What You Never Knew About Madonna

Like her, love her, or feel something else entirely, there's no denying that Madonna is one of the most famous people on the planet. The singer, actress, and humanitarian has done a lot in her life, from launching numerous hit singles to starring in several movies to giving birth to and adopting six children. Madonna has been through two marriages and several relationships, some of which have been with high-profile men.


Madonna got her start when she moved to New York City in 1977. She once told Larry King that singing was not high on her to-do list as a professional, and instead she hoped to become a professional dancer. After she realized it would be hard to make a living that way, Madonna turned to singing (via CNN).

In the years that followed, she would go on to sell hundreds of thousands of albums — and she has set numerous world records (per Guinness World Records). Here are a few more things you might not know about Madonna.

Her real name is Madonna Louise Ciccone

It might be hard to believe that someone who is culturally relevant in 2022 was born all the way back in 1958, but Madonna Louise Ciccone arrived Earthside in that very year. While she would eventually drop her middle and last names as a performer, Madonna is the name she was born with (per Interview Magazine).


In 1999, Madonna explained to Larry King that the decision to use only her first name wasn't a particularly complicated one. As she put it, "Well, I was born with that name. I was named after my mother. And I guess when I started making records, Madonna Ciccone seemed too long and complicated, and I just got stuck with Madonna" (via CNN).

However, Madonna definitely used her first and last name up until that point, which she says was around the time she turned 23. And while some might have thought that going by one name would be a challenge, she admitted to King that it was actually easy to do. She explained, "It seemed completely natural. It means so many things. But I just felt like it was a very good stage name" (via CNN).


Madonna says she moved to New York with only $35

Madonna once reportedly claimed to have arrived in New York City with only $35 in her pocket, describing this as "the bravest thing I've ever done." However, her brother Christopher Ciccone later claimed in his book "Life With My Sister Madonna" that the story was made up (per Showbiz Cheatsheet).


It's worth noting that by his own admission, by the time his book came out, Ciccone and Madonna were not on speaking terms. This was a departure from the famously close professional relationship the two had enjoyed since the beginning of her time in New York, when he worked as a backup dancer for her. From there, Ciccone became her dresser and then director of her live concerts. She replaced him in 2001, and that's when the trouble began brewing between the siblings (per The Guardian).

For her part, Madonna told Larry King in 1999 that she never meant to be a singer when she showed up in New York with the money she had and not much else. She said, "But when I left Michigan and I came to New York, that was my goal, to be a professional dancer. And I sort of fell into singing by accident in a way" (via CNN).


She was in a band before going solo

One way Madonna made ends meet during her early years in New York was by joining a band called Breakfast Club in the 1980s. As Billboard noted in its review of a documentary about the band, Madonna had a lot of roles: She was the group's drummer, songwriter, guitarist, and keyboard player. She started the band with her then-boyfriend Dan Gilroy, with whom she had been living in an abandoned synagogue (via Boy Culture).


Madonna didn't stick around for long, and even left the group before they released their first single. Luckily for the rest of Breakfast Club, her departure didn't prevent them from enjoying some mild success. Billboard noted that Breakfast Club's first album was ranked No. 43 on the Billboard 200 album chart when it was released in 1987, and their single "Right on Track" made it all the way to the seventh most popular song in the United States when it came out in March of that same year.

Madonna was in her first movie in 1985

A lot of people will likely identify "Desperately Seeking Susan" as Madonna's first film role, and that's for a good reason: The 1985 movie launched the singer into stardom as an actress. However, Madonna was actually in another movie in 1985 before "Susan" came out. 


"Vision Quest" came out in February 1985, two months before both "Susan" came out and Madonna's first-ever U.S.-wide tour took place. Madonna had a role as a nightclub singer, and while it wasn't the kind of thing that some would write home to brag about, her character was still memorable. Matthew Modine, who starred in the movie, later told Yahoo Movies that he wasn't completely impressed by Madonna's appearance in the movie, and it seemed like he wasn't the only one. He said, "She looked like Boy George. The producers were saying this girl was going to be such a big star, but I remember people not really being impressed."

She has been married twice

Madonna has walked down the aisle twice. She married ex-husband Sean Penn in 1985 before they split up in 1989, and she and Guy Ritchie were married from 2000 to 2008. Madonna and Ritchie share a son named Rocco (per Life & Style).


