Photo: Jim Smeal/WireImage
Christopher Ciccone and his famous sister hadn't spoken in nearly six or seven months when an urgent email from her appeared in his inbox. "Call me," the message ordered. He grew nervous, knowing she was trying to prevent him from going forward with his book, an account of the years he spent in her shadow, as her backup dancer then dresser, tour director, interior designer and confidant. When he didn't respond—because, he says, he doesn't reply to her commands anymore—she began leaving voicemails: "You can't hide from me, you have to call me," she said. Meanwhile, he also heard from their father, Silvio "Tony" Ciccone, that she had asked him not to allow Christopher to use the childhood photos he planned to include in the book. But Tony's response was similarly disobedient. "They're family photos and I can't tell Christopher what to do." For the first time, perhaps ever, Madonna was running up against the limits of her own power, and the brother who was once her greatest ally was loving every last minute of it.
"I took pleasure in watching her squirm," he admits. "Like, do you see how it feels? Do you see how it feels to have no control over something and to not know what somebody's going to do, to only be able to sit there and worry about what they're going to say about you?" He puts a half-smoked Winston Light, which he's been rolling between his fingers, into his mouth and lights it.
Seated at a table on the most remote edge of the deck of the Maritime Hotel, Christopher is dressed casually in his favorite pair of green cargo shorts, a black T-shirt and white Adidas with black stripes. He's not the spitting image of his famous sister, but once you know they're siblings you can't help but see the resemblance, especially in his wide, deep-set green eyes. Christopher, 47, and Madonna, 49, grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, in a family of six kids. Their mother, also named Madonna, died of breast cancer when Christopher was just 3 years old. Tony later married the family's housekeeper and had two more children with her (bringing the household total to four daughters and four sons), and Madonna has publicly said, "I didn't accept my stepmother when I was growing up." After Madonna moved to New York to pursue music in 1977, at the age of 19, Christopher followed her a couple of years later and quickly became her closest ally as well as her employee—he can even be spotted as a backup dancer in the video for "Lucky Star," one of her earliest hits.
Photo: Jennifer Weisbord
The soft-spoken Los Angeles resident is back in New York today for the publication of his just-released memoir, Life With My Sister Madonna. That wasn't the book title he originally wanted, however. He loved The Queen and I but it was rejected by publisher Simon & Schuster's marketing department for being too snarky. ("I was like, 'snarky,' what does that even mean?" he says.) He had some TV appearances scheduled, but two prominent shows backed out at the last minute. It's rumored that Madonna's camp pressured them into dropping their coverage of the book. "This wouldn't be the first time she's used her muscle to get [a story] pulled," he says.
The great irony here is that the book really isn't that scabrous at all. It's more a sad, detail-rich chronicle of fame as experienced by someone very close to it. "There's nothing in this book that in any way leads me to feel fearful," Christopher says. "There's nothing really derogatory about anybody, nothing horrifying, no body buried in the backyard. It's a story."
Still, it's Madonna, and there are plenty of revelations. Among the juiciest allegations: She pretended to have had a hardscrabble upbringing but grew up solidly middle-class. She gave Christopher his first tab of ecstasy. She enlisted her brother as her dresser on tour—at times he literally wiped the sweat from her naked body—because she didn't want anyone else to see her nude. She outed Christopher's homosexuality without his permission. Her husband, director Guy Ritchie, is uncomfortable with Christopher's sexuality. She has an 8 x 12 photo of herself dressed in S&M gear hanging in her home.
Photo: Courtesy Christopher Ciccone
That Madonna comes off as egotistical and career-driven to the detriment of those around her will surprise no one. "You don't get to where she is by being concerned about other people. It's like, whatever works best for me right at this moment, that's what I'm going to do," says Christopher, of her prevailing attitude. The book paints a picture of the aging siblings' inability to really "get" each other—her feeling that she wasn't ever appreciated enough, his desire for more respect. "After 47 years it's sad to discover just how little that woman knows me, and how well I know her," he says with a bitter laugh.
Christopher first thought of writing a book six years ago after a particularly vitriolic fight with Madonna over money and respect. According to his book, she'd asked him to design her new home, as he'd done with her houses in the past. But this time they argued over contracts; he wanted one and she didn't want to give it to him. Abusive e-mails and phone calls followed. Somewhere in the midst of all this she called him a "piece of s--t" and he called her an "aging pop star" and, he says, he thought, "Goddamnit, I'm going to write a book, f--k her."
"I started to write," he remembers. "I was really angry. About a day into it I thought, 'I can't do this.' If I'm going to do something like this, I can't do it from a place of anger because it will have a far worse impact on me than it will on her. I have to look myself in the mirror every day. Our father taught us a lot of things, and one of them is to be honorable. I think I've maintained that."
Photo: Jim Smeal/WireImage
Photo: Courtesy Christopher Ciccone
Madonna herself has not commented on the book's publication, nor, says Christopher, will she. But he's sure she'll read it: "I don't see how she couldn't—she's curious by nature." He thinks that "she'll see it as brutal. She had no control over it and had she been telling [the story] I'm sure she'd probably say that I became a drug addict and alcoholic, which is not true, and because of that she couldn't deal with me. I believe she thinks I wrote this book for money and that I'm going to use the money to go buy drugs. That's not the case. I drink socially and I don't do drugs. I did some [drugs] for a period of time, but I don't anymore."
In a way, the siblings' differences read more like a lover's spat than a cold war. Christopher will bash Madonna one second but then rush to her defense. When it comes to the recent rumors she's having an affair with baseball player Alex Rodriguez, he says she's a Catholic girl at heart and that he doesn't think she'd do that to her family. His take is that A-Rod was just interested in Kabbalah. What about the notion that maybe Madonna, a master of her own image control, had a hand in all this press? Many have noted the timing—her new tour is coming up and so is the release of Guy Ritchie's new movie. But Christopher doesn't think his sister staged any part of the A-Rod rumors for a publicity stunt. And then, in a conversational move worthy of Madonna, he reclaims the focus. "But I have to say, the timing couldn't have worked out better for me!"
Speaking of timing, the beginning of the end for Christopher's relationship with Madonna wasn't her marriage to Guy Ritchie, as has been mentioned in the press, but something that happened much earlier. During the shooting of her 1991 tour documentary Truth or Dare, Madonna invited the camera crew to her mother's grave, which struck Christopher as deeply exploitative. "She couldn't have handled that any more dishonorably. It was painful. All the other stuff is easily forgivable but that one stuck with me and stays with me," he says. "My mother's memory is sacred to me. Watching her exploit that, watching her roll around on the grave, that changed my perception of Madonna in a very deep way. I was just completely stunned. She has no boundaries."
Christopher reaches for his iced tea, revealing a tattoo on the inside of his left arm. It's a Kabbalah symbol meaning "Everything you do affects the future." He also has an anchor with the word "mother" on his left shoulder and a dagger with his social security number in Roman numerals inked onto his left calf. Self-expression and definition are pretty important to Christopher these days. In fact he's leaning pretty heavily on those ideals as a possible bridge back to his sister. "Look, I don't think the book is going to make us closer at this point," he says. "But when she reads it and finds out what I was going through and who I am as a person… well, I just don't think anything bad can come of that."NY POST PAGE 6 Magazine
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