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Madonna doesn't care if I die: £400m star's brother who's a drunk and living under a bridge reveals why their lives diverged

By TOM LEONARD in Traverse City, Michigan

'If I froze to death, my family probably wouldn't know or care about it for six months,' said Anthony Ciccone

The last time that Anthony Ciccone saw his sister Madonna, she was stepping out of a luxury limousine, shattering the quiet of a peaceful American Midwest town as flashing camera bulbs and screaming fans greeted the arrival of one of the world’s most famous women.

Madonna was the star attraction at a film festival three years ago, while Anthony was just another face in the crowd.

Having watched his multi-millionairess sister stroll into the cinema, he staggered off for another night of hard drinking with the town’s vagrants.

Only two years separate Anthony and Madonna Ciccone in age, but they might as well be two centuries, given the wildly diverging trajectories their lives have taken.

While she went from their modest family roots in Detroit to find mega-stardom and a fortune that affords her multi-million-pound homes across the globe, it was revealed this week that her big brother sleeps rough under a bridge in a small town in Michigan.

While the Material Girl owns six expensive houses in London alone, just about everything Anthony owns can be fitted into the plastic shopping bag he carries around with him.

Homeless for the past 18 months since he lost his job at his father’s wine-making business, Anthony spends his nights dossing on the cold concrete of a grubby footpath under Traverse City’s Union Street road bridge, sharing damp, threadbare blankets with his companion, a fellow alcoholic named Michael Champ.

Anthony, 55, could not look less like his gym and yoga-toned sister. A white-bearded bear of a man, his ruddy complexion, four layers of stained and dirty clothes and pungent smell are testament to his life on the streets.

He smokes so many roll-up cigarettes that not only his fingers but also his moustache are stained yellow by nicotine.

With Anthony accusing Madonna and other family members of ‘washing their hands’ of him, the startling contrast between his life and his sister’s has inevitably raised the question: how could a woman with a $650 million fortune leave her brother in such desperate straits?

Speaking publicly for the first time this week about his troubled past and difficult relationship with his famous sister, Anthony makes it clear the story is not a simple one — as anyone who has ever dealt with an addicted loved one will probably know.

It is clear that Madonna knows about his plight, and that she has repeatedly offered to help by paying for him to go into rehab. His father has offered to give him his job back if he gets professional help.

But ask Anthony whether his sister and their 80-year-old father, Tony, have helped him and he is immediately riled.

‘I’m a zero in their eyes; a non-person, an embarrassment,’ he tells me, his voice rising.

‘If I froze to death, my family probably wouldn’t know or care about it for six months.’

Anthony, who has considerable reserves of self-pity, but little capacity to be honest about himself, says he doesn’t need rehab, which is ‘boring’. He just needs a job, he says, and to meet the son he hasn’t seen for ten years.

‘My family seem to think rehab is some kind of magic panacea for life’s ills,’ he says, cracking open a bottle of his favourite tipple, Wild Irish Rose, a strong and ruinously cheap fortified wine.

He says he agreed to go into rehab six years ago, with Madonna paying for him to spend two months drying out in a clinic in Houston, Texas, for what he calls his ‘supposed’ alcoholism. Perhaps, given that attitude, it’s not surprising it didn’t work.

Madonna’s burning desire for fame and love is usually attributed to the traumatic loss of her mother when she was just five years old and the eight Ciccone children’s subsequent upbringing by an authoritarian father and a strict stepmother.

Listening to Anthony telling his poignant life story, over two days and in varying levels of drunkenness, it strikes me that his mother’s untimely death from breast cancer may have been just as formative an experience for him.

Instead of driving him onwards, though, it has blighted his life — his downward spiral in dreadful contrast to Madonna’s ascension into the celebrity heavens.

An articulate and entertaining man when sober, Anthony is a voracious reader who likes to quote Mark Twain. Sadly, it is plain he could have done so much more with his life.

Though he chooses to make light of his alcoholism, he becomes intensely serious when he talks about his mother, recalling how he and Madonna were the only siblings who viewed their mother in her open funeral casket.

‘It made a lasting impression on us both,’ he says. ‘It was a macabre thing for two little kids to see.’

He lost his only photograph of his mother some time ago, insisting it was stolen by souvenir hunters.

As we stand under the gloomy bridge he calls home, the morning traffic rattling overhead and the rain bucketing down outside, his stained fingers roll one cigarette after another as he thinks back to his life in Madonna’s shadow.

Anthony’s career path, a mish-mash of dead-end jobs, never crossed Madonna’s, but she did at least share a little of her gilded existence with him. He told me how he once shared a joint with Mick Jagger as they sat around a New York nightclub table with his sister, David Bowie and Iggy Pop.

‘Mick was cool, Iggy was cool, David Bowie was kind of cold,’ he says.

'She was a bitch, just like she is now. She remains true to form. You have to give her credit for consistency,' Anthony said of younger sister Madonna

And he relates how he and the Van Halen rocker David Lee Roth spent a ‘bemused’ night wandering about ‘looking at the freaks’ when Madonna threw a bondage-themed party.

He and his sister didn’t get on as children.

‘We hated each other — sibling rivalry, I imagine,’ he says, adding viciously: ‘She was a b**ch, just like she is now. She remains true to form. You have to give her credit for consistency.’

He hardly seems like the archetypal eldest sibling nowadays, but there was a time when he had to look after his seven sisters and brothers. Madonna didn’t make life easy for him, he says.

‘She’d sneak guys into the house when my father weren’t around and I was supposed to be responsible for us all,’ he says.

‘She’d be in the bedroom with some guy, and my little brothers and sisters would be standing outside with their ears cupped to the door, listening.

‘I’d have to bust the door open and kick the guy out. She didn’t forgive me for that.

