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With her shaven head she was the tough girl keen to shock - but below it, her pale, elfin face was delicate and doll-like, and tears flowed freely down her cheeks.

The mesmerising image of Sinead O’Connor singing with pained, raw emotion in the video for ballad Nothing Compares 2 U - the hit written by Prince which made her a household name in 1990 – memorably captured a huge contradiction within the star’s character.

There was blatantly a chink of vulnerability in her spiky armour – one the troubled star has been dogged by ever since.

Seemingly never more so than when on Monday night when the Irish singer-songwriter went missing on a bike ride, and it was reported she was feared suicidal.

The 49-year-old singer was later found alive, but she’s been openly walking a tightrope on the edge of depression her whole life – a walk made all the more hazardous by public scrutiny.Her career, rooted in a disturbed childhood, has been entwined with a tumultuous personal life and peppered with shocking outbursts often bordering on manic, underpinned by a battle with mental illness which she first revealed in 2007.

And in recent months the mum of four, who has been married four times and released 10 solo albums, appears to have been succumbing to that battle.Her latest disappearance in Chicago, resulting in her hospitalisation, followed a string of bitter Facebook posts directed at her eldest son Jake Reynolds, 28, and the father of her youngest son, Shane, 12 - musician Donal Lunny – over Shane’s custody.

In November the star posted more distressing messages threatening suicide.

She wrote: “There is only so much any woman can be expected to bear.” Adding: “I have taken an overdose.

"There is no other way to get respect. I am not at home, I’m at a hotel, somewhere in Ireland, under another name.

"If I wasn’t posting this, my kids and family wouldn’t even find out. I could have been dead here for weeks already and they’d never have known.”Later, she posted confirmation she was OK, but said “I have lost everything” and pleaded: “I have no family. No home. No job.”

Her disappearance in Chicago, where a source has said she was staying with a friend after leaving her home in Ireland ‘amid a medical and personal crisis’, follows controversial comments she made after superstar Prince’s death, in which she labelled him a ‘hard drug user’, and claimed US comedian Arsenio Hall had supplied him. 

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