Madonna's life has been an open book for just about 30 years now. But in a cover story essay for the November issue of Harper's Bazaar, the pop legend, now 55, revisits an old trauma some fans may have forgotten about: Shortly after arriving in New York City as a scrappy unknown from Rochester, Mich. with enormous dreams of stardom, the singer was a victim of rape.
"New York wasn't everything I thought it would be. It did not welcome me with open arms. The first year, I was held up at gunpoint. Raped on the roof of a building I was dragged up to with a knife in my back," writes Madonna, who adds that she "had my apartment broken into three times. I don't know why; I had nothing of value after they took my radio the first time."
As Madonna acolytes know, back in 1978, the future megastar dropped out of the University of Michigan, where she had a dance scholarship, to move to the Big Apple.
Arriving in New York, she says, "wasn't anything I prepared for," she writes. "Trying to be a professional dancer, paying my rent by posing nude for art classes, staring at people staring at me naked. Daring them to think of me as anything but a form they were trying to capture with their pencils and charcoal," she continues. (Some of those nudes later made their way into Playboy magazine after Madonna became a star.) "I was defiant. Hell-bent on surviving. On making it. But it was hard and it was lonely, and I had to dare myself every day to keep going."
After several very lean years, she signed a deal with Sire Records in 1982, with her debut single, "Everybody," coming out that October. The predecessor to Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga and many others writes of her first few years of fame: "When you're 25, it's a little bit easier to be daring, especially if you are a pop star, because eccentric behavior is expected from you."
Ten years later — with her Sean Penn divorce, the explicit Sex book and plenty of high-profile romance behind her — the Grammy winner says she grew restless. "At 35, I was divorced and looking for love in all the wrong places. I decided that I needed to be more than a girl with gold teeth and gangster boyfriends. More than a sexual provocateur imploring girls not to go for second-best baby. I began to search for meaning and a real sense of purpose in life. I wanted to be a mother."
Now a mother of four — biological kids Lourdes and Rocco, and adopted children David and Mercy — she reveals in Harper's Bazaar that her decision to adopt son David Banda in Malawi was "an eye opening experience" and "a real low point in my life."
"I didn't know that trying to adopt a child was going to land me in another sh– storm," she says. "I was accused of kidnapping, child trafficking, using my celebrity muscle to jump ahead in the line, bribing government officials, witchcraft, you name it."
The "Express Yourself" singer continues: "I could get my head around people giving me a hard time for simulating masturbation onstage or publishing my Sex book, even kissing Britney Spears at an awards show, but trying to save a child's life was not something I thought I would be punished for. . . In any case, I got through it. I survived."
"One of the many things I learned from all of this," she concludes of the ordeal. "If you aren't willing to fight for what you believe in, then don't even enter the ring."
Sign up now for the Us Weekly newsletter to get breaking celebrity news, hot pics and more delivered straight to your inbox!