She’s a fashion icon, a pop queen, a mother, and a force to be reckoned with: let’s talk about Madonna. Perhaps the most famous (and definitely the richest) female musician of all time, Madonna has inspired the world for decades with her gorgeous tunes and rebel-girl attitude. But how much do we really know about the most famous pop star in history?
From her career to her personal life, Madonna Ciccone has never been shy about what she says or does. But that doesn’t mean she pours all her secrets into the microphone. Even the Queen of Pop’s biggest fans don’t know the real story of her rise to the top — or the controversies that threatened to drag her to the bottom…
Madonna was born Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone on August 16, 1958, in Bay City, Michigan. She once referred to her hometown as “a stinky, little town in Northern Michigan,” on national television.
One of six children, Madonna is named after her mother, who died of breast cancer when the future queen of pop was only five years old. To distinguish her from her mother, she was referred to “Little Nonni.”
She once described her young self as a lonely girl who was searching for something. “I wasn’t rebellious,” she said. “I cared about being good at something. I didn’t shave my underarms and I didn’t wear make-up, but I studied and I got good grades. I just wanted to be somebody.”
Even though she was rather quiet in high school, she was still a cheerleader, which paired well with her love for athletics and dance. She later wore a vintage cheerleader outfit during one of her concerts.
Jack Guez Via Buzzfeed
Not only has she always been athletically and musically gifted she was also a smartypants. She always got straight As during her studies and has an IQ of 140. That’s not fair girl; you can’t just have it all!
Trying to make ends meet while studying dance in New York City, Madonna took work wherever she could find it, including a Dunkin’ Donuts. There, she was reportedly fired for squirting jam in a customer’s face.
Before going the route of a solo artist, Madonna formed the band Breakfast Club with musician Dan Gilroy, a boyfriend she met while dancing on tour in Europe. The two lived together in an abandoned synagogue in Queens while trying to make it in the music world.
A year later, she left the band (and Gilroy) to form the band Emmy with new boyfriend Stephen Bray. Their music caught the attention of Sire Records founder Seymour Stein, who offered her a singles deal.
Her iconic ’80s look (think lace tops, short skirts, fishnets, lots of bracelets, and crucifixes) was actually the creation of her stylist and jewelry designer Maripol, who also styled Grace Jones and Debbie Harry. We’re sure Madonna had her own influence, too.
Michael Putland via Billboard
Unfortunately, not everybody was a fan of her style. People magazine named her Worst Dressed back in 1999 when her outfits consisted of kimonos, leather dresses, white tank tops, and crimped hair. She bounced back in a big way — she always does!
Since she started recording solo, she has produced 13 albums, each one a success. Her total sales have earned her a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as both the most successful female solo artist of all time and the best-selling female recording artist.
Mazur/WireImage from Rolling Stone
In 1990, she was nominated to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. However, she showed no interest in accepting, and the invitation eventually expired. Let’s face it. Madonna doesn’t need a star to know she’s an icon.
Madonna has appeared in 19 films over the course of her career, with her starring role in the 1996 film adaptation of Evita earning her a Golden Globe. She may have sung “Don’t Cry for Me,” but we all did during that scene.
She’s been married twice; first to actor Sean Penn from 1985-1989 and then to director Guy Ritchie from 2000-2008, with whom she has one son. Both marriages were rumored to be abusive, and Madonna has dated mostly younger men since.
Who needs a man when you can be a single mom of 6 kids? Lourdes was born in 1996, followed by Rocco John Ritchie in 2000. The adoptions of Malwai-born David Banda followed in 2006 and Chifundo “Mercy” James in 2009, and twin sisters Esther & Stella arrived in 2017.
Her 22-year-old daughter Lourdes was named as a tribute to Madonna’s mother, who wanted to visit Lourdes, France, where the Virgin Mary, or the Madonna, appeared in 1858. Unfortunately, Madonna senior died before she had the chance.
In 1989, Madonna signed a $5 million dollar endorsement deal with Pepsi tied to the release of her “Like a Prayer” music video. But after the controversial video and its blasphemous Catholic imagery caused an uproar, the commercial never even aired.
Madonna – Like A Prayer (Official Music Video) via Youtube
Along with her manager Guy Oseary and Mark Mastrov, the founder and CEO of 24 Hour Fitness, Madonna opened a series of gyms/health clubs called Hard Candy Fitness, named after her 2008 album Hard Candy. She herself led a class at the opening.
