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The Time Madonna Almost Quit Music for Good

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Madonna’s 13th studio album, Rebel Hearts, due out Mar. 10, is a sure a sign of any of a long and productive career. But when she burst onto the scene 30 years ago, it wasn’t clear what the future would hold for the Material Girl.

The reason why was simple: Desperately Seeking Susan.

It took a mere three months, almost to the day, for Madonna to go from a small blurb in TIME (“She is 24 and has been hot in the music business for all of six months”; she was actually 26) to the cover of the magazine. At that point, her concert tour was stirring up young audiences nationwide, her first album Madonna had sold 2.8 million copies in the U.S. and her second, Like a Virgin, had done about twice that much. But the movie, made prior to her fame and released right in the middle of its first wave, tipped the scales. “As things are, Susan gives Madonna an audience she can’t reach with MTV or disco,” TIME commented. In fact, Susan was such a good fit for her that, for a moment, it seemed like she might switch focus:

Madonna admits that Susan, except for her four-second attention span, is to some extent a self-caricature, and it remains to be seen what she could do with a role that required her to wear grown-ups’ clothes. The guess here is that she would be very good. It does not take much imagination to see her in the Judy Holliday role in Born Yesterday, beating Broderick Crawford at gin rummy.

Hollywood thinks so too. Director Herbert Ross, who did Funny Girl and Footloose, is considering her, he says, for the lead in a movie about Stripper Blaze Starr. Producer Ray Stark has talked with her about starring in a film about Libby Holman, the ’20s and ’30s torch singer. ”Considering” and ”talking with” do not cost much, of course, but Madonna‘s considering is moving in the same direction. ”I don’t think of myself as a rock star,” she tells an interviewer as she cools out in her hotel room after her concert two weeks ago in New Orleans. The comment is not a gesture at modesty; Madonna is not modest. Nor, for that matter, is she puffed up with self-importance. She has a very clear, cold view of her strengths and weaknesses, and those of the wide world too. She got her first training as a dancer (she won a scholarship in dance at the University of Michigan, but she stayed only 1 1/2 years). She became a fairly good rock drummer and guitarist during her knockabout years as a musician in New York City, then turned to rock singing because she realized she wasn’t going anywhere in the dance world. She says that she might do another rock tour, if her manager Freddy DeMann ”puts a gun to my head,” but clearly it is almost time for another career change.

Later in the story, she said that, while she planned to make more albums, the rock-star life was too grueling and that her ambition was to be a great actress. Of course, though she continued to add to her film credits, from A League of Their Own to Evita, that career change didn’t materialize. Three decades after that cover story, she’s still closer to a rock star than to anything else.

Read the 1985 cover story, here in the TIME Vault: Madonna Rocks the Land


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Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com