As a religion with many celebrity devotees, Scientology can use its star power as an effective recruiting tool and give converts a belief system that helps them feel like their lives have purpose. Yet the more we learn about Scientology -- through its former members, documentaries, and interviews -- the more we see how the mysterious church ensnares vulnerable souls, and exploits their emotional and financial investments.
Thanks to A&E's new docuseries Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath (full episodes are streaming on AETV.com) and Alex Gibney's 2015 HBO documentary Going Clear (itself based on Lawrence Wright's book), we've learned tons about what famous followers and everyday devotees alike have done and said in the name of their church. While it's not fair to call them crazy when they act on behalf of an organization they believe will bring them salvation, their actions can certainly be classified as unorthodox.
Let's take a closer look at what famous Scientologists like Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and others have done as a result of their association with L. Ron Hubbard's religion... and try to make sense of it all.
Leah Remini: Dropped $1 million
One of the most famous Scientology defectors is former King of Queens star Leah Remini, who wrote a memoir, Troublemaker, in 2015 about her experiences with the church and now shares her experiences on her A&E docuseries.
In the book, Remini discusses one of the biggest scams of Scientology: the financial investment its members must make to gain standing in the church. Remini discusses how people with lower incomes often go into debt giving all their money to the church to take its courses and move up in the system.
Isaac Hayes: Quit his dream job
Despite the singer's long-running role as Chef on the controversy-courting cartoon, when South Park set its sights on Scientology in 2006, Hayes couldn't take the heat. After the L. Ron Hubbard-skewering episode "Trapped in the Closet," Hayes, himself a Scientologist, issued a statement to distance himself from his role and work on the show.
"There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends, and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins," he said. "As a civil rights activist of the past 40 years I cannot support a show that disrespects those beliefs and practices." Those Chocolate Salty Balls are saltier than we thought.
Bart Simpson (aka Nancy Cartwright): Solicited donations via robo-call
Back in 2009, noted Scientologist Nancy Cartwright, an alleged church supporter to the tune of $10 million, recorded a robo-call in character as Bart Simpson to promote an LA-based Scientology event. This forced FOX into its own apology: "The Simpsons does not, and never has, endorsed any religion, philosophy or system of beliefs any more profound than Butterfinger bars," the network said in a statement. Now, that's a religion we can get behind.
Kirstie Alley: Publicly shunned her best friend
Before she was Rebecca on Cheers, Kirstie Alley joined Scientology in 1979. The actress, perhaps best recognized today as a Jenny Craig spokesperson, has never been too shy about sharing her feelings on her church, most noticeably when it came to the end of her longtime friendship with Leah Remini.
One of the crueler practices of Scientology is to rid your life of any people who have criticized the church in any way. Scientology calls these people "SPs," or suppressive people. On its website, it states that "the suppressive person is also known as the anti-social personality. Within this category one finds Napoleon, Hitler, the unrepentant killer and the drug lord." That's right: It is comparing anyone who speaks out against the church to a dictator who killed millions of people.
When Remini left Scientology in 2013 and was declared an SP, Alley not only cut ties with her, she even took to Twitter to not-so-subtly announce the end of the friendship.
Nevertheless, Alley denies "shunning" Remini. "[Leah] left the religion and she was very critical," Alley told Howard Stern on his show in 2015. "That's just sort of water under the bridge. There's nothing going on and there was nothing going on for years. I didn't shun her, but if a lot of people are rejecting you, at some point you gotta ask, 'What am I doing?' I mean, that's what I would have asked myself."
Then again, Alley's idea of "a lot of people rejecting you" is probably limited to Scientologists, so it's not exactly that great of a point.
John Travolta: Made miracles happen
Scientologists are notoriously anti-medicine, and if given the choice, they rely on something known as an "assist" to help the body heal. As the church's handbook states, "A Scientologist can help make an individual well and happy simply by addressing the human spirit." It's that simple!