‘To me, she was just an annoying sister; but you have to realise she’s a Leo, which means she’s always on stage.’

So what was it like when she became famous?

‘I’m proud of my sister — but it’s been a burden, because I can’t be me; I have to be related to a celebrity,’ he says, staring into his bottle.

‘People have their ideas and expectations. My sister’s a multi-millionaire — but she earned it, I have to give her credit for that. But you’d think there’d be some more family loyalty, and that’s not the case.’

So how would he like her to show she cares?

‘Just to communicate would be nice.’

Anthony, refusing to see how hard his addictions must be for her to bear, and disregarding her offers of help, sees his sister as a self-absorbed woman who lives in her own world.

Anthony says his father sacked him 18 months ago because he thought he was a raging alcoholic

‘There isn’t much else that exists outside of what she’s doing,’ he says.
He insists he has little time for Madonna’s music, and even less for her films.

‘My sister’s a terrible actress, but she’s a great entertainer and an excellent businesswoman.’

As for Madonna’s taste in men, Anthony says he was friends with her first husband, actor Sean Penn. ‘I used to drink beer with his brother, Chris, before he died.’

As if on cue, the memory prompts a long burp. Anthony describes Madonna’s second husband, Guy Ritchie, as ‘a little pompous … he gave me a lecture over lunch about kabbalah (the trendy Jewish mysticism also embraced by Madonna).

‘It was his so-called world view, but it made absolutely no sense. I had a hard time taking him seriously.’

That said, Anthony says he was sad when Madonna and Guy broke up, having been happy that she’d been in a stable relationship.

Any contact between the Queen of Pop and the brother living under a bridge is rare, though two months ago Anthony’s father and his youngest brother, Mario, went to see him on her behalf. He got a new pair of prescription spectacles out of it, but promptly lost them.

Madonna may be the goddess of reinvention in her own career, but she has nothing on Anthony’s bizarre CV. Having given up early on college, he worked as a film location scout in New York, canning salmon in Alaska and tuning pianos at a Michigan school.

As his sister was becoming seriously successful in the early Eighties, with hits including Like A Virgin and Into The Groove, Anthony was, somewhat bizarrely, working for the Moonies.

The controversial Unification Church of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon invested in a fishing fleet to boost its income, and Anthony, who had been recruited by a Moonie girlfriend while living in San Francisco, spent five years on church fishing boats.

He later became a stage set carpenter — Madonna’s former father-in-law, the late director Leo Penn, gave him his first job on a film set.

Out in the cold: Union Street bridge in Traverse City, Michigan, where Anthony has been sleeping rough
Moving to Los Angeles, he fell in love with a costume designer, Mary Jane Lawson.

The pair settled down and had a son, Angelo, in 1993.
‘When I became a father, I thought I was impervious,’ says Anthony. ‘All I wanted was to be with the woman I loved and my child.’

Sadly, it was not to be. In 1999, Anthony lost his job — a casualty, he says, of Hollywood’s move towards computer-generated imagery rather than hand-built sets. Shortly afterwards, he lost his girlfriend and son.

She claimed he threatened her — he denies it — and she left, taking their child with her. They live in Iowa and, thanks to a restraining order she imposed on him, Anthony says he hasn’t seen Angelo for ten years.

‘I’d love to see him, just for a day or two,’ he says, his voice shaking. ‘I wish his mother would make peace with me.’

At the time, losing his girlfriend and child sent him ‘insane’, he says.

‘They were all I ever really wanted.’
His life went seriously off the rails at this point, and he ended up living rough in downtown Los Angeles.

‘I went from being a full-time family man with no experience on the street to living in crackland — a white guy in a sea of African-American crackheads,’ he says.

Friends claim Anthony was also taking crack cocaine, though he denies it to me.

He spent two years sleeping rough in LA, describing it as ‘like a descent into Hades’.

He describes having to fight for his life on several occasions, adding bitterly that he believes his family left him to die on Skid Row.

In fact, at his family’s request, he did his stint in rehab in Houston, Texas. Six years ago, his father offered him a job in the family wine-making business — a vineyard his father set up with financial help from Madonna.

It might not be the ideal work for someone with addictive tendencies, but Anthony spent several years there, picking grapes, planting vines and sampling the product.

For a man who now drinks probably the most disgusting alcohol on the planet, it’s a shock to hear him speak knowledgeably about ideal growing conditions for the Gewurtztraminer grape.

He says that Mr Ciccone Snr sacked him 18 months ago because he thought he was a raging alcoholic.

Soon after, Anthony was on the streets again when his landlord in Traverse City evicted him for turning his home into a doss house for fellow drunks.

Traverse City, Michigan: Anthony has been beaten up by other homeless people, sustaining broken bones in his face and shoulder, and shattered teeth

Anthony has been beaten up by other homeless people, sustaining broken bones in his face and shoulder, and shattered teeth. He and his friend Michael never sleep properly: one always has to stay awake to watch out for the other.

Though Anthony claims he earns $10 a day collecting empty cans, he relies on the $700 a month his companion gets in disability benefits.

It doesn’t help that some people in town regard Madonna’s brother as something of a celebrity, and give him alcohol whenever he has no money to buy it himself.

Michael describes Anthony as ‘the most self-destructive person I’ve ever met’, and both men were hugely grateful when I offered to put them up in a motel room for a few nights.

Given that he refuses to accept the seriousness of his addiction, moments of honest reflection from Anthony are rare. But at one point, when I ask about his future, he shows that, behind all the bluster, he understands his situation.

‘The future’s like stepping off the precipice into the dark,’ he said, his voice lowering. ‘I’m pushing middle age, and that scares me.’

Given his circumstances — and despite having one of the most privileged people on the planet for a sister — it’s easy to understand that fear, and to share it with him.



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