Tragic Details About Madonna

Madonna, one of history's most iconic and influential pop stars, was born Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone in Bay City, Michigan, in 1958. One of six kids, she was raised in a strict Catholic family and initially pursued a dancing career before transitioning to music, according to Biography. She produced her first hit, "Everybody," in 1981, and went on to become one of the most popular and beloved singers of the '80s and '90s. She still resonates with audiences today. Yet her rise to fame wasn't an easy one. 

Madonna struggled living under the constraints of her religion as a young girl and was sexually assaulted when she moved to the Big Apple in the late '70s to pursue an entertainment career. After she became famous, the singer dealt with other personal tragedies, including failed relationships and intense scrutiny for deciding to adopt children from an African country. Even with all the benefits afforded to the rich and famous, Madonna has struggled to find balance in a life that has had its share of ups and downs. Read more about her sometimes tumultuous life below. 

Her mother died of cancer when she was 6

Over the years, Madonna has opened up frequently about the death of her mother from cancer when she was just 6 years old. She told the Chicago Tribune in 1989 that she and her siblings didn't realize how sick her mother was at the time. All they wanted was her to play with them. And even though she was always tired, they picked on her because they didn't realize the extent of her illness. 

In 1991, she told the Los Angeles Times she didn't have a mother figure in her life to support her through her ups and downs, and that was difficult. She observed her friends' relationships with their mothers and wondered how her life would have turned out had her mother survived. "Let's face it. I probably wouldn't be sitting on this couch here talking to you now if I'd had a mother. I really miss it. My role models who nurtured me when I was growing up were all men," she said.

She insisted that she didn't have a mother complex because she grew up without one; however, she was always on the lookout for someone to fill that role. She revealed in a Rolling Stone interview, "I've turned my need on to the world and said, "OK, I don't have a mother to love me, I'm going to make the world love me." She fulfilled that promise to herself by becoming the entertainer she is today.

Nuns punished her for 'chasing boys' when she was in elementary school

During a 1989 interview with the Chicago Tribune, the pop star and aspiring actress was 30 years old and in the midst of filming "Dick Tracy" alongside Warren Beatty. She opened up about her Catholic upbringing and how challenging it was for her to go along with all the rules the religion demanded of its adherents, particularly when it came to how young girls were supposed to behave. Madonna recalled becoming interested in the opposite sex when she was 10 year old and her desire to chase boys during recess. However, the nuns at the Catholic school she attended admonished her for her behavior because it was unseemly for girls to run after boys.

"I didn't understand what was so bad about it, so I would do it anyway. And I would get punished for it," she explained. Madonna added that she was also frustrated because she wanted to wear pants like boys did to school and mass, but she was forbidden to do so, and her father's reasoning for the rule was because he "said so." Over 25 years later, Madonna told Billboard that she suffered the "oppression" and "abuse" from Catholicism over the years and had since been ex-communicated by the church.

Madonna was sexually assaulted after moving to New York City

In 2013, Madonna revealed to Harper's Bazaar that she moved to New York City to pursue her artistic ambitions, but she was not prepared for what she encountered there. She was simply a girl from Michigan, and the city was not as welcoming as she had anticipated. Within the first year she lived there, she was threatened with firearms, her apartment was broken into numerous times, and she was raped on a rooftop.

Madonna went into more detail about the sexual assault during a 2015 interview with Howard Stern (via Glamour). The singer explained that she asked a "friendly" stranger for money because she needed change to make a phone call. Unfortunately, she trusted the man after he invited her to his house to use his phone. And like many women, she decided not to press charges against her attacker. Madonna was told by authorities that she would need to undergo a physical, attend a court hearing, and open up about personal details. Not only did she think it "wasn't worth it," she also felt the whole experience would have been "humiliating."

She has been voted the worst actor of all time

Like many creative people, over the years Madonna has been interested in performing both as a singer and an actress. While promoting her "Truth or Dare" documentary in 1991, she was asked how she felt about her Hollywood career by the Los Angeles Times. Madonna called it a "failure." She justified it by saying she hadn't put the work required into an acting career, a much different approach than she had towards music, which she was hugely successful at. "All of a sudden people were going, 'Here's a movie.' And I didn't think about it. I just took it," she revealed. "I underestimated the power of the medium. It's been a good lesson for me."