Back in 2012, before his all-out performance in The People v. O.J. Simpson, John Travolta claimed to have assisted a car accident victim. "I was in Shanghai recently at a work event and the Master of Ceremonies' best friend had recently gotten into a car wreck," Travolta recalled in an interview. "He had broken his ankle and was in constant pain. I asked him permission to do some Scientology assists and he said, 'Okay, sure'."
"You could actually see him confronting the pain and after a while he looked up at me and said, 'I feel better,' so I said ‘Okay, end of assist.' He had gotten noticeably better and I was chomping at the bit for more."
In addition, one-time Scientology recruit Josh Brolin insisted to Scientology expert Lawrence Wright that Travolta worked similar magic on none other than Marlon Brando. "I watched this process going on -- it was very physical," Brolin recalled. "I was thinking, This is really fucking bizarre! Then, after ten minutes, Brando opens his eyes and says, 'That really helped. I actually feel different!'"
Sadly, Travolta's camp called Brolin's memory "pure fabrication," but it sure does offer a nice mental image.
Travolta: Sang Scientology songs with Sylvester Stallone's brother
Frank Stallone is an outspoken -- and out-singing -- member of the church, who collaborated with Travolta and now-grown child actor Leif Garrett to attempt to harmonize the word of L. Ron Hubbard on his 1986 album The Road to Freedom. Despite their joyless jazzy chanting, the album, sponsored by the Church of Scientology, managed to go gold.
Laura Prepon: Made herself susceptible to blackmail
In 2015, Laura Prepon was the cover star of Celebrity magazine, a Scientology publication. The most horrifying thing about her cover story is that most of what she said is incomprehensible to the average non-Scientologist reader. More confusing, however, is when she speaks about "auditing," a practice described in nonsensical detail on the Scientology website as "[restoring] beingness and ability. This is accomplished by: (1) helping individuals rid themselves of any spiritual disabilities; (2) increasing spiritual abilities."
In the interview, Prepon said, "The auditing has stripped away all of this charge, false ideas, decisions and mis-emotions that were affecting me. I recently had one of my biggest cognitions in a New Era Dianetics session. I spotted this decision I made a long time ago that was affecting me to this day. It was a huge realization. At the time of the incident, you make a postulate as a 'pro-survival' decision, you know? Then to spot it years and years later, after peeling away these layers and then—boom, there it is—it's mind blowing! To think of it just hiding there in my bank, affecting me."
While it sounds a lot like therapy, the practice of auditing has no scientific founding, and to make things worse, has been criticized by former Scientologists as a method for the church to dig up some dirt on you and later blackmail you. (Going Clear posits that audits might be a big part of why Travolta is still under the church's command.)
Lisa Marie Presley: Wrote an anti-Scientology song
When Elvis' daughter made her way out of the church in 2012, she dropped many thinly veiled hints that her time spent as a Scientologist left her all shook up. Just look at the lyrics of "So Long":
This here is a city without lights
Those are all the people without eyes
Churches, they don’t have a soul
Soup for sale without a bowl
Religion so corrupt and running lives
Farewell, fair weathered friends
I can’t say I’ll miss you in the end
In an interview with OMG Insider, Presley expanded on the song's inspiration: "There was a point in my life where no one would ever tell me anything bad. No one was telling me what was happening or what was going on, really. So I had a very obscure and actually completely blocked view of reality for a very long time. So, when I got rid of all these nuts in my life and these, whatever they're crazy criminal people, away, that I was like, OK, I'm going to go find out what's really going on out there."
Tom Cruise: Recruited then dumped Nazanin Boniadi
Homeland actress Nazanin Boniadi was raised by a Scientologist mother, and in both the documentary Going Clear and Leah Remini’s memoir, we learned how the church manipulated her into breaking up with her boyfriend. Why? Because it had another mate in mind.
