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Madonna and Sean Penn were one of the biggest celebrity couples of the 1980s, but it didn’t work out for them. Despite their high profile, it seems like the reasons for their divorce are not widely discussed. Interestingly, Madonna wrote a song about a “destructive relationship” that seemed to resonate with Penn.

Madonna and Sean Penn met on the set of a famous music video

According to People, the Queen of Pop met Penn on the set of one of her defining music videos: “Material Girl.” Six months later, the two married on Madonna’s 27th birthday. Penn was 25 at the time. 

At first, Madonna said their relationship was great because they shared the same temperament. Like many famous couples, they decided to play a couple onscreen. Together, they starred in the romantic comedy Shanghai Surprise, which became a notorious critical and commercial bomb. 

Madonna was close to David Wolinski, a songwriter who worked with the likes of Chaka Khan and the Bee Gees. In 1986, Penn attacked Wolinksi for speaking to his wife. Madonna was traumatized by the altercation. Penn also grew suspicious of Madonna’s collaborator, Nick Kamen, believing the two were intimate. The “Papa Don’t Preach” singer denied this was the case. She co-wrote Kamen’s hit song “Each Time You Break My Heart.”

Art for the song ‘Like a Prayer’ recognizes the couple’s divorce

In 1987, Madonna filed for divorce. Her representative said that this decision was the culmination of many incidents that revealed that their marriage stood on shaky ground. She accepted that the relationship did not make her happy.

A reference to the divorce can be glimpsed on one of the covers of the “Like a Prayer” single. The image shows a nude Virgin Mary, perhaps alluding to the other meaning of Madonna’s name. The song is credited to MLVC, which stands for Madonna’s full name, Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone. The letter “P” can be seen falling off of her initials, showing that her surname was once “Penn” but isn’t any longer.

Madonna wrote a song about a dysfunctional relationship that Sean Penn liked

Madonna wrote a song about Penn titled “Till Death Do Us Part” for her album Like a Prayer. During a 1989 interview with Rolling Stone, she discussed the track.

“Like most of the songs on my album, it’s very much drawn from my life, factually speaking, but it’s fictionalized, too,” she said. “‘Till Death Do Us Part’ is about a destructive relationship that is powerful and painful. In this song, however, it’s a cycle that you can’t get out of until you die. It’s futile.

“I wanted the song to be very shocking, and I think it was,” she added. “It’s about a dysfunctional relationship, a sadomasochistic relationship that can’t end. Now that’s where the truth stops, because I would never want to continue a terrible relationship forever and ever and ever until I die.”

Madonna was asked if Penn had heard the song. “Yes,” she replied. “And he loves it, strangely enough [laughs]. But Sean is very, very keen on being brutally frank in his work. He’s attracted to writers and artists who don’t mince words.”

Even if their marriage didn’t work out, Penn seemed to respect Madonna as an artist.