Alan Cross: Remembering Dolores O'Riordan, the tiny Irish woman with a big, big voice

WATCH: The Cranberries lead singer Dolores O'Riordan has died in London at the age of 46, her publicist says.

I interviewed Dolores O’Riordan many times following the Cranberries’ sudden vault to superstardom with their debut album, Everybody Else is Doing It So Why Can’t We in 1993. I’ll say this: you never knew which Dolores was going to show up.

There was one particular interview in 2009 when she showed up with a guitar and treated me to a personal acoustic version of Zombie as I sat five feet away. On that occasion, she was bubbly, effusive and so charming and fun that I wanted to take her home to my home. She was also very forthright about her battles with mental illness.

“It so was hard,” she told me. “I was in some dark places. But things are much better now.”

On other occasions, though, she had a darkness about her, an Irish grumpiness that seemed to say, “I want to be anywhere else but here.” Other interviewers I spoke to report the same sort of experiences.

Those of us who work at 102.1 the Edge sometimes ran into Dolores in odd ways. When she had a house in Mississauga with her Canadian husband Don Burton (an ex-road manager for Duran Duran), we’d see her at the Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto, where we had a studio. One day, a heavily pregnant Dolores walked into our studio and asked if she could use our washroom. She was polite and somewhat embarrassed about the request, but we accorded her the hospitality we would have given to anyone.

Dolores and Don had homes in both Canada and Ireland. A cottage was a place where she and Don retreated so she could write music and ride snowmobiles.

She maintained a love for Canada until the end.

The Cranberries were unlikely alt-rock heroes during a time when grunge dominated in North America and Britpop swept through the British Isles. Perhaps it was because the Cranberries were from Limerick, Ireland, that they were able to carve out their own niche.

Performing barefoot, tiny Dolores had a voice that filled arenas with something smooth and sweet, as with Linger.

She also had an angry, growly yelp that commanded attention. No one sounded like her, as with Zombie.

O’Riordan became an alt-rock favourite, a fiesty, powerful, charismatic singer-songwriter (she co-wrote most of the Cranberries’ songs with guitarist Noel Hogan) that elbowed aside bigger, louder grunge and Britpop boys. My opinion of her became, “You don’t mess with Dolores.”

She told Rolling Stone: “My mom always had a softer spot for boys, as a lot of Irish women do. If you were a girl, you’d have to sing or wear a pretty dress. But boys could just sit there and be brilliant for sitting there and being boys. It makes you that little bit more forward. Pushy. I was singing, always.”

Dolores went through some troubled times even as the Cranberries sold 40 million records and Dolores was blessed with millions. At one point, she was listed as the sixth-richest entertainer in Ireland.

“It was tough,” she told me. “We went right from being teenagers to musical superstars with money and fame and attention. All of us had a hard time adjusting to it, especially me.”

In another interview with The Sun she repeated that story. “Before that, before my breakdown, I didn’t live in the moment. I basically had the wrong kind of love and attention around me. I lived six years in a bus with strangers, touring the world with the band, seeing the insides of hotels. I lost touch with my friends. I was lonely all that time. I went nuts I was so lonely. These were days before mobile phones, so I had to find a phonebox just to talk to my parents. I lost a lot of my youth.”

When the Cranberries broke up for the first time, she was glad.

There was solo work (two albums, Are You Listening? in 2007 and No Baggage in 2009, both largely written and demoed in Canada), time with a band called D.A.R.K., and an eventual Cranberries reunion in 2009. That produced two albums: Roses in 2012 and last year’s Something Else.

“We all got older,” she told me, “and we’d tell our children things like, ‘Mommy used to be in a famous rock band,’ but they didn’t believe us. Part of the reason for our reunion was to show our children what we did to make the lives they have possible.”

But stories about troubling behaviour popped up from time to time. She divorced Don in 2014 after 20 years, sharing custody of their three children.

One of the more recent involved an outburst in 2014 aboard an Aer Lingus flight from New York that resulted in an injury to a flight attendant as the result of a head-butt and a kick. She was arrested, jailed and later fined. Consideration was given to her diagnosed bipolar condition, something that spared her from a criminal conviction.

Even though the Cranberries had to cancel a series of European shows last fall because of Dolores’ bad back, recent tweets showed everything seemed to be in order.

This is was her last tweet.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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