The activation of the tumor suppressor p53 facilitates the cellular response to genotoxic stress; however, the p53 response can only be executed if its interaction with its inhibitor Mdm2 is abolished. There have been conflicting reports on the question of whether p53 posttranslational modifications, such as phosphorylation or acetylation, are essential or only play a subtle, fine-tuning role in the p53 response. Thus, it remains unclear whether p53 modification is absolutely required for its activation. We have now identified all major acetylation sites of p53. Although unacetylated p53 retains its ability to induce the p53-Mdm2 feedback loop, loss of acetylation completely abolishes p53-dependent growth arrest and apoptosis. Notably, acetylation of p53 abrogates Mdm2-mediated repression by blocking the recruitment of Mdm2 to p53-responsive promoters, which leads to p53 activation independent of its phosphorylation status. Our study identifies p53 acetylation as an indispensable event that destabilizes the p53-Mdm2 interaction and enables the p53-mediated stress response.