Madonna’s Homeless Brother Dishes on the Pop Queen’s Childhood Passover Seders
Exclusive footage of Anthony Ciccone singing his sister’s hit ‘Like a Prayer’: ‘It means something to me,’ he says
“The problems with my dad started after our mom passed away,” Ciccone said. “We had a lot of nannies, and they all tried somehow to take advantage of him. The last one, he ended up marrying, and he is still married to her to this day. The only problem was my siblings and I hated her guts. She was only 12 years older than me; it was like your older sister becomes your mother. This was the main reason Madonna left home. She got a full scholarship from the University of Michigan, and she left for New York to be a starving artist. She did that in part to fulfill her dream, but in part because she couldn’t live at home anymore. My dad almost got a heart attack when he heard she was dropping out of college, but it turned out to be the right move.”
Until the 1990s, Ciccone’s life was pretty normal. In 1993, while he was living in L.A., his only son was born. “I really liked being a family man,” he said. “I waited for it my entire life. My wife and I were together for seven years. She was the love of my life. After the birth of our son she got depressed. I worked in Hollywood, a tough physical job, long hours. I came back after an entire day and found her still in bed after she did nothing all day long. Then we started to fight; one day she just took our kid and took off. She got a restraining order against me. I got depressed, lost my job, started drinking, and my family, my brothers, and my father stopped talking to me because they accused me of all of that. I had no support, even though I was the one who tried to make it work again. Today she is married to some new guy, and I haven’t seen my kid since 1999. I went from being a full-time family man with a car, a house, and a wife to being homeless on the streets of L.A. I lost a part of myself there, with all the things I witnessed. I saw people get murdered, women get raped, horrible things. I guess you can call it education, but I don’t wish anybody to get that kind of education.”
After a long period of estrangement, Ciccone and his father’s relationship improved, he said, and Tony decided to let Anthony join the family vineyard. “For a long time, I worked there. I learned how to make wine, how to treat the vines, the whole deal. There was a time when things went pretty well; my father took me on a tour and told me, ‘Son, someday all this will be yours.’ So I asked him, ‘You mean all of that is going to be Mario’s, right?’ Mario is my stepbrother, who for some reason my dad preferred, but he told me, ‘No, it will be yours.’ Well, who’s running the vineyard today? Mario. And where am I? On the streets.”
His father’s choice wasn’t just professional, Ciccone said. Anthony was deep into his alcoholism, and one day, Tony found him passed out with an empty bottle of wine in his hand. “I remember my father’s voice. He looked at me and said, ‘Well, I think that Anthony is done for today.’ Since that day, he has not allowed me to work in the vineyard again. He wanted me to go to rehab, and I said no. He’s hard on me. I’m hard on him. We don’t get along; we can’t agree on anything. After I left the vineyard, I couldn’t find another job. I didn’t have any money to pay my rent, and I couldn’t stay at my parents’ place, so I moved to the street.”
Tony Ciccone declined to be interviewed for this article. (Madonna’s publicist, Liz Rosenberg, did not reply to repeated requests for comment, while a rep from her agency said, “Liz does not comment on anything regarding Madonna’s brother.”) But someone who is identified as a close family friend and neighbor, Kathy Meteyer, working in the wine-tasting room, told the Daily Mail that Tony is heartbroken about his son’s situation: “He did work here, they found things for him to do in the cellar, there’s all kind of work on a daily basis, in the summer there’s all kinds of pruning and picking to do. But he would sneak into the cellars and he would lay on the floor, open up one of the big tanks and drink the wine, with a glass. He just can’t come back until he stops drinking, because they think it will kill him; it already kind of has.”
The oldest of eight siblings (one died in infancy), Anthony is two years older than Madonna. He keeps a close relationship with his sister Paula (“she’s my buddy,” he said), but he and Madonna are not close. “I have a lot of respect for my sister’s success. She started from nothing and made her way to the top. I never asked her for anything, and I never will,” he said, when we asked him about why he never sought help from his wealthy sibling. “It’s her money; she earned it. Why should she give it to a stranger?”
In the 1980s, he said, he did have a relationship with his younger, cooler sister. “I remember that I went to visit her when she lived in a loft in SoHo before it became fashionable,” he recalled. “I show up at her doorstep and I’m looking like Joe Dork. And I was supposed to eat in a restaurant with her. She looked at my clothes, she looked at me, she goes: ‘Maybe we’ll go on the roof and order Chinese.’ And we did. And it was great.” He last saw Madonna, he said, two years ago, at the Super Bowl in Indianapolis where she performed. (He was sent there by WKLT on a promotional stunt.) He didn’t have enough money for a ticket, he said, so he sat in the parking lot with a friend and drank beer. When he looked up, he could see his sister on the Jumbotron.
While Ciccone’s not particularly a fan of his sister’s music, or of pop music in general, he does have a favorite Madonna song. “There is one song that got condemned in the ’80s by the Vatican. I like that song. ‘Like a Prayer.’ You know that song?” he asked. Ciccone started to sing spontaneously, in a voice that sounded like a combination of Madonna and Johnny Cash. “ ‘When you call my name it’s like a little prayer. I’m down on my knees, I wanna take you there.’ I like that song,” he continued. “Because it means something to me.”
His dream was to go back to work at his father’s vineyard, but he said his stepbrother clearly didn’t want him around. Otherwise, he said, “I hesitate to dream because when you dream you get your hopes up. And then you get your heart broke. And so when this happens so many times you hesitate to dream.” He would like to get married again and have a family, but he said he knew that the odds were against him, given his situation. “I pray for one more chance, but the truth is that there is a good chance I’ll never live to witness that day,” he told us. “No one will be surprised if I’ll die before my 60th birthday. Neither will I.”
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