Book Excerpt: 'Madonna' by Andrew Morton

On one occasion she was accompanied by Sean Penn, on another by her friend Debi Mazar. There is only one condition — that the hospitals concerned ensure that her visits are absolutely private. Seeing these children struggling to cope with life-threatening illnesses like AIDS and leukemia, leaves her drained and deeply moved. During one visit she walked into a ward where a young boy, in the late stages of leukemia, simply refused to get out of bed. Depressed and upset, he seemed to have given up the fight for life. The boy's father was beside himself, unable to convince his son to battle on. So Madonna went into his room and joshed: "Hey, get out of bed. Who do you think you are?" Then, for the next thirty minutes she sat quietly talking and playing with him until, finally, he gingerly climbed out of bed and joined the other children. "Everyone was moved to tears," recalls one eyewitness.

While she may be a compassionate capitalist, she is also a competitive millionaire, her financial ambitions conforming to the dreams of the superrich American male. For several years she harbored the notion of owning her own basketball team. While she is a fervent supporter of the New York Knicks, her financial advisors sounded out several other teams. Her heart, however, was set on the Knicks but her offer to take a share in the team was turned down. Typically, she wanted to be an active investor, involved in the day-to-day decision-making. The current owners didn't want that, preferring instead a sleeping partner. In the end, discussions came to nothing.

Now able to pay millions of dollars for a painting or a home she likes, Madonna has effortlessly taken on the mindset of the super-rich. "But I'm broke," is a remark heard all too frequently from the queen of pop, who, like the British monarch, never carries money. Her bodyguard or chauffeur is given a $300 float to take care of daily expenses. For while she may employ bodyguards, chauffeurs, maids and cooks, old habits die hard. The girl who survived by bumming meals from friends and acquaintances has not changed overmuch. When she is out with a group of friends, Madonna is rarely the one to reach for the check. She will wait to see if someone else is going to pick up the tab and then, as a last resort, she will break down the bill, so that everyone pays their share. Jimmy Albright, her former bodyguard and lover, remembers how he would often end up paying for everyone — even though he was the poorest guy at the table. As he observes, "I used to tell her that she was so tight she squeaked. She thinks that because people know she has a lot of money they will try and take advantage of her. But she's on top of everything."

Her penny-pinching approach startled her Australian-born butler at her Notting Hill home in London. When he splashed out $600 for flowers, including her favorite tiger lilies, she reprimanded him severely for his extravagance. In New York she uses a modest car service rather than stretch limos, to save money, and keeps an eagle-eye out for those who feel that, because she is now wealthy, she can be ripped off. On tour she will personally haggle with hotels for cut-price rates and she checks every bill, refusing, for example, to pay excessive phone or fax charges.

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