VideoScoutIt via Youtube
The infamous song (and music video) “Vogue” was originally only going to be a B-side because Madonna didn’t believe it was strong enough for a single. Luckily, her producers thought otherwise!
When she released her book Sex in 1992, full of explicit photos of the Material Girl, it was so incredibly popular that a reprint had to be ordered within 48 hours. It topped the New York Times bestseller list within a week.
The first song to ever make a strong impression on Madonna was Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walking,” which she told TIME Magazine in 1985 summed up her own “take-charge attitude.”
Madonna’s self-proclaimed major style and music influences include Debbie Harry from Blondie, Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders, and Karen Carpenter from the Carpenters, as well as The Supremes and Led Zepplin.
Besides her two former husbands, Madonna also dated Actor Carlos Leon (Lourdes’ father), Vanilla Ice, Warren Beatty, Dennis Rodman, Lenny Kravitz, Jean-Michel Basquiat, John. F. Kennedy Jr., and — believe it or not — Tupac.
Patrick McMullan via Rolling Stone
In 2017, she opened the Mercy James Institute for Pediatric Surgery and Intensive Care in Blantyre, Malawi (a country in southeast Africa). The hospital was named after her adoptive daughter Mercy, and Madonna still makes many contributions to the nation.
The Recording Industry Association of America has named Madonna the best-selling female rock artist of the 20th century. She’s also the second top-selling female artist in the United States with a whopping 63 million certified albums.
According to her brother Christopher, who wrote a book about her, the only thing Madonna can cook is Rice Krispie treats. Luckily for her, she’s Madonna and when she gets a hankering for something more gourmet, she can hire a chef to make it for her.
Madonna Art Vision via Direct Expose
In 2006, scientists discovered a species of microscopic organisms called “water bears,” a.k.a. Echiniscus Madonnae. They can live 120 years without food or water while withstanding conditions that would kill most other species, so it’s a total compliment!
After the 2003 Video Music Awards, all anybody could talk about was the infamous kiss between Madonna and Britney Spears on stage. What most people didn’t know was that she also kissed Christina Aguilera, but the cameras cut away to Justin Timberlake’s reaction instead.
After years of a cybersquatter using the domain name madonna.com to operate a pornography website, Madonna finally beat him in court when the jury found that site operator Dan Parisi lacked “rights or legitimate interests in the domain name.”
Ever wonder why “Hung Up” sounds so similar to ABBA’s “Gimme Gimme Gimme?” It’s because it was one of the only two times ABBA allowed their music to be sampled. Since Madonna was grateful for the rights, she later gave the TV show Glee the rights to perform all her songs.
This superstar holds the record for the most number-ones on all Billboard charts with a total of 156, including 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and 43 on the Hot Dance Club Songs. She also scored 38 top-ten singles on the Hot 100 — more than any other artist in history!
Madonna – Material Girl (Official Music Video) via Youtube
Her music videos, dance performances, and interviews sparked so much controversy that the Pope actually asked people not to attend her 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour due to her simulated masturbation during “Like a Virgin.”
It’s obvious that she has a flair for fashion, so she designed a clothing line for H&M in the U.K. The clothes certainly reflected a calmer, more modern style, as it didn’t include any of her iconic ’80s accessories.
How does she stay so fit? Madonna follows a macrobiotic diet and incorporates a lot of sea vegetables, like seaweed, into her meals. In 2016, her trainer Craig Smith said she worked out for at least 30 minutes, six days a week.
According to plastic surgeons, her facial features are the most sought after features by women who opt for going under the knife. No wonder she was called the “ultimate face!”
Interscope via Nylon Mag
As an adult, her life has been influenced by the Jewish belief of Kabbalah, meaning she practices an inner sense of peace, believes in the evil eye, and feels a connection with the infinite universe. She even converted to Judaism and adopted the name Esther.
Chris Helgren of REUTERS via NRC
Due to her beliefs, it has been rumored that Madonna will only drink specially blessed, bottled Kabbalah water. Supposedly, she spends over $10,000 every month on the holy hydration and requires they be provided wherever she goes.
On top of all of her other previously discussed talents, Madonna is also the author of 10 children’s books. Her most popular is titled Friends For Life and is thematically linked to Kabalah.
In 2008, Madonna made it to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — a well-deserved accolade for this legend. According to the Hall, the popularity of Madonna’s album Like A Virgin has made it on the list of the Definitive 200 Albums of All Times. It just proves she is timeless!