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madonna born in 1958 near Detroit, madonna Ciccone was the eldest daughter of her engineer father and housewife mother's eight children. ( madonna's mother died of cancer when she was six.) The plucky girl exhibited a showbiz flair at a young age and signed up for such artistic outlets as school shows, the cheerleading squad, piano lessons, and ballet classes. madonna's dancing skills earned her a scholarship to attend the University of Michigan. In 1978, two years into her college studies, madonna grew impatient for stardom, dropped out, and moved to New York. Legend has it that she set down in Times Square with only $35 and abundant ambition to her name.

A series of low-wage jobs, including a stint behind the counter at the Times Square Dunkin' Donuts, ensued before madonna landed some short-lived gigs with the acclaimed dance troupes of Alvin Ailey and Martha Graham. Her restless aspirations prevented madonna from remaining a nameless face hidden among a sea of dancers for long — besides, madonna attention had wavered away from dance to music. The dancer turning singer joined a succession of small-time bands and, during the early '80s, she first tried her hand at writing songs, gradually learning to play guitar and piano. madonna landed gigs singing at local dance clubs, attracting considerable attention for madonna boogie-inducing tunes and madonna's enthusiastic, naughty stage presence. In 1982, star DJ Mark Kamins supplied madonna with her big break: He created a club-scene hit from one of madonna demo singles, "Everybody," and introduced the budding performer to Warner Bros. executives, who liked what they heard — and saw — and promptly signed her to a recording contract. Madonna's eponymous debut album was released to zero fanfare in 1983. Tracks from the record nonetheless became must-plays in New York's nightclubs. The record's first single, "Holiday," made the leap from dance-floor turntables to airplay by inner-city radio stations and, incredibly, into America's Top 20 chart. In quick succession, "Lucky Star" and "Borderline" followed the debut single's trajectory. Both those tunes were boosted by music videos that introduced the world to Madonna's intriguing look: layered mesh halter tops, exposed midriff, short skirts, and religious accessories, all topped off by a pointedly bad dye-job. While hits from Madonna were still camped out on the charts, Warner Bros. released Like a Virgin in 1984. Its title track became the singer's first No. 1 single, and the album also topped the charts. In 1985, Madonna sold more singles and albums than any other artist that year.

Now a certified sensation, Madonna embarked on a sold-out tour, appeared in the feature films Vision Quest (1985) and Desperately Seeking Susan (1985), and made her theatrical debut in a production of David Rabe's Goose and Tom-Tom. The invitation-only play was unremarkable, with one exception: It served to introduce Madonna to co-star Sean Penn, and the two soon became an item. The media-magnetic couple wed in 1985 — on Madonna's birthday, Aug. 16 — in Malibu, Calif. The partnership produced the truly dreadful film Shanghai Surprise (1986) and zillions of tabloid headlines and ended in divorce less than four years later.

Controversy — not entirely unwanted — became Madonna's next companion. The title track to her 1989 album Like a Prayer reaped tremendous publicity by virtue of its highly contested music video, which featured a slip-clad Madonna dancing before burning crosses, kissing an African-American saint, and displaying spontaneous stigmata. The resulting outcry from religious groups prompted Pepsi to cancel its sponsorship of her tour and to pull the plug on a TV commercial starring the kinky video vixen. And what lesson did Madonna take away from this escapade? Scandal sells. She went on to employ similar promotional techniques to boost ticket sales for her 1990 "Blonde Ambition" tour, box-office figures for the documentary Truth or Dare (1991), and sales of the X-rated Sex book and the similarly themed album Erotica (1992). In 1992, Madonna cemented her superstardom with a seven-year, $60 million deal with Time Warner. Under the pact, she became head of her own label, Maverick, which she formed with longtime manager Freddy DeMann. Initially dismissed as a vanity studio, Maverick has succeeded beyond even the Material Girl's most ambitious dreams, thanks largely to best-selling artists Alanis Morissette and the English techno band Prodigy.

