Pop Culture | Celebrities | 80s

We've All Heard The Rumors About Sean Penn Abusing Madonna, But How Much Of It Is True?

In recent years, many audiences have tried to wrap their head around actor and philanthropist, Sean Penn. His unusual movie roles have included Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, to a character in a kids film, The Angry Birds Movie.

He has also done amateur-style interviews, most famously with Mexican drug lord El Chapo, at one point most wanted man in the world, before his subsequent arrest.

While he is best known for the charity work he has done in these past few years in Haiti and Pakistan, his reputation has stood in the shadow of his more violent and explosive younger years.

Despite his recent branding as a gentle individual, in the '80s, Penn was constantly in headlines for assault and battery charges against reporters and fellow industry acquaintances.

Perhaps it was ironic that Penn rose to fame after appearing in the 1983 film Bad Boys, because two years later he earned the title outright.

While in Nashville, Tennessee, the actor was accosted by two British journalists. He picked up a rock and threw it at one of them, before striking them with a camera, punching out the other. He was fined and received a 90 day suspended-sentence.

This wouldn’t be the last time the Hollywood rebel would run into trouble with the law.

While most bad-boys tend to settle down after finding a woman that charms them, it was definitely not the case when Penn began dating the famous singer, Madonna.

Their relationship was fraught with abuse of all kinds, and it was obvious from their wedding that Penn was not the typically temperate husband. Their wedding in August of 1985, months after his first public assault, Penn found himself overly-bothered by the paparazzi that were circling the ceremony in helicopters.

A few minutes after saying “I do” Penn walked into the building and returned with a gun, firing several shots into the air. He would continue to have a trying relationship with the media for the next few decades.

But married life wouldn't calm the storm that seemed to rage inside Penn.

After their marriage, Penn and Madonna looked forward to starring in a movie together, the critically panned Shanghai Surprise. The couple were apparently fighting non-stop, and Penn acted toxically to his fellow crew and cast-mates. Notably responsible for the firing of well-liked publicist, Chris Nixon, who Penn felt was too insistent in wanting photos of the couple on set together.

This was brought to international attention when the star was charged with attempted murder of a reporter and thrown in a jail while filming in Macao.


They were working on the aforementioned movie, when Leonel Barralho (a photographer) approached the husband and wife outside their hotel room. Penn claimed to have been surprised by the intrusion and grabbed Barralho, beating him with his bodyguard before allegedly holding him over a balcony and demanding he destroy the photos.

All parties quickly realized the gravity of the situation, Barralho was let go, and the local authorities threw Penn and his bodyguard in prison. They managed to escape and flee the country, though Penn later said he had been pardoned.

If you thought this would scare the tantrum-prone star to submission, you’d be wrong. A few months later, Penn and Madonna were at a nightclub in Los Angeles with several friends. Among them was songwriter and synthesizer musician, David Wolinski, who took his leave just after midnight following a seemingly normal night.

When he said goodbye to the celebrity couple, Penn accused him of trying to kiss his wife, punching him in the face and hitting him repeatedly with a chair. The actor was charged with battery and was eventually put on a two-year probation.

A year after this, Penn was filming the gangland action movie Colors, when he had a run-in with film extra, Jeffrey Klein, who was photographing him. He swore at Klein and spat on him. Klein spat back, and Penn assaulted him, punching him several times in the face until other crew members forcibly removed him.

However, this is nothing compared to the allegations that came out of the divorce between him and Madonna.

According to police reports and sources claiming intimacy with the couple, on the night of December 28th, 1989, Penn broke into Madonna’s home in Malibu after their relationship had become strained.

He allegedly berated her before saying that he owned her, “lock, stock, and barrel.” When she attempted to leave, a horror story unfolded.

Apparently, Penn grabbed her and tied her to a chair, continuing to verbally attack her. For the next nine hours, her hit her, bound her tightly to the seat, and threatened to cut off her hair.

Penn then reportedly left to buy more alcohol to drink, returned, and continued beating her. He then forced Madonna to perform a “degrading sex act” on him, before releasing her. She escaped, went to the police, and told this story to an officer on duty.

Madonna filed for divorce a week later. However, since the story went public, she has denied these allegations, and has even signed a legal affidavit expressing that this ordeal did not take place.

Since then, they have apparently reconciled their differences, and remain good friends. Penn has continued to be involved in violent incidents with fans and the press, but compared to his history, has become much more tame.

Perhaps he slowly growing out of his Bad Boys lifestyle? We shall see.