Madonna turning 50 with world tour on her mind

Madonna won't have much time to fret about turning 50. While many people passing the milestone may prefer to pause and reflect, the "queen of pop" is in the midst of final preparations for her world tour which kicks off in Cardiff, Wales, on August 23, a week after her birthday. ( Reuters )

If previous shows are anything to go by, the 40-plus "Sticky & Sweet" dates around the globe will put Madonna under the kind of physical and mental strain that would test a woman half her age.

But the world's most successful female recording artist has never let age, sex or background get in her way, and has remained in the ascendancy with an uncanny ability to reinvent herself just when the old Madonna was nearing her sell-by date.

Her latest reincarnation is a shrewd businesswoman, after she severed ties with long-term record label Warner Brothers to sign up with Live Nation, a company that until recently specialized in music tours.

As well as earning a reported $120 million over the life of the agreement, Madonna appeared to be among the first to recognize which way the music industry was heading.

Recorded music, many artists now believe, is making them less money than live performing, meaning they are looking to spend less time in the recording studio and more on the stage.

The last few years have not all been easy for Madonna, however.

A celebrity who often bristles in the media glare, Madonna may be universally admired but she is not universally loved.

Her decision in 2006 to adopt a young Malawian boy whose mother died was controversial both in the southern African country and further afield.

Aid groups in Malawi said the authorities had bent the rules to accommodate the super-star, and the adoption was challenged in court. Not for the first time, Madonna prevailed and the adoption went through.

Madonna has two other children - son Rocco with her husband the British film director Guy Ritchie, and daughter Lourdes from a previous relationship.

She directed her first feature film that came out in 2008, and although reviews were mixed, there were harsh words for a woman some feel should forget about movies and stick to music.

Her eight-year marriage to Ritchie has also come under increasing scrutiny after tabloid newspapers in Britain, where she spends much of her time, have reported that the couple are planning to divorce.

Both Ritchie and Madonna have denied the reports.

Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone was born in Bay City, Michigan on August 16, 1958, the third of eight children in a devout Italian-Catholic family.

Her big breakthrough came in 1984 when she signed a record deal and made her first two big hits "Like a Virgin" and " Holiday".

The following year she married Hollywood wild boy Sean Penn and landed one of her most memorable screen roles in "Desperately Seeking Susan."

Madonna then urged director Alan Parker to give her the biographical role of Argentine heroine Eva Peron in the musical film "Evita" that won her a Golden Globe Award in 1996.

She has appeared in over 20 films, several of which have bombed, most notably 2002's "Swept Away", directed by Ritchie.

Musically, she has few, if any real rivals.

The Recording Industry Association of America has described her as the best-selling female rock artist of the 20th century and the second top-selling female artist in the United States.

Guinness World Records list her as the world's most successful female recording artist of all time and she has sold an estimated 200 million albums. Her last tour, "Confessions", became the top-grossing tour ever by a female artist.

The Sunday Times estimates Madonna and Ritchie's fortune at around $600 million.

Much of Madonna's success is built on her shock value.

In 1989, the video for "Like A Prayer", her third transatlantic chart-topper, with its links between religion and eroticism, was condemned by the Vatican and caused Pepsi-Cola to cancel a sponsorship deal with the star.

The resulting publicity helped the album of the same title to become a global bestseller.

In her 1990 "Blonde Ambition" tour, she famously wore a Jean Paul Gaultier conical bra and covered the stage in religious imagery. The Vatican called it "one of the most satanic shows in the history of humanity."

At the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards Madonna kissed Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera as they performed her classic song "Like A Virgin".

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