After the uproar surrounding Sex subsided, madonna, realizing she was seriously overexposed, slipped out of the limelight and into a handful of low-key film roles in such indie fare as Blue in the Face and Four Rooms (both 1995). When madonna reemerged, she embodied two new personae: mother-to-be and serious actress. On Oct. 14, 1996, madonna and then-boyfriend Carlos Leon welcomed daughter Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon — whom mama Madonna calls Lola — into the world. In addition, the lambasted star of such filmic flops as Who's That Girl? (1987) and Body of Evidence (1993) appeared as the titular heroine of Evita (1996). It was a role she seemed born to play. At least the Hollywood Foreign Press Association thought so — it honored Madonna with a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy. Ever the shape-shifting provocateur, Madonna has built her career by aggressively strip-mining pop culture, donning a spectrum of usually shocking, always rebellious cultural personae like so many costume changes in her quest for self-realization. But in the wake of Lourdes' birth, a singularly sedate, subdued, and spiritually centered woman emerged: a hardworking and privacy-guarding mom devoted to raising her kid, managing her empire, and selecting her artistic projects very carefully.

Nowhere was madonna's newfound state of meditative reserve and self-awareness more readily in evidence than on her 1998 release Ray of Light, a moody, introspective (yet danceable!) album she created with the express intent of affecting people "in a quieter way," as she related to one interviewer. And while Madonna intended to have a quieter affect with Ray of Light, the public's reaction was anything but. The album quickly jumped to the top of the charts and has since been certified four-times platinum. Produced by techno whiz William Orbit, Ray of Light, madonna's first full-length of new material since 1994's Bedtime Stories, showed the Material Mom coming to terms with new styles of dance music and pushing her traditional pop sound in new directions. Clearly, collaborating with Orbit worked, as her contribution to the Austin Powers 2 soundtrack, "Beautiful Stranger," was also a hit and won her a Best Video From a Film MTV Music Video Award. madonna had reinvented herself yet again.

Two years after the success of Ray of Light, madonna revealed some changes in her personal life, as well. At the Manhattan, N.Y., premiere of her film The Next Best Thing (which contained another Orbit-produced soundtrack hit, an unexpected cover of Don McLean's "American Pie"), in which she played a mom opposite Rupert Everett, madonna confirmed that she had been dating 32-year-old British Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels director Guy Ritchie. The premiere marked the couple's first public appearance together and caused almost as much stir as the film itself when it was revealed that the couple had actually been dating for the last two years and were indeed serious about their relationship. Not too long after making public her relationship with Ritchie, the media was given even more fodder for gossip columns worldwide. It seemed that the madonna and the director were going to have a child together. In April, the New York Post and Britain's Sun, as well as just about every other tabloid, began screaming that the unborn child was a boy, a rumor that was quickly put to rest by madonna herself. "Despite what you may have read … I do not know the sex of my baby and I have no plans for marriage," she said in a statement.

No plans for marriage? Could madonna and Guy be breaking up? If you believed the papers, it seemed like the expecting couple was heading toward splitsville. Reports that the two were having apparently grandiose turf wars ran rampant, with Ritchie wanting to raise their child in London and madonna insisting that they all pack their bags and move to Los Angeles. And once again, madonna denied it all. Her rep, Liz Rosenberg, justified the love of madonna and Guy and said that they had no such dispute and would move "wherever their careers take them." All was forgotten on Aug. 11, however, when madonna got an early birthday present. The singer, just days before her Aug. 16 birthday, delivered a baby boy approximately one month prior to her official due date. Her publicist issued a statement announcing the birth of her son, Rocco Ritchie. At the time no details were given regarding the health or weight of her child, and even the location of the birth was kept hush-hush. Mystery shrouded the details of the birth, and a BBC article went so far as to claim that madonna had a detached placenta, which cut off the baby's oxygen supply and required an emergency Caesarian section in order to save its life.

"None of that is true," said a statement released by madonna's publicist. "Both the baby and madonna are home and healthy and fine. There was never any life-threatening situation to anybody." Little Rocco, it was later revealed, weighed 5 pounds, 9 ounces. No explanation was ever given as to why madonna delivered Rocco so early. As if she wasn't busy enough already, madonna dropped another bundle of joy into the world in September. No, not another child. This time, madonna delivered Music, her first full-length album since the Grammy-winning Ray of Light. It was, of course, a huge hit, but much more than anyone could have expected. Music entered the album sales charts at No. 1, not just in the United States, but in 22 other countries, as well, including her new adopted home, England. Selling 420,000 copies in the first week in the U.S. alone, Music was madonna's first album to hit the top slot in 11 years — not bad for a 42-year-old mother of two

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