Love conquers all, but it has a hard time with the paparazzi. As a result, the wedding of pop-goddess Madonna to pugnacious movie star Sean Penn, both already the prey of every photographer worth his range finder, was planned with a level of secrecy the Pentagon would envy. The coy invitations, featuring the bride and groom in an American Gothic pose, withheld the location even from the guests, who were told where to show up only the day before the ceremony.
The Aug. 16, 1985, wedding—Madonna’s 27th birthday and the day before Penn’s 25th—was held at the seaside Malibu home of a Penn family friend, but an artillery bunker might have been more appropriate. One Italian journalist in camouflage gear hid in the bushes from 1:30 a.m., only to be caught and ejected. Enterprising photographers rented helicopters, hovering over the site (where they could read an obscene message scrawled in the sand for their benefit) and drowning out the couple’s wedding vows. A tabloid reported that Penn actually fired a pistol at the choppers. It was said that he later declared, ”I would have been very excited to see one of those helicopters burn and the bodies inside melt.”
Before long the couple became known as the Poison Penns. Even though Madonna’s 1986 album, True Blue, was dedicated to Penn, ”the coolest guy in the universe,” there were soon reports that the marriage had gone ballistic. Penn’s famous temper, fueled by alcohol and jealousy, sparked a long string of altercations with his wife, the press, and other show-biz types. One unfortunate incident took place in April 1986, when Penn severely beat a musician-who had worked with Madonna-in a Los Angeles nightclub, drawing a fine and one year’s probation. A year later he was arrested for drunken driving and spent 32 days in jail.
Following an argument at the end of 1988, Penn moved out of their Malibu home. Shortly after, on Dec. 28, according to a juicy tabloid story, a drunk and irrational Penn burst into the house and physically abused Madonna for nine hours, at one point tying her to a chair, until she persuaded him to release her. She never pressed charges, and neither party has ever commented publicly on that evening’s events. Instead she filed for divorce on Jan. 5, 1989, apparently deciding that it was better to be a Material Girl than a Material Witness.