Life with My Sister Madonna

  • Share
  • Read Later
Gareth Cattermole / Getty

Madonna arrives at a film premiere at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes, France.

The release of Life with My Sister Madonna — the breathless tell-all from the Material Girl's brother, Christopher Ciccone, with writer Wendy Leigh — couldn't have been more fortuitously timed. As the book hits stores, the world's most famous Kabbalah practitioner is fending off rumors of a pending split from husband Guy Ritchie and of an alleged affair with New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, whom she reputedly "brainwashed," causing the dissolution of his marriage. So bright is Madonna's star that this jumble of reheated anecdotes warranted an initial print run of 350,000 copies.

What those readers will get is a narrative that reveals less about Madonna than about the brother condemned to living in her considerable shadow. Ciccone, an artist and interior decorator, served stints as Madonna's backup dancer, her "dresser" (a role in which his tasks included wiping sweat from her sometimes-naked body) and later as her designer. But mostly, by his telling, he functioned as her doormat. And, occasionally, her garbage can (one of his chores was allowing his sister to spit cough drops into his palm). "I find no excuse for Madonna's grossly unfair treatment of me," he acknowledges. She jilts him repeatedly — summoning him to New York and then reneging on her offer of a place to stay, or forcing him to eat half the cost of a set of paintings he purchased at her behest. Yet Ciccone is unable — or unwilling — to resist her magnetism. They are no longer close — but that may be as much her choice as his.

Madonna is 27 months older than Ciccone, and she snatched his innocence around the same time she was surrendering her own. She gives him his first joint, his first ecstasy pill, his first visit to a gay club. These events foreshadowed a peculiar sort of sibling bond. Consider: Both lost their virginity in the backseats of cars to guys named Russell. True to form, he notes, she "bests" him even here: her dalliance took place in a Cadillac, his in a Datsun. It was clear during her childhood in Michigan, Ciccone says, that Madonna wasn't shy about deploying her sexuality to get what she wanted — Bette Midler once called her "the woman who pulled herself up by her bra straps." But while his sister wielded sex as a weapon, especially after dropping out of college to pursue stardom in New York, Ciccone's sexuality often posed him problems. After he came out to his father, a conservative Catholic, the elder Ciccone sent Christopher a letter offering to pay for a psychiatrist to "help you with this problem."

Of course, it's Madonna's love life that readers want the scoop on, and Ciccone is happy to pry open her bedroom door. He dishes on becoming Sean Penn's blood brother and Warren Beatty's habit of quizzing him about what it's like to be gay. Madonna bedded so many luminaries, it seems, that some notable members of this diverse group — John F. Kennedy Jr., graffiti pioneer Jean-Michel Basquiat, basketball star Dennis Rodman and steroid-user-turned-whistle-blower Jose Canseco — rate no better than a passing mention. Ciccone paints Ritchie in a particularly unflattering light, claiming the director's homophobia drove a wedge between the siblings.

Lurid details aside, the book offers a peek at a man still grappling with his sister's dizzying fame. Ciccone calls the book a "catharsis," and given the hurt splashed across its pages, that's easy to believe. But it's hard to muster a ton of sympathy for a guy profiting handsomely from a hatchet job on his own sister — regardless of how miserably she may have treated him.