Shock and awe: That pretty much sums up how we feel about Madonna. No one has yet been able to combine talent and ambition with controversy and reinvention in quite the same way she has — all while managing to keep the world watching well into her fourth decade as a professional performer. In honor of the Material Girl's 60th birthday on Aug. 16, 2018, we're taking a walk down memory lane and celebrating a life that's often imitated, but never duplicated. Keep reading for more photos from Madonna's wild life…
Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone was born on Aug. 16, 1958, in a suburb of Detroit, the eldest daughter among five siblings in Madonna and Silvio Ciccone's tight-knit Italian-Catholic family. Her mother died after a battle with breast cancer when Madonna was just 5, an event that continues to shape her life. "The anguish of losing my mother left me with a certain kind of loneliness and an incredible longing for something. If I hadn't had that emptiness, I wouldn't have been so driven," Madonna told Scotland's No. 1 magazine in 2012. "Her death had a lot to do with me saying, after I got over my heartache, I'm going to be really strong if I can't have my mother. I'm going to take care of myself."
RELATED: Stars turning 60 in 2018
Madonna was a cheerleader in high school (seen here in 1974) as well as an honor student. "I studied and I got good grades," she told Vanity Fair. "I wanted to be somebody." Two years after enrolling at the University of Michigan on a dance scholarship, she dropped out and moved to New York City to pursue her dream of being a professional dancer.
Madonna (here in 1982) worked as a dancer, model and singer to make ends meet during her early days in New York City in the late '70s and early '80s. She formed two bands — Breakfast Club and Emmy — before getting her break as a solo artist when her song "Everybody" became a success on the club scene. "I thought everything was about having everyone adore you," she once told People. "I came to New York dreaming of becoming a professional dancer and somehow I fell into music. Everything following that was like, 'Oh my God! What's happening to my life?' You get caught up in that."
Her career as a pop star exploded with the mainstream success for "Lucky Star" and "Holiday," but Madonna's performance of her controversial song "Like a Virgin" at the 1984 MTV Video Music Awards — the image of her writhing around on stage in a wedding dress and her now-infamous "boy toy" belt is seared into the brains of a generation — unleashed her first international pop-culture moment on the world.
After establishing herself as a music star, Madonna ventured into acting, playing a character who shared the same real-life sartorial instincts in 1985's "Desperately Seeking Susan" alongside Rosanna Arquette. The film spawned not only a hugely successful new song with Madonna's "Into the Groove," but popularized the now-iconic lace-shirt-over-a-black-bra look paired with jelly bracelets — and lots of them.
Just as droves of women were stepping out in leggings, lace gloves and bows topping teased hair, Madonna began a never-ending physical metamorphosis: She chopped off her long hair in favor of a strikingly short, blond crop cut that took center stage in her video for "Papa Don't Preach" in 1986.
After meeting on the set of her "Material Girl" video, publicity-hungry Madonna and intensely private bad-boy actor Sean Penn embarked on a passionate romance and wed in 1985 atop a cliff in Malibu. But the marriage, marked by violence and jealousy, was over just two years later. Asked about her then-husband by NBC's Jane Pauley in a 1987 interview, Madonna summed up their roller-coaster romance in two words: "Opposites attract."
Madonna and Sean Penn's marriage wasn't their only failure. The couple co-starred in 1986's "Shanghai Surprise," a film that was not only unsuccessful at the box office, but one that made her a laughingstock. "I look back and think, 'Well, I invited it. I made some really stupid choices,'" she later told People. "It taught me to be more scrupulous."
The year 1987 was a huge one for Madonna: She made another movie, "Who's That Girl," which fared far better than the disaster that had been "Shanghai Surprise." She embarked on a wildly successful world tour of the same name — cementing her penchant for skimpy stage costumes. And as the year drew to a close, she served Sean Penn with divorce papers.
Man-eater Madonna met her match when she started dating legendary Hollywood lothario Warren Beatty — who was two decades her senior — in 1990 after they co-starred in "Dick Tracy." He appeared in her groundbreaking 1991 documentary "Truth or Dare," where he made his feelings about her attention-mongering lifestyle crystal clear. "There's nothing to say off camera," he said, mocking her. "Why would you say something if it's off camera? What point is there existing?" Fifteen months after their romance began, it was over.
Some of Madonna's greatest relationships were never romantic: Designer Jean Paul Gaultier created one of her most iconic looks — a pink cone-shaped brassiere — which the singer wore on her Blonde Ambition tour in 1990. The famous garment sold for $52,000 at Christie's Pop Culture auction in 2012, cementing its status as one of pop music's most legendary looks.
Madonna cozied up to Vanilla Ice at a party following the premiere of her documentary "Truth or Dare" in Los Angeles on May 6, 1991. The duo were an item for about eight months before calling it quits in 1992 after she released her coffee table book "Sex," which displeased the rapper. "I broke up with her after she printed [the book] because I was hurt to be an unwitting part of this slutty package," he told News of the World. Ouch.
