60 Wild Secrets About Madonna You Probably Didn't Know

In honor of Madonna's birthday on Aug. 16, a look at some of the most interesting facts about Her Madgesty.

By Billy Nilles Aug 16, 2021 10:00 AMTags
Watch: Madonna Talks GLAAD Honor and New Music

There's no one quite like Madonna.

Though there have been many imitators and pretenders to the throne in the 30-plus years that she's been reigning as the Queen of Pop, very few have ever even come close to achieving that sort of cultural longevity and impact. With her forward thinking and countless reinventions, Her Madgesty is responsible for single-handedly crafting the template for the modern pop diva—give or take a Cher. (Hey, everyone can count someone else as inspiration, right?)

Her imprint on pop culture extends far beyond just music, even with 14 albums under her belt. Since her rise to fame in the 1980s, Madonna's added filmmaker, author, entrepreneur, and activist to her resume, always keeping fans on their toes as they wonder what she'll surprise them with next.  

As she told USA Today in 1998, "I am not reinventing myself; I am going through layers and revealing myself. I am on a journey, an adventure that's constantly changing shape."

Madonna's Sweet Family Photos

In honor of Madonna's birthday on Aug. 16—and as a way of thanking her for all she's done to essentially deliver the soundtrack of our lives—we're taking stock of a remarkable life well lived (and only just getting started, if you ask us), one crazy fact at a time.

1. Madonna Louise Ciccone was born on August 16, 1958, in Bay City, Michigan. Never one to not tell it like it is, she once referred to her hometown as "a stinky, little town in Northern Michigan" while on national television.

2. One of six children, Madonna is named after her mother, who died of breast cancer when the future superstar was only 5 years old. To distinguish her from her mother, she was referred to "Little Nonni."

3. A straight-A student, Madonna received a dance scholarship to the University of Michigan.

4. In 1978, Madonna dropped out of college and hightailed it to New York City with only $35 to her name. (Or so the legend goes. According to her brother Christopher Ciccone, she arrived in the Big Apple with more money and contacts.)

5. Trying to make ends meet while studying at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Madonna took work wherever she could find it, including a Dunkin' Donuts. She was reportedly fired for squirting jam in a customer's face.

6. Before going the route of solo artist, Madonna was the founding member of not one, but two bands. She formed Breakfast Club with musician Dan Gilroy, who she met while touring Europe in 1979 as a backup dancer and singer for French disco artist Patrick Hernandez. The two lived together in an abandoned synagogue in Queens.

7. A year or so later, she left the band (and Gilroy) to form Emmy with new boyfriend Stephen Bray. Their music caught the attention of Sire Records founder Seymour Stein, who offered her a singles deal.

8. Madonna's first single, "Everybody," was released on October 6, 1982. Her debut album, Madonna, was released in July 1983, earning her first top 10 hit, "Borderline," in 1984.

9. Her oft-imitated iconic '80s look (think lace tops, skirts over capri pants, fishnets, lots of bracelets, lots of crucifixes) was actually the creation of stylist and jewelry designer Maripol.

10. She single-handedly set the bar for all other artists at the MTV Video Music Awards with her iconic performance of "Like a Virgin" at the cable network's first-ever ceremony in 1984.

11. Madonna's first film role was a cameo as a club singer in the 1985 movie Vision Quest. (Desperately Seeking Susan, which featured the budding star in a much larger role, came out later that same year.)

12. To date, she's released 14 albums. Her total album 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.

13. Her 2008 Sticky & Sweet Tour was so successful, she broke the record she'd set only two years earlier with her Confessions Tour. It still remains the highest-grossing concert tour of all time by a female artist.

14. In 1990, Madonna was nominated to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. However, she showed no interest in accepting and the invitation expired.

15. Madonna has appeared in 19 films over the course of her career, with her starring role in the 1996 film adaptation of the musical Evita earning her a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy.

16. On the flip side, she's won nine Razzies, including the dubious honor of Worst Actress of the Century in 2000.

17. Roles Madonna sought out: Catwoman in Batman Returns, Ginger (Sharon Stone's role) in Casino, and Rachel (Whitney Houston's role) in The Bodyguard.

18. Roles Madonna turned down: Leading roles in Showgirls (Can you even imagine?!) and The Fabulous Baker Boys.

19. Madonna has been a vegetarian since the age of 15.

20. She suffers from brontophobia, which is a fear of thunder and lightning.

21. She's been married twice, first to actor Sean Penn from 1985-89 and then to British director Guy Ritchie from 2000-08.

22. The album True Blue was dedicated to Penn.

23. Gwyneth Paltrow served as the maid of honor during her Scottish wedding to Ritchie.

24. Madonna is the only artist to have performed at Live Aid in 1985, Live 8 in 2005, and Live Earth in 2007.

25. She published her first children's book, The English Roses, in 2003. She's since published a total of 10.

26. Madonna has six children. Her first, Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon, was born in 1996. She was followed by Rocco John Ritchie in 2000, and the adoptions of Malawai-born David Banda in 2006, Chifundo "Mercy" James in 2009, and twin sisters Esther and Stella in 2017.