However, she didn't appear to learn the lesson very well. Her movie credits have included 1985's "Desperately Seeking Susan," "Who's That Girl" just two years later, "Dick Tracy" in 1990, "A League of Their Own" in 1992, 1996's "Evita," and Swept Away in 2002. Thirty years after that Los Angeles Times interview, she was declared the worst actor of all time in 2021, according to data from the Golden Raspberry Awards, also known as the Razzies. Madonna received seven Razzie awards (and nine nominations) over the years, just one more award than the next worst actor on the list, Sylvester Stallone.  

She has called herself 'tormented'

While Madonna may appear to lead a glamourous life with a lot of privilege, at least since she launched her career, the star has struggled with personal demons over the years, telling the Los Angeles Times in 1991 that she was a "tormented person." She noted that she experienced a lot of pain in her life and worked hard to keep it at bay. She also filtered that pain through her music. That torment didn't go away even many years into her career. The singer told Interview in 2014 she wrote more music when she was sad or upset versus happy.

She also talked to Rolling Stone about how thoughts of death creeped into her mind, particularly in the bathroom where she frequently had "contemplative moments." She revealed that some of those thoughts were directly related to losing a parent at such a young age: "I was thinking about dying. I'm obsessed with it because my mother died of breast cancer when she was thirty." And Madonna also claimed some of her best work was the result of a dark thinking process.

Her relationship with Sean Penn broke her heart

Madonna married actor Sean Penn in 1985 when the pair was in their 20s after just seven months of dating. The couple met in February while she was filming the music video for "Material Girl," and they tied the knot in Malibu in August, according to People. Right from the start there was trouble in their relationship, as Penn had a penchant for drinking and appeared mentally unstable. By 1987, he was serving time in jail for violating probation after assaulting an extra on a movie set and getting charged with reckless driving. These incidents and others led to their divorce. 

Years later, Madonna opened up to Rolling Stone about the relationship, revealing that while she never spoke out against Penn publicly she felt very "hostile" towards him because he broke her heart: "And when your heart's broken, you're a superbitch about everything except that. You guard that closely." She explained that only the first year of their four-year marriage was any good. But the reason they got married so quickly after meeting one another was because they were "madly in love with each other."

She paid ex-husband Guy Ritchie a huge sum in their divorce

Madonna and actor/director Guy Ritchie got married in 2000, and that same year they welcomed their son Rocco, as per Biography. But like many showbiz marriages, the union didn't last, and they split in 2008. Rolling Stone reported that the divorce settlement was significant between the couple. At the time, Madonna was worth nearly $500 million, and she was expected to give her ex-husband approximately $75 million, 15% of her fortune.

Part of that settlement was to include a home in western England and a bar the pair owned together. The singer's rep, Liz Rosenberg, said at the time that she believed the divorce settlement was the largest in U.K. history.

According to the Guardian, Madonna filed for divorce on the grounds of "unreasonable behavior." In an interview with Newsweek, she opened up about the relationship, saying she was essentially going through an existential crisis towards the end of her marriage. According to the singer, things were "flawless" in the beginning but then became less romantic. "You think, 'This isn't what I thought it was going to be,' and 'How much am I willing to sacrifice?'" she said. 

Her brother was homeless and felt abandoned

When someone's rich and famous, you assume the person's family also benefits from their wealth and celebrity. But that's not always the case. In 2011, one of Madonna's brothers, Anthony Ciccone, who was 55 years old at the time, revealed that he had been homeless for over a year after losing his job at a vineyard that their father owned. Ciccone told the Michigan Messenger (via the Washington Post) that he felt his family had abandoned him during a very difficult time in his life.

He explained, "You think I haven't answered this kind of question a bazillion times — why my sister is a multibazillionarie, and I'm homeless on the street?" he said. "Never say never. ... This could happen to anybody." Articles surfaced that Ciccone was living under a bridge, as reported by CNN. However, the revelation didn't cause too much of a stir for Madonna as it appeared that Ciccone, as well as at least one more of Madonna's siblings, had some issues that, while unclear, were not something Madonna could be held responsible for. 