Madonna went brunette — and back in time — to play a female baseball player in 1992's "A League of Their Own." But in a letter she wrote to photographer pal Steven Meisel during filming in the Windy City, she didn't seem very excited about making the ensemble movie, which co-starred Geena Davis and Rosie O'Donnell. "I cannot suffer anymore than I have in the past month learning how to play baseball with a bunch of girls (yuk) in Chicago (double yuk)," she wrote. "I have a tan, I am dirty all day and I hardly ever wear make-up… And when God decided where the beautiful men were going to live in the world, he did not choose Chicago."
Madonna met personal trainer Carlos Leon in 1994 and two years later, they welcomed daughter Lourdes. While pregnant with Lola, Madonna filmed "Evita" and just two months after giving birth, attended its premiere looking slim again, with Leon by her side. But the relationship wouldn't last: The pair split a few months after Madonna won a Golden Globe for her performance in "Evita." Perhaps surprisingly, there were no lingering hard feelings about the relationship's demise. "I have no regrets. I wouldn't change anything," Carlos told People in 2011. "I got the best thing out of that relationship, and that's my daughter. My daughter is everything to me."
Motherhood did little to slow Madonna down, although it did make her more spiritual. She started following Kabbalah, a branch of Jewish mysticism, in the mid-'90s, and her newfound spirituality was a clear influence on her seventh studio album, "Ray of Light." Her chameleon-like transformation unfolded as she performed songs from the critically praised album, including "Nothing Really Matters" at the 1999 Grammy Awards costumed as a futuristic geisha.
In 1999 — despite her affinity for patterned cowboy hats, like the one she wore to a Versace fashion show that September with Lola in tow — single mom Madonna found a new man. She was introduced to British director Guy Ritchie by Sting and Trudie Styler, and love bloomed. The following year, they made Lola a big sister with the birth of their first child together, son Rocco Ritchie.
Madonna and Guy Ritchie baptized son Rocco in Scotland days before their Christmastime wedding there in 2000, signaling the birth of a new era in the diva's life: lady of the manor. She earned a very British new nickname — Madge — and spoke in an odd yet distinctly English accent for years to come.
Motherhood and marriage did little to quell Madonna's appetite for shocking her fans. At the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards, Madge shared an intimate kiss with a pop star desperate to follow in her footsteps — Britney Spears. But Madonna was far from ready to officially pass the torch to a new generation of pop stars; it was more like she was simply showing them how it's done.
Compelled by the plight of orphaned children in Malawi, Madonna started funding education programs there and, along with Guy Ritchie, adopted a child from the African country: son David Banda. Her new route to motherhood was not without controversy, however, as critics accused her of using her money and fame to circumvent laws requiring prospective parents to establish long-term residency in the poor country.
Madonna shifted her musical focus again to establish herself as an electronic artist with the release of "Confessions on a Dance Floor" in 2005. She broke new ground again — and memorably made jaws drop as she flaunted her flawlessly toned body in a lavender leotard — when she performed its first single, "Hung Up," to open the 2006 Grammy Awards alongside a hologram of critically lauded band the Gorillaz.
Madonna appeared by Guy Ritchie's side at the September 2008 premiere of his film "RocknRolla," but a month later, they confirmed their marriage was over. "When you start off, everything's great and lovely, and the person you've married is flawless, and you're flawless," Madonna told Newsweek in 2012, giving rare insight into her relationship with the director, who's 11 years her junior. "Then time goes by, and you share a life, you have children, and there are cracks in the veneer. It's not as romantic as it used to be. You think, 'This isn't what I thought it was going to be,' and 'How much am I willing to sacrifice?'"
Three years after adopting son David, Madonna embraced motherhood once again, only this time as a single mother. She added a fourth child to her brood: rambunctious daughter Mercy James, whom she also adopted from Malawi.
Madonna won her second Golden Globe in 2012 for writing the original song "Masterpiece" from "W.E.," her sophomore directorial effort. The historical drama — which centers around two love stories, one of which is the romance between the former King Edward VIII and divorcée Wallis Simpson — earned another Golden Globe nomination (best original motion picture score) and an Oscar nomination for best costume design.
Madonna dabbled in dating a few more younger men following her divorce from Guy Ritchie, including model Jesus Luz followed by dancer Brahim Zaibat (pictured), who's 30 years her junior. Zaibat accompanied Madonna on her successful MDMA world tour in 2012, but by late 2013, their relationship had run its course following three years together.
At 55, an age when her peers are qualifying for AARP benefits, Madonna was, of course, instead posing on red carpets in lingerie (like she did at the 2013 Billboard Music Awards) — proving that age is only a number, and that shunning the sun and following a strict macrobiotic diet absent of sugar, wheat, eggs, meats and dairy clearly does a body good.
