Madonna and Tony Ciccone welcome their first daughter, Madonna, nicknamed Nonni to avoid confusion with Mom. When Nonni is 5, her mother, 36, dies of breast cancer. Madonna's father later marries the family housekeeper, Joan Gustafson. "I didn't accept my stepmother when I was growing up," the singer later tells CNN. "In retrospect I think I was really hard on her."
Madonna, attending the University of Michigan on a dance scholarship, drops out after two years and moves to New York City, where she lives in a series of ramshackle apartments while studying and dancing with the Alvin Ailey and Pearl Lang companies. In 1979, she begins dabbling in New York's downtown music scene, eventually forming the punk-influenced Breakfast Club with boyfriend Dan Gilroy. Then she launches the rock group Emmy with drummer Steve Bray, a boyfriend from Michigan who helps write and produce dance club tracks that lead to her solo contract with Sire Records.
After four years of struggling to earn money modeling, dancing and singing, Madonna's first single, "Everybody," puts her over the top in the New York club scene. She meets John "Jellybean" Benitez, an in-demand deejay who produces "Holiday." The song leads to an appearance on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand" and ignites her career. Madonna and Benitez, who date for two years, "were a great team," a friend tells PEOPLE.
After landing on the dance charts in '82, Madonna releases her self-titled debut album, which includes radio perennials "Lucky Star" and "Holiday." "Borderline" becomes the first in a string of 13 consecutive Top 5 hits, a winning streak bettered only by Elvis and the Beatles. She later tells PEOPLE: "Everything following that was like, 'Oh my God! What's happening to my life?' You get caught up in that."
Vamping at the very first MTV Video Music Awards for her soon-to-be released second album, Madonna performs "Like a Virgin" on top of a giant white wedding cake, dressed in a white bustier, her trademark "Boy Toy" belt buckle and crucifix jewelry. Released on Nov. 12, the album becomes No. 1 in the U.S. for three weeks and sells 7 million copies worldwide by May.
Madonna and Sean Penn are photographed together at New York's Private Eyes video club after meeting on the set of her Material Girl video. Within weeks, Penn travels to Michigan to meet her family, and she meets his at an L.A. performance. In August, the pair weds in Malibu in front of 200 guests.
Madonna makes her big-screen debut in Desperately Seeking Susan opposite Rosanna Arquette, reveling in the role of a wisecracking street urchin not unlike herself, but the singer's fanciful style eclipses her acting performance. Wannabes turn up all over the world, sporting leggings, lace gloves and bellybutton-baring shirts.
Months after Penn beats Madonna's pal and songwriter David Wolinski (Penn gets a $1,000 fine and a year's probation), Penn and Madonna costar in Shanghai Surprise. "I look back and think, 'Well, I invited it. I made some really stupid choices,'" says Madonna to PEOPLE. "It taught me to be more scrupulous."
Madonna begins the final leg of her "Who's That Girl?" tour in Turin, Italy, and the Pope urges the faithful to stay away. He further condemns the singer when her statue is erected in Pacentro, the Italian town of her ancestors. More run-ins with the Church will lead to a boycott of her 1990 "Blond Ambition Tour" that includes Madonna's signature mix of Catholicism and sexuality.
After nearly four years of splits, spats and fistfights with paparazzi, Madonna files for divorce from Penn for the second time – she withdrew the first petition in 1987 at the urging of friends. "I do believe we all have soulmates," Madonna later tells PEOPLE. "I don't believe that we necessarily end up with them."
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): ALPHA/GLOBE; Michael McDonnell/Hulton Archive/Getty; Warner Bros.; Frank Micelotta/Getty; Laura Luongo/Getty; Herb Ritts/Orion/MPTV; Everett; George Chin/WireImage