Her stepmother physically abused her

Three years after her mother died, Madonna's father remarried, but Madonna didn't get along very well with his new wife. While her dad had a penchant for grounding his daughter and making her do chores when she misbehaved, he never laid a hand on her. Her stepmother, however, responded to Madonna's insolence by physically abusing her and slapping her on a regular basis. Madonna recalled in an interview with Rolling Stone an incident when she was around 12 years old, and her stepmother hit her so hard that her nose bled. Ironically, Madonna was happy about the whole thing because it meant she could change out of the ugly dress she was wearing.

"I was thrilled about it because my nose bled all over an outfit that she made me for Easter. I really hated it, and I didn't want to wear it to church," the singer told Rolling Stone. Madonna's complaints about the dress angered her stepmother so much because she personally made it with the little amount of money the family had to spend on clothing. However, Madonna didn't like the fact that she and her sisters had the exact same dresses and looked identical.

Madonna was forbidden from using tampons

Many if not most daughters are expected to behave and be obedient towards their parents, and Madonna was no exception. Raised in a strict Catholic household she was expected to remain a virgin until she got married and was forbidden from using tampons until she got married. The idea that tampons effect a woman's virginity may seem antiquated, but it's a belief that is not uncommon among some religious institutions even today. In the 1930s, Catholic priests worried tampons would cause "erotic" sensations for women and cause them to lose their virginities upon their application, according to the book "The Curse: Confronting the Last Unmentionable Taboo: Menstruation."

Madonna told Rolling Stone, "My stepmother told me I wasn't allowed to wear tampons until I got married. Can you imagine?" A friend of Madonna's wound up showing her how to use them, and it wasn't entirely successful as she felt awfully uncomfortable and "paralyzed," demonstrating the importance of proper sexual education in the home. 

Wearing tampons was just one of the ways Madonna rebelled against her family's stringent beliefs and the idea that sexual pleasure was just for procreation. Plus, she also wanted to go swimming, which is difficult to do while wearing Kotex. She added, "No, you just don't go swimming –- just like you don't f*** when you're Catholic if you don't want to get pregnant. There are all these stupid rules."

She sought her father's approval as an adult

When she was growing up, Madonna says her father gave her orders instead of advice. She moved out of his house when she was 17 years old, and they never had any conversations about sex when she was a young woman; that was left to her stepmother. Madonna told Rolling Stone that the content in her "Truth or Dare" documentary was probably extremely shocking to her dad, yet he never said anything about it. He ignored the white elephant in the room. 

Early on in her showbiz career, her father refused to acknowledge her celebrity status and success in the industry, and that was difficult for the singer. A parent's refusal to validate their child's accomplishments can be hurtful. "I would like it if he talked about it, actually, but he never does. Maybe I want him to recognize it so that finally I'll have his approval," Madonna told the publication. She acquiesced that while her dad didn't show his approval he didn't show his disapproval either, which was "better than nothing." Still, she felt like she was successful in his eyes even though much of what she did in the public arena was against his religious upbringing.

She was highly criticized for adopting children from Malawi

When she was in her mid-40s and married to actor/director Guy Ritchie, Madonna, who had "an embarrassment of riches," decided she wanted more children (at the time she had a biological daughter, Lourdes, and biological son, Rocco). As Harper's Bazaar details, the singer opted to do an international adoption and heard about orphaned children whose parents died of AIDS in the African country Malawi. She had no idea that doing something she felt was altruistic would be so difficult. She said, "I was accused of kidnapping, child trafficking, using my celebrity muscle to jump ahead in the line, bribing government officials, witchcraft, you name it."

She was devastated that she was treated like a criminal while she clearly wanted to extend her love to a child in need and called the process one of the low points in her life. Madonna understood the criticism for simulating sexual acts while performing and releasing a book about sex, "but trying to save a child's life was not something I thought I would be punished for." She experienced a similar fight when she adopted her daughter Mercy James from Malawi later on. The second time around, she was judged because she was divorced and therefore "an unfit mother." Still, she was able to follow through with the adoption and had no regrets despite the work it took for her to adopt the children.