DARK PAST

Sean Penn’s Horrifying History of Alleged Abuse

The Oscar-winning actor has filed a $10 million lawsuit against Empire co-creator Lee Daniels for referencing his alleged abuse in an interview, bringing up questions about his past.

02.23.15 7:56 AM ET

“Who gave this son of a bitch a green card?”

Yes, Sean Penn closed out the 87th annual Academy Awards in embarrassing fashion with an off-color, sorta-racist joke while “honoring” Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman as the night’s Best Picture winner. The two are longtime pals, with Penn having starred in the filmmaker’s 2003 drama 21 Grams, so the strong Twitter backlash seems a bit exaggerated given the chummy nature of their relationship. 

While many were critical, some rose to Penn’s defense, citing his (decidedly non-racist) relief work in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 earthquake that rocked Haiti, while others chose the occasion to crack jokes about Penn’s chummy relationships with dictators Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro as clear evidence of his fondness for Hispanic people. Inarritu himself didn’t seem to take issue with the joke, telling reporters backstage, “I found it hilarious. Sean and I have that kind of brutal relationship. I think it was very funny.”

But then Twitter went after him for his very checkered past.

These days, social media is the great equalizer—taking up the cause in celebrity cold cases ranging from Woody Allen to Bill Cosby in search of justice, and a cultural corrective. And now the Twitterati has turned on Penn, who was a very visible presence at this year’s Academy Awards and Jimmy Kimmel’s popular after-show, for his violent history.

Penn was extremely violent toward his ex-wife Madonna when the two were married in the 1980s. Once, in June 1987, he allegedly caused the pop superstar to be hospitalized after hitting her across the head with a baseball bat. But Madonna, who remained protective of her husband, refused to press charges since Penn was already facing 60 days in jail for assaulting a film extra.

Things got even uglier on December 28, 1989. According to a police report filed by Madonna, Penn scaled their Malibu home that afternoon, found Madonna alone in her bedroom, and told her that he owned her “lock, stock, and barrel.”

According to reports, “When she told him she was leaving the house, he tried to bind her hands with an electric lamp and cord. Screaming and afraid, Madonna fled from the bedroom. What followed was a nine-hour ordeal which left her deeply shaken. Penn chased her into the living room, caught her and bound her to a chair with heavy twine. Then he threatened to cut off her hair.”

He allegedly “smacked and roughed up” Madonna while she was tied to a chair, and then left for a few hours to buy more booze—leaving his then-wife bound and gagged—only to return and continue terrorizing her. He only agreed to untie her after she “agreed to perform a degrading sex act on him,” and then fled the house, got in her car, and raced to the sheriff’s office—eventually stumbling inside.

“I hardly recognized her as Madonna,” Lt. Bill McSweeney said at the time. “She was weeping, her lip was bleeding and she had obviously been struck.”

Penn was charged with felony domestic assault, but Madonna told the DA to drop the charges against him. He eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, and the pop star split from Penn shortly thereafter.

That’s not all. Penn, 54, was also arrested once for attempted murder after he was busted hanging an intruding paparazzo over his ninth-floor hotel room balcony while filming Shanghai Surprise in Macau, and was charged with battery and vandalism after kicking a paparazzo in 2010 and breaking his camera. The entire incident was captured on tape.