After Tom Cruise had broken up with Penelope Cruz -- and before he met Katie Holmes -- he and Boniadi briefly "dated." Scientology had Boniadi's braces removed, dyed her hair, and had her buy expensive clothing, all so that she appeared more physically desirable to Cruise. The church showed her the files from her boyfriend's audit in order to convince her to dump him. Soon after Boniadi and Cruise started dating, then moved in together.
Boniadi had a headache one day and asked Scientology leader and Cruise BFF David Miscavige several times to clarify what he had been saying, repeating, "Excuse me?" "Miscavige took that as an insult," a source told Vanity Fair. That was all it took for Cruise to want to end the relationship, apparently. But instead of doing it himself -- instead of sending even a text -- he had the church handle it.
Boniadi was sent to a Scientology center in Clearwater, Florida (a punishment in itself), and forced to do manual labor to get back into the church's good graces. She has never spoken about the breakup openly (perhaps in fear, as she allegedly signed a confidentiality agreement).
Tom Cruise: Ranted against antidepressants
Tom Cruise is a Scientology demigod, which, without a doubt, explains why he displays such joy when sharing its practices (skip to 4:30 in the video above to watch him cackle about the church). Besides allegedly allowing the church to audition wives for him and appearing manic in his infamous interview with Oprah, the most destructive thing Cruise has done in the name of the church is criticize Brooke Shields for using antidepressants for her postpartum depression.
In an interview with Matt Lauer back in 2005, Cruise said, "There is no such thing as a chemical imbalance," and that through "vitamins and exercise," a person's problems can be cured. "Drugs are not the answer," Cruise told Lauer. "I think there's a better quality of life."
While Shields forgave Cruise for his comments and even attended his wedding to Katie Holmes, Cruise, who, we'll remind you, is not a doctor, takes things a step further than Travolta’s alleged healing.
Juliette Lewis: Backed up Cruise
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Lewis backed up Cruise's comments: "I'll get all conspiratorial on you, and I'm just going to throw this out: The mainstream media is funded by pharmaceutical companies, so when you have the biggest movie star in the world at the time -- Tom Cruise -- coming out against antidepressants and Ritalin and just saying, 'Hey, why don't you put a warning label on there?' The thing about Scientology is it is anti-drug in that you're seeking relationship or communication tools -- simple basics on how to live better. So, when Tom came out about that, I've never seen someone get torn down so hard, and they still brutalize him with Scientology pieces to this day."
OK, we may be guilty on that last count -- but we'll remind you that many people have benefited from the use of antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs, so perhaps patients should consult with their doctors before following Cruise and Lewis' dubious medical advice.
Katie Holmes: Used a burner phone to escape
According to the LA Times, Holmes was able to get in contact with divorce lawyers without her ex-husband's knowledge via a disposable phone gifted by a friend. By using a device untethered to Cruise, Holmes assembled a legal team across three states to aid in her case to dissolve the marriage and get primary custody of her child with Cruise, Suri.
L. Ron Hubbard: Spent his final days in hiding
In an ironic twist, Scientology's chief engineer died of a stroke in 1986, hiding from society at large and the controversial lawsuits that plagued him and his religion. According to an LA Times report, Hubbard was last publicly spotted in 1980, before he retreated to live on a mobile home that eventually settled in Creston, California.
"As early as 1966, Hubbard claimed to have relinquished managerial control of the church," Joel Sappell and Robert W. Welkos reported. "But ex-Scientologists and several court rulings have held that this was a maneuver to shield Hubbard from potential legal actions and accountability for the group's activities." "... Anything that indicated that L. Ron Hubbard controlled the church or was engaged in management was to be shredded," Laurel Sullivan, Hubbard's former public relations officer, told the Times.
Despite attempts at a cover-up, now sitting pretty in Scientology heaven, Hubbard remains a hero of the religion he founded. For all us nonbelievers out there, we'll always have Battlefield Earth.
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