviction in a DUI, and, rendered insensible, drowned while unconscious in the tub. Not a suicide, ruled the coroner, but close enough. She was only 37.

Later, bandmate Noel Hogan was interviewed by the New Musical Express, and was asked about how he felt about Dreams, and other songs. His response reflected the common human failing of not knowing what you’ve got ’til it’s gone:

It’s only really since Dolores passed away that I’ve grown a proper appreciation for songs like ‘Linger’ and ‘Dreams’. They were just songs in the set list for us; everybody else was losing their mind about them. And when I listen to them now I realise how great they are for someone so young, which I never, ever appreciated until a year ago. We must have played it a gazillion times in our lives and it just becomes a part of the set, but it’s different now. We’re so lucky to have left that behind, to have that legacy.

Billboard magazine paid its own tribute a few months earlier, just hours after her death, with this:

The 20-year-old kid left us with one for the ages, sure enough. Even now, knowing what we know, and listening as closely as we can, there’s no discernible hint of the miseries which must already have been working to bring her down. It’s pure joy, expressed with such innocent sincerity that you might believe joy was all she’d ever known.

Here’s a nice live rendition of Linger, just because:

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