Tragic Details About Madonna's Life

She's been the reigning queen of pop since the '80s and is a living legend. She doesn't much care what people think or expect of her, and she likes to stir the pot. There's no one quite like Madonna. She might've been one of the most controversial stars around when she first rose to fame, but this was intentional. "I like to provoke; it's in my DNA. But nine times out of 10, there's a reason for it," Madge wrote in a 2013 piece for Harper's Bazaar.

Madonna thrives on taking risks, on doing daring things — it's arguably one of the main reasons for her raging success. "If I can't be daring in my work or the way I live my life, then I don't really see the point of being on this planet," she explained. While her penchant for choosing the road less traveled hasn't always won her brownie points, it's never deterred her.

As a teenager, she was the uncool one in her class because she turned her nose up at cigarettes, refused to shave her legs and underarms, and dressed differently. "I refused to wear makeup and tied scarves around my head like a Russian peasant. I did the opposite of what all the other girls were doing, and I turned myself into a real man repeller. I dared people to like me and my nonconformity," she recalled. It's this grit and determination that's helped her overcome every adversity in her life so far.

Madonna's mother died when she was 5 years old

Madonna came face to face with tragedy at an incredibly young age. When she was 5, her mother, Madonna Louise Ciccone, died of breast cancer. Madonna recounted the difficult time leading up to her mother's death during an interview with Time (via People), explaining that, despite all the challenges her mother faced, her children remained her priority. "She was very weak, but she would continue to go on and do the things she had to do," Madonna said.

Having to deal with her mother's illness at such a young age had a profound impact on Madonna and how she chose to live the rest of her life. She recalled that her mother used to put on a brave face during her cancer battle. "I think that made me grow up fast. I knew I could be either sad and weak and not in control or I could just take control and say it's going to get better," she said.

She has a complicated relationship with religion

After her mother's death, Madonna started questioning her religion and eventually abandoned it altogether. "Catholicism feels like my alma mater. It's the school I used to go to, and I can go back anytime I want," she told Billboard in 2015.

In her 2013 Harper's Bazaar piece, Madonna dove into her relationship with the Catholic Church, explaining that she wasn't a fan of rules but did believe in order. "There is a difference between rules and order. Rules people follow without question. Order is what happens when words and actions bring people together, not tear them apart," she explained. Madonna's been in hot water with the pope on more than one occasion. Some of her music, which often features Catholic symbolism, has been deemed blasphemous by the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II even urged members of the church to avoid spending their money on her music and tours in the past. Madonna has also been excommunicated by the Catholic Church three times.

Madonna had a terrible time when she first moved to New York

While Taylor Swift might make New York sound like a fairy tale, it's not the case when you're young, broke, and trying to break into the entertainment industry all by your lonesome. What many might not know about Madonna is that she had a very tough time when she moved to New York City to pursue a career in music. Prior to moving there, the singer was a bit of a loner. In the 2013 article she wrote for Harper's Bazaar, she explained that she barely had any friends. She was sure that New York was going to be the place where all her dreams come true, and while she did eventually make it big, she first had to survive a series of unfortunate events.

The singer recounted that the city showed her its bad side shortly after her arrival. "The first year, I was held up at gunpoint. Raped on the roof of a building I was dragged up to with a knife in my back and had my apartment broken into three times. I don't know why; I had nothing of value after they took my radio the first time," she wrote.

To keep going took every ounce of determination and perseverance she had, and she felt like giving up some days, but she kept believing in herself and — eventually — the hard times gave way to some success.

She has faced plenty of controversy throughout her career

Madonna has always done whatever she wants — no matter how strange or controversial. Being as outspoken and unashamed as she is has attracted plenty of criticism over the years. At the beginning of her career, Madonna's penchant for reveling in her sexuality led some to brand her a slut. As she got older, the media and critics started to focus on her age instead, claiming that she wasn't behaving appropriately for a woman who was no longer in the prime of her youth. After she made an appearance on "Carpool Karaoke," controversial journalist Piers Morgan told the world how inappropriate he thought her appearance was. "You can't be 58 and dancing around like that. Put it away," he said (via Daily Mail). Perhaps Morgan should do us all a favor and follow his own advice.

Madge has also faced plenty of body shaming, with critics saying she no longer had the right to dress up in leotards given her age. She took a lot of heat on another occasion for flashing her derriere at the 2015 Grammys. "I take care of myself. I'm in good shape. I can show my ass when I'm 56 or 66 — or 76," Madonna told The New York Daily News in the aftermath.