Madonna and Penn had a famously dramatic relationship. The pair were often at the center of stories about what was or wasn't going on in their relationship, and Madonna later admitted to Larry King that neither of them really appreciated the attention. As she said, "I didn't like the attention, the focus on the state of our marriage. I like attention when it's about the work, but not about relationships" (via CNN). Madonna added that despite the ups and downs she and Penn experienced in their short marriage, she learned a lot from the ex-husband she described as "talented" and "incredible." Madonna said, "Even though things didn't work out for us in terms of our marriage, I don't regret marrying him for a moment" (via CNN).


Madonna and Ritchie were married for about double the time as she and Penn, but the singer later told The Sun that she didn't feel supported or even enjoy herself in the relationship. As she put it, "There were times I felt incarcerated. I wasn't really allowed to be myself" (via Hello! Magazine).

Madonna has six children

Madonna has six children: Lourdes Leon, David Banda, Stella Ciccone, Rocco Ritchie, Mercy James, and Estere Ciccone. Madonna was 38 years old when she gave birth to her oldest, Lourdes, and she told Larry King on CNN that she never regretted the decision to become a mom. As she put it, "Every day I am in complete wonderment of her and I love being woken up in the morning. I love her coming in the room and kissing me and waking me up."


Madonna welcomed son Rocco with ex-husband Guy Ritchie at the age of 42, and then adopted Banda in 2006, James in 2009, and twins Stella and Estere in 2017 (via People). She's reportedly had up-and-down relationships with her children over the years, and she once told Vogue that giving her kids cell phones contributed to the end of the relationship she had built with them. As she put it, "It ended my relationship with my children, really ... They became too inundated with imagery and started to compare themselves to other people, and that's really bad for self-growth."

However, in recent years, it's become clear that she has a strong bond with all six children. On August 18, 2022, she revealed on Instagram that all of her children were on hand to celebrate her 64th birthday in Sicily, Italy (via People).


The Beastie Boys opened on Madonna's first tour

Madonna's very first tour took place in 1985, and she had a fairly unexpected opening act: the Beastie Boys. Adam Horovitz, also known as Ad-Rock, later told "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" that Madonna's fans weren't very happy about the selection at all, but the singer actually liked having the audience unhappy with her opener because it meant good things for her. As he said, "We played the first couple shows and they hated us. She realized that [the audience] hated us so much, that by the time she got on stage, it was the greatest thing ever."


The music website Do You Know Hardcore? has offered more details about what that tour was really like. The site claims that at one tour stop at Madison Square Garden in New York, over 15,000 fans booed the Beastie Boys for their entire set. On top of that, the group lost their original DJ, Rick Rubin, who reportedly left the tour after the first week and never returned (via The Washington Post).

Her song Vogue is one of the most recognizable of all time

Madonna has a lot of hits, but her song "Vogue" has been described as the biggest. As FanSided wrote in 2000, the song is one of Madonna's "most recognizable and successful singles of all time." Despite the enthusiasm that many have had for the song since it was first released, that doesn't mean it's perfect. In fact, FanSided argues that the song has quite a few problems — including that some members of New York's queer community felt at the time that Madonna's release of the song was a form of cultural appropriation, as "vogue" was a style of dance that was originated with LGBTQ people of color.


Shep Pettibone, the producer behind the hit, waited 20 years after the song's release to speak about it. In an interview with Billboard, Pettibone admitted that the song was put together on a budget of $5,000 and that Madonna recorded it in a basement. As he put it, "They had converted a closet that had bi-fold doors on it and they had put a sliding glass door on it and that was the vocal booth." And while Pettibone initially imagined that the song would be a B-side for another song, once record executives at Madonna's label heard it, they knew they had a hit.

Madonna was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008

Madonna had a major year in 2008 in a lot of ways, and one of those is that she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This was her first year of eligibility, which made the induction all the more impactful for her. During her speech acknowledging the award, Madonna said of the career she's enjoyed, "I felt like I had been possessed by some magic, and luckily for me I have been miraculously and continuously possessed by some kind of magic" (per Reuters).


Madonna was inducted into the Hall of Fame by singer and collaborator Justin Timberlake, who worked with her on most of the songs for her album "Hard Candy." Timberlake praised Madonna while inducting her, and noted that "nobody has gotten into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame looking this damn fine."

