He’s Scientology’s Most Famous Disciple, Who’s Converted Countless Celebrities to His Belief That Humans Are an Exiled Race From Outer Space. Now Tom Cruise Hasset His Sights on America’s Most Powerful Woman. But Can He Really Convert Oprah?
You could argue that she’s the most influential woman in America, not least because her daily television programme reaches the living rooms of almost every home in the U.S.
Television insiders insist she can single-handedly make books into best-sellers and mere celebrities into mega- stars. But now, glamorous-talk show host Oprah Winfrey has become the target of the controversial Church of Scientology.
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The campaign is being led by its most famous disciple, 43-year- old Tom Cruise – who is doing everything in his considerable power to convert her to the cultish faith. As the Mail reported last week, Cruise has recently bought a house two doors away from Oprah in the glamorous suburbs of Santa Barbara, California.
The two are close friends. Winfrey regularly sings Cruise’s praises on her show, and it was there that he chose to make his first public declaration of love for his new fiancée, 26-year-old Katie Holmes, in a toe- curling spectacle that left thousands of Americans wondering, in the words of one website, whether ‘Tom Cruise really has gone nuts’.
But the wooing of Oprah Winfrey to the Scientology cause has not been left to Cruise alone. Fellow Scientologist, Pulp Fiction star John Travolta, 51, whom she also repeatedly favours on her television programme, recently presented her with a Pounds 250,000 Bentley car for her birthday.
‘Oprah would be a massive catch for the Scientologists,’ announced one Internet site this week, ‘and you can almost see Tom Cruise’s eyes gleaming at the prospect.’ Another added: ‘If Oprah falls into the hands of Scientology, who can tell what influence she might have on the population.
– The Selling of a Church: The Courting of Celebrities
The prospect is terrifying.’ For the Church of Scientology has a controversial reputation.
Scientology may not be quite as hip in Hollywood at the moment as the ultrafashionable Jewish mystical group beloved of Madonna, Kabbalah, but it is regarded by many as being more powerful, and the church is clearly on a recruitment drive for another star disciple.
Scientology already counts among its celebrity followers Travolta’s actress wife Kelly Preston, former Cheers star Kirstie Alley, Lisa Marie Presley and Nancy Cartwright, the voice of cartoon character Bart Simpson.
Travolta, who also has a house in Santa Barbara near Winfrey, vehemently denies claims that the followers of Scientologists are brainwashed into blind adherence to its principles.
‘That is garbage,’ he says. ‘Do you really believe that I would