A tragic accident at one of Madonna's tour venues killed two people

In 2009, Madonna faced an unforeseen tragedy when an unfortunate accident occurred ahead of a show in Marseille, France. Six people were injured when part of the Stade Velodrome's roof caved in. The accident injured eight people, two of whom later died. Madonna, who was still touring in Italy when the tragic accident happened, canceled her show and released a statement shortly after via Live Nation, which was quoted by MTV. "I am devastated to have just received this tragic news. My prayers go out to those who were injured and their families, along with my deepest sympathy to all those affected by this heartbreaking news," her statement read.

Madonna paid tribute to the men who died during her Italy show, saying that the accident had left its mark on her too. "It's a great tragedy to me. ... I feel so devastated to be in any way associated with anyone's suffering," she told the crowd.

Two of her marriages failed

Madonna has quite the relationship history, and she's been married twice. Madge met her first husband, actor Sean Penn, when he came to the set of her "Material Girl" music video in 1985. The two fell madly in love and tied the knot on Madge's birthday, only six months after their initial meeting. Madonna told People (via Express) what a catch Penn was. "We have so much in common ... He's really smart and he knows a lot ... His temperament is also similar to mine," she said. Sadly, in 1987, news broke that Madonna was filing for divorce.

After her short-lived first marriage, Madonna found love again in 1998 with filmmaker Guy Ritchie. They got married in 2000, shortly after welcoming their son, Rocco. They adopted their second child, David, in 2006. In 2008 it came to light that the couple was getting a divorce. Sources told People that the divorce was a long time coming. "They were living separate lives and coming together every now and then for the cameras," one insider said. Madonna later told The Sun (via Us Weekly) that she felt trapped in her relationship with Ritchie. "There were times when I felt incarcerated. I wasn't really allowed to be myself," she said.

She lost her battle for custody of her son

A few years after Madonna and Guy Ritchie's divorce, the two became embroiled in a custody battle over their son, Rocco Ritchie. Rocco refused to return home to the United States after he went to visit his dad in London. According to a report by The Sun, Rocco preferred to stay at his dad's because he wasn't a fan of his mother's disciplinary methods. While Madonna's parenting tactics have been questioned in the past, Rocco took issue with his mother taking away his phone after he failed to give his full attention to his studies. The 16-year-old then decided to stay with Ritchie instead. Madonna obtained a court order to get Rocco to come back to the United States to continue his education at his New York high school. The teenager ignored the court order, and a bitter custody battle ensued. Madonna lost this one, with the court ruling in Ritchie's favor.

After the court ruling, Madonna opened up about the custody battle onstage during her "Rebel Heart" tour in Australia. "[E]verybody knows the saga of me and my son Rocco. It's not a fun story to tell or think about. I probably could have enjoyed myself a little bit more on this tour if he hadn't disappeared so suddenly and also if I knew when I would see him again," she said (via Daily Beast).

She and her son, Rocco, had a strained relationship for several years

Madonna's son, Rocco Ritchie, hasn't always been a fan of his mother's strict parenting. Madonna has been very open about her parenting tactics, and while her household rules show a softer side to the singer, her children, especially Rocco, haven't always appreciated her parenting style. Madonna has previously admitted that parenting is challenging but that she has tried her best. "There are no living role models for me. Because nobody does what I do. And that's kind of scary," she told Vogue in 2019.

People first started to suspect trouble between mother and son when Rocco stopped performing with his mom while she was on her 2015 "MDNA" tour. When she was asked about why Rocco opted out of the show, she said it was because he'd lost interest in sharing the stage with her. "Your mom is not that cool when you're 14," she told Entertainment Weekly. The two appeared to remain at odds, especially when Rocco told the court that he wanted to stay with his father and not his mother during the couple's custody battle. While this rift appeared to be a bitter one, the two have made up since. Rocco has credited his mother for inspiring his artwork and rushed to her side when she was admitted to the hospital in 2023.

Madonna was accused of joining a cult

Madonna was 35 when she first sought out some form of religion again. She yearned to find real meaning and purpose in her life, and as a result, she discovered Kabbalah. Kabbalah is defined as Jewish mysticism. Kabbalist Moses Corovero sums up the teachings as follows: "The essence of divin­ity is found in every single thing, nothing but It exists. ...It exists in each existent" (via Union for Reform Judaism).

Shortly after Madonna started exploring Kabbalah, she was accused of joining a cult. Kabbalah is often defined as "occult knowledge" or "mysticism," which might be why some interpret it this way. In the 2013 piece Madonna wrote for Harper's Bazaar, she recounted that the internet went crazy when she started studying Kabbalah. "Kabbalah really freaked people out. It still does," she wrote. "Now, you would think that studying the mystical interpretation of the Old Testament and trying to understand the secrets of the universe was a harmless thing to do. I wasn't hurting anybody."