Madonna gave longtime fans a glimmer of nostalgic hope that perhaps she'd found love once again with ex-husband Sean Penn when they were photographed at an art exhibit together in 2013, but sadly, a reconciliation wasn't in the cards. Although an eyewitness who saw him in the front row at her October 2013 "MDMA" concert in Los Angeles told Us Weekly he was saying, "She's so hot," while watching his ex perform — and despite pal Debi Mazar's' confession to Bravo's Andy Cohen that the actor was Madge's one true love — they were both linked to other people just months later: He started seeing Charlize Theron in late 2013 and she took her relationship with 26-year-old dancer-choreographer Timor Steffens to the next level in early 2014.
Madonna's much younger boyfriend, Timor Steffens, is seen here holding a car door open for her in Los Angeles on Jan. 29, 2014. Despite his chivalry, it wasn't meant to be: They called it quits in August 2014, just days before her 56th birthday. According to Us Weekly, the superstar asked the dancer to pack his bags and head home during the middle of their vacation in the South of France.
While there will never be another Madonna, a new generation of pop stars — including dripping-with-drama Miley Cyrus — are trying their best to follow in the Queen of Pop's controversial footsteps. Miley's dreams came true when Madge joined her onstage in January 2014 for her "Unplugged" special where they performed a mashup of "Don't Tell Me" and "We Can't Stop" – making Miley look good, and perhaps earning Madonna some cred with a new generation. "It's nice when you work with someone who, like myself, doesn't really have anyone that you have to answer to," Miley told E!
Madonna was in the midst of a performance at the 2015 Brit Awards in London when she had a major situation on stage: Her dancers tried to remove the long cape she was wearing but instead of it tearing away as planned, it held tight — and they accidentally yanked Madge off a set of stairs and watched in horror as she went tumbling to the ground. But ever the champion performer, Madonna barely missed a beat, took off her cape herself and kept on performing. She's still got it!
Madonna and Drake shocked the world when they shared a full-on kiss during a performance at Coachella in 2015. Fans said that Drake appeared shocked and disgusted after Madonna's liplock. But the rapper took to Instagram to set the record straight: "Don't misinterpret my shock!! I got to make out with the queen Madonna and I feel 💯 about that forever." About a month later, Madonna opened up about the kiss and didn't have great things to say: "I kissed a girl, and I liked it." Meow!
Madonna's Rebel World Tour kicked off in Canada in September 2015 and went all the way through the spring of 2016 when it ended in Australia. She performed in more than 160 shows and brought in almost $170 million in revenue — making it a massive success.
Madonna and her sons, David Banda and Rocco Ritche, are seen here arriving at JFK International Airport in New York City on Jan. 7, 2015. The following year, things took a dramatic turn for the superstar when Rocco decided that instead of living with his mom in the United States, he wanted to live with his dad, director Guy Ritchie, in England. It took the former spouses nine months to iron out a custody agreement for Rocco, who turned 16 in August 2016. Adding to the drama, the teen got busted for marijuana possession in London that September. Fortunately, Madonna's relationship with her older son is now on better terms.
Madonna's daughter, Lourdes Leon, joined her in the front row at the Alexander Wang presentation during New York Fashion Week on Sept. 10, 2016. The mother-daughter duo have shared a love for all things fashion since 2010, when they launched their Material Girl clothing line.
In February 2017, Madonna announced that she'd adopted orphan twin girls — Stelle and Estere — from Malawi. Six months later, she kept close to her new additions while traveling through JFK International Airport in New York City after a family vacation to celebrate her 59th birthday in Italy.
In July 2017, Madonna shared an embrace with daughter Mercy James at the opening of the Mercy James Institute for Pediatric Surgery and Intensive Care at the Queen Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi. The children's hospital was funded by the singer's Raising Malawi charity and is the first center of its kind in the African nation.
In the summer of 2017, Madonna and the underage members of her brood moved to Portugal so that her son David Banda could pursue his dream of becoming a professional soccer player. ("I've been desperate to get him into the best academies with the best coaches, but the level of football in America is much lower than the rest of the world. I saw his frustration, and I also felt it was a good time," she told Vogue Italia in 2018.) Not long after the big move, the superstar took her son to watch the FIFA World Cup Qualifier between Portugal and Switzerland at Luz Stadium in Lisbon on Oct. 10, 2017.
Madonna started dropping hints about her 14th studio album in May 2018. In June, she revealed that she'd completed three studio sessions with French songwriter-producer Mirwais, with whom she previously collaborated on her "Music," "American Life" and "Confessions on a Dance Floor" albums. But new music isn't her only priority. On July 16, 2018, she made time to celebrate the first anniversary of the Mercy James Children's Hospital by participating in a press conference at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi.