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Monday, 18 December, 2000, 15:34 GMT
The first Mr Madonna
Penn (2nd left) in Oscar-nominated The Thin Red Line
Actor Sean Penn is known as a maverick whose notoriety reached a peak with his marriage to Madonna Louise Ciccone in 1985.

The ceremony itself was a media scrum. The bride's vows were drowned out by the press helicopters hovering above the outdoor ceremony.

Penn was reportedly so incensed at the press intrusion that he fired a gun in the air.

But he has always been a man who did what he wanted, blowing a fuse when it did not work out.

Sean Penn
Penn is now married to actress Robin Wright, and has two children
Long before he ever met Madonna, the 18-year-old Penn dropped out of college to seek fame as an actor.

Acting was in his blood - his father Leo was a TV and film director while his mother is the actress Eileen Ryan.

Penn was marked for success in an early screen appearance as spaced out surfer Spicoli in Fast Times At Ridgemount High, in 1982.

The critics loved it and Penn moved back to Hollywood, where he became a satellite member of the famous acting "bratpack", including Rob Lowe and Charlie Sheen.

He played a surly juvenile prison inmate in Bad Boys, reportedly applying real tattoos to his arms.

Though he took comedy roles, intensity has been his strong point.

In The Falcon And The Snowman he played a young man working for the CIA who decides to sell government secrets to the Russian.

At Close Range, another true life drama, stars Penn as a teenage boy who comes to blows with his criminal father.


Penn's acting career was seriously interrupted by the whirlwind romance and then turbulent marriage to Madonna.

The only film Penn made during his marriage was Shanghai Surprise, also starring Madonna and critically panned.

The ill-starred couple divorced in 1989.

Penn ended up behind bars later that year, serving 32 days in Los Angeles Country Jail for assaulting a photographer and violating probation.

Acting is the girl who's unattractive to me, I don't enjoy it ever

Sean Penn
But he was soon back on form in the gritty and violent State Of Grace, about a gang of Irish-American criminals in New York.

One of his co-stars was the actress Robin Wright who became his girlfriend and then wife in 1996, by which time she was the mother of his two children Dylan Frances and Hopper Jack.

Announcing that acting was behind him, he directed The Indian Runner, a film about two brothers, one a heroic cop and the other a self-destructive ex-criminal.

But he accepted a co-starring role in Brian De Palma's 1993 film Carlito's Way, playing a lawyer and mercurial friend to Al Pacino's former gangster.

He was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Actor for the role.

Critical hit

Both critical and popular acclaim came his way in 1995 with Dead Man Walking, a Tim Robbins film in which Penn played a prisoner on death row in the American South.

He won Best Actor for the part at the Berlin Film Festival and at Independent Awards.

He also won Best Actor at Cannes for his role in Nick Cassavetes' film She's So Lovely.

And more recently his comic turn as a 30s jazz guitarist in Woody Allen's Sweet And Lowdown was a critical hit.

Though his forays into directing have not, on the whole, been successful, Penn periodically announces his retirement from acting in favour of directing.

There are reports that Penn is mining his Irish roots in two new projects.

Will it be a Braveheart-style story of legendary chieftain Brian Boru who fought the Vikings, or a biopic about fiery republican playwright Brendan Behan?

Both sound like suitable choices for the tempestuous Mr Penn.

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