27. In 1989, she signed a $5 million dollar endorsement deal with Pepsi tied to the release of her "Like a Prayer" music video, but after the uproar caused by the controversial video and its blasphemous Catholic imagery, the deal was called off and the commercial never even aired.

28. During a 1994 appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, she uttered the f-word 13 times and handed her panties over to the host, asking him to smell them. The appearance ranked as one of the most-bleeped single episodes in the show's history.

29. In 2010, along with manager Guy Oseary and Mark Mastrov, the founder and CEO of 24 Hour Fitness, Madonna ventured into the fitness business with her chain of health clubs called Hard Candy Fitness, named after her 2008 album Hard Candy.

30. She hates the color orange.

31. And don't even think about sending her hydrangeas for her birthday. She absolutely loathes the flower.

32. Thanks to her mother's French-Canadian ancestry, Madonna is a distant relative of Celine Dion.

33. Her very first tour was supported by none other than The Beastie Boys.

34. "Vogue" was originally only going to be a B-side because Madonna didn't believe it was a strong enough song to be released as a single.

35. When she released her Sex book in 1992, full of explicit photos of the Material Girl, it proved to be so popular that a re-print had to be ordered within 48 hours and it topped the New York Times Best Seller list within a week.

36. When Madonna took the field at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2012, her headlining performance for the Super Bowl XLVI Halftime Show became what was then the most-watched Super Bowl halftime show in history with 114 million viewers, more than the game itself.

37. The first song to ever make a strong impression on her was Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walkin," which she told Time in 1985 summed up her own "take-charge attitude."

38. In 2004, after dedicating herself to Kabbalah, she adopted the name Esther, which means "star" in Persian.

39. With 38 entries as of 2012's "Give Me All Your Luvin," Madonna had the most Top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart until Drake tied her in 2020.

40. Until 2011, she held the record for achieving 20 top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 in the shortest amount of time. She was usurped by Rihanna.

41. Madonna's noted major influences include Debbie Harry, Chrissie Hynde, Karen Carpenter, The Supremes, and Led Zepplin.

42. She's been nominated for induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame three times, for the 2014, 2016, and 2017 ceremonies, but continues to come up short.

43. She was, however, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008—her first year of eligibility.

44. In 2005, she suffered three cracked ribs, a broken collarbone, and a broken hand following a fall from her horse outside her home in London.

45. She has directed two feature films, 2007's Filth and Wisdom and 2011's W.E., neither of which received the warmest of receptions from critics or audiences.

46. Of 28 Grammy nominations, Madonna's taken home seven trophies.

47. She once dated Vanilla Ice, but found herself incredibly jealous, calling him in the middle of the night to see if he was cheating on her. The relationship only lasted eight months.

48. Other suitors of note include: Warren Beatty, Tupac, Dennis Rodman, Lenny Kravitz, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and—believe it or not—John F. Kennedy, Jr.

49. For years, the domain name Madonna.com was used by a porn company. In 2000, the singer successfully took them to court and got the web address back.

50. The Pope actually asked people not to attend her 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour, due to her simulated masturbation during "Like a Virgin."

51. In 2017, she opened the Mercy James Institute for Pediatric Surgery and Intensive Care in Blantyre, Malawi. The hospital was named after her adoptive daughter.

52. Over the course of her career, Madonna has two videos banned by MTV: 1990's "Justify My Love" and 2000's "What It Feels Like for a Girl."

53. Her 2005 single "Hung Up," which featured a sample of ABBA's "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)," is only one of two instances in which the Swedish pop group have allowed their work to be used in such a capacity.

54. In 2007, after announcing her departure from Warner Bros. Records, Madonna became the first artist to sign with Live Nation in a $120 million, 10-year deal.

55. In 2017, she left New York City behind and began a new chapter in her and her family's lives as residents of Lisbon, Portugal.

56. Madonna holds the record for most costume changes in a film with an impressive 85 in Evita.

57. She made her Broadway debut in 1998 playing Karen in David Mamet's play Speed-the-Plow.

58. She holds the distinction of being the world's richest recording artist, with a net worth estimated somewhere around $800 million.

59. She also holds the title of most pre-orders in a single day on iTunes thanks to MDNA's placing on charts in 50 countries across the world in 2012.

60. In 2006, scientists named a species of microscopic water-dwelling organism known as the "water bear" after Madonna and there's reason for her to be proud that it bears her name. The water bear is basically invincible, able to live upwards of 120 years without food or water while withstanding conditions that would kill most other living species. Fitting, no?

(This story was originally published on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018 at 3:00 a.m. PT.)

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