She was inducted after spending decades as one of the most successful performing artists of all time. As Reuters noted, at the time of her induction, she had sold more than 200 million albums.

The singer dated Vanilla Ice

Given her huge amount of fame, it's not too surprising that Madonna has had her fair share of high-profile relationships. Many people know about her marriages to famous men, but Madonna has also enjoyed long and short relationships with other famous faces. In fact, she and rapper Vanilla Ice were together for nearly a year, calling it quits after eight months.


Vanilla Ice later opened up about their time together while being interviewed on "The Dan Patrick Show." As he explained, he was initially surprised that Madonna was interested in him at all. He said, "She's aggressive. She wanted me. She was much older, so I was like 'Whoa, what's going on with this?'" He revealed that Madonna made it clear she was specifically interested in him. He explained, "She came into the dressing room right after the show. She grabbed me and we were having cocktails that night." When Dan Patrick asked if he had been in love with Madonna, he said no.

Madonna and John F. Kennedy Jr. had a flirty dynamic

Vanilla Ice isn't the only interesting person Madonna dated. She and John F. Kennedy Jr., son of the former president and Jackie Kennedy, met in 1985 after one of her shows in New York City. Madonna was married to Sean Penn at the time, but three years later she was divorced and bumped into Kennedy for a second time (via InStyle).


There are different accounts of how involved the two really were. A friend of Kennedy's told People that the pair didn't progress much further beyond flirting, explaining, "It was a flirtation, and when other people referred to her as M around that time, just by her first initial, he would say, 'I started that.' He called her M when he wrote or faxed her."

The friend went on to add that there was something between the pair, but their busy schedules kept getting in the way of finding out what that might have been. The friend ultimately concluded that while the two did meet up a couple of times, it wasn't what most would consider a relationship (via People).

She opened a hospital in Malawi

Madonna has adopted four of her children from Malawi, and the country is meaningful to her. In 2017, she returned there for another special reason: to open a hospital for children, a move that was met with enthusiasm. Madonna took CBS' Tracy Smith on an early tour of the hospital that same year, telling the news anchor that she hadn't planned to open the hospital until it happened (via CBS).


Madonna explained, "I'm a crazy person. What am I doing this for? So here we are. It happened. It's built, and it's up and running. And children's lives are being saved as a result. And I feel like, you know, sometimes you can't think too far in advance."

Building the hospital, which is named after her daughter Mercy James, wasn't an easy process. Madonna previously had other projects in the country, including the Raising Malawi Academy for Girls. The school was accused of misusing its funds at one point (via The New York Times). Madonna went on to partner with the local agency buildOn to build 10 classrooms in the country, but the singer later described the classrooms as schools, which angered the country's president at the time (per The Guardian).


Madonna moved to Portugal in 2017

Madonna made a pretty major life change in 2017, when she decided to move herself and her children to Portugal. The move wasn't quite as unexpected for Madonna as some might have thought, and as she later revealed to Vogue Italia, the decision had more to do with her son David's ambition as a soccer player than anything else. Madonna told the magazine that the family chose Lisbon after debating three cities that all have excellent soccer schools. 


Madonna added that she wasn't especially happy with the United States at the time. As she put it, "I felt like we needed a change, and I wanted to get out of America for a minute — as you know, this is not America's finest hour — not that leaving America makes anything different or changes anything." On top of that, it's important to her as a parent to make sure her children are able to live around different people who have different backgrounds, so the move ended up making sense for a lot of reasons (per Vogue Italia).

In the movie Evita, she changed costumes 85 times

In 1996, Madonna starred in the movie "Evita" as Eva Perón, the former first lady of Argentina and a cultural icon. At the time, Madonna was beyond thrilled with the opportunity. She told Mick St. Michael in 2004 that the role had a profound impact on her. As she reportedly said, "This is the role I was born to play. I put everything of me into this because it was much more than a role in a movie. It was exhilarating and intimidating at the same time ... And I am prouder of 'Evita' than anything else I have done."


The movie and Madonna's role in it also became well-known for another reason: She changed costumes 85 times in the course of the film. She even set the world record for the most costume changes in a film for a character. As noted by Guinness World Records, she also wore "39 hats, 45 pairs of shoes, 56 pairs of earrings, and 42 hair designs."