Madge found the studies fascinating and particularly enjoyed that she was allowed to ask questions and debate some of the answers. The fact that her interest in Kabbalah scared some people was a little amusing to her. "It forced me to ask myself: Is trying to have a relationship with God daring? Maybe it is," she wrote.

Madonna's brothers made her look bad in the media

Longtime fans will remember Madonna's brother, Christopher Ciccone, who used to work alongside her. He designed her outfits, was her closest confidante, made appearances in her music videos, worked as a choreographer and dancer on her shows, and was her trusted personal assistant. That was until things went south in 2008 when he wrote a tell-all book that put Madge in a very bad light, claiming that she introduced him to drugs and treated him badly.

Madonna's other brother, Anthony Ciccone, weighed in with criticisms of his own years later. In 2011, he was homeless and granted an interview to Express in which he blamed his estranged sister for his woes, saying that she and his family had abandoned him during his time of need. "I think, ultimately, she's a lonely person, and unfortunately, it truly is lonely at the top," he said.

Madonna lost her brother to cancer in 2023

More than a decade after Anthony Ciccone accused Madonna of abandoning him, he died of throat cancer and other health issues, including respiratory failure. He was only 66. Anthony was hospitalized at the time of his death, and Madonna footed the bill.

The singer took to her Instagram Stories (via The Mirror) to post a tribute to her brother after his death was made public. Whether the two were on better terms at the time of his death is unclear, but Madge's message seemed to indicate that they were. She posted an old black and white photograph of her and Anthony with some friends accompanied by a heartfelt caption. "Thank you for blowing my mind as a young girl and introducing me to Charlie Parker, Miles David, Buddhism, Taoism, Charles Bukowski, Richard Brautigan, Jack Kerouac, expansive thinking, outside the box," she wrote. "You planted many important seeds."

She had a big health scare during her 2023 tour

That Madonna is no longer a spring chicken can be easy to forget — the singer is well into her 60s — but her performance onstage still defies her age. Madonna collapsed on her bathroom floor in 2023 after suffering a severe bacterial infection. The next thing she knew, she woke up in the ICU. Worried friends told The Sun that they had been concerned for her health for quite some time because she was working too hard on rehearsals for her upcoming tour and refused to slow down. "She was working overtime, but she clearly burnt herself out, and people around her have been politely reminding her that she is not 45 anymore, let alone 25," one friend said.

Madge's road to recovery was anything but swift, and she admitted onstage after continuing her "Celebration" tour (via Yahoo!) that she could hardly walk for a while after getting discharged from the hospital.

Madonna lost many of her friends to AIDS

During her "Celebration" tour in 2023, Madonna took a moment during her show in Amsterdam to pay tribute to all the friends she lost to AIDS over the years. "Today is World AIDS Day," she told the crowd (via Daily Mail). She then continued to explain that many of her friends had contracted the disease in the '80s and didn't get the medical treatment they needed. 

"Nobody in the medical community wanted to do anything about it because they said, 'Well f*** it, they're f*****s. They deserve to die.' It was a pretty devastating, scary time," she said, adding that, at one point, she felt like she was losing people close to her every day. Her best friend, Martin Burgoyne, was one of those people. "I was holding his hand. He was suffering so much he could barely breathe," she told the crowd. "I would have cut off my arms if I could've found a cure for them to live. I watched so many people die, male and female, children, straight, gay, etc. In any case, it was a devastating time for me."

She's faced criticism for altering her appearance

When Madonna took to the stage at the 2023 Grammys, people noticed drastic changes to her face and worried about her appearance. Keyboard warriors quickly took to X (formerly Twitter) to discuss her appearance. "Whaaaaaat happened to Madonna's face?!" one fan asked (via Page Six). "Madonna looks good for her age ... if her age is 2,700-year-old vampire who eats babies and small animals alive," another commented.

Having to deal with the harsh criticism couldn't have been easy for Madge, but in typical Madonna fashion, she quickly put set the haters straight. She took to X to post a photo of herself and captioned it, "Look how cute I am now that swelling from surgery has gone down. Lol." Madge also clapped back at the haters in an Instagram post, saying that she was sick and tired of dealing with all the misogyny and ageism that gets thrown women's way as they age in the entertainment industry. "[We live in] a world that refuses to celebrate women past the age of 45 and feels the need to punish her if she continues to be strong willed, hardworking, and adventurous," she wrote, adding that she refused to apologize for making changes to her appearance. She signed off on the post with a cheeky, "Bow down b****es!"