Sean Penn: Wife Beater or Misunderstood “Bad Boy”?

Sean Penn has long since shirked his 80s-held reputation for being a choleric and abusive proponent of violence, liable to snap with one mere glance from a paparazzo. This status of his tended to be at its zenith during the years he was married to Madonna, from 1985 to 1989 (with a brief separation in 1987). After marrying Robin Wright, having some kids and continuing to take on roles that helped foster critics’ belief in his abilities as an actor in the 1990s, Penn gradually shed his former standing as a hothead.

Sean Penn in the 80s
Sean Penn in the 80s

However, in the past few days, director Lee Daniels’ reminder to the public of Sean Penn’s history as a wife beater (Madonna filed a report in 1989 after being tied to a chair by Penn, roughed up and threatened that he would cut her hair) has prompted his old personality to flare up again. After Daniels’ remarked on Terrence Howard’s (who, incidentally appeared in Madonna’s video for “Ghosttown”) admission to beating his wife, bringing up the double standard, “That poor boy ain’t done nothing different than Marlon Brando or Sean Penn, and all of a sudden he’s some fuckin’ demon. That’s a sign of the time, of race, of where we are right now in America,” Penn flipped his lid and is now suing for defamation of character for ten million dollars.

Shooting Shanghai Surprise in 1986
Shooting Shanghai Surprise in 1986

While, yes, it’s annoying for another famous person to call you out for behavior that has never officially be proven (Madonna ain’t one to press charges against “the love of her life,” as stated in Truth or Dare), it is almost more suspect to attack one’s slanderer. It’s kind of like how Liberace got all up in arms when British tabloid The Daily Mirror said he was gay and then sued them for £8,000.

A stance typical of Penn in the 80s
A stance typical of Penn in the 80s

Accordingly, the anger that that has arose within Penn as a a result of Daniels’ statement leads one to believe that the sting of it hit too close to home. And although Penn has vehemently asserted, “Unlike Howard [I have] never been arrested, much less convicted, for domestic violence, as [my] ex-wives (including Madonna) would confirm and attest.” It’s interesting to note the callout specifically to Madonna, who is, indeed the one who suffered through his most overt period of violence. As Shakespeare once wrote, he “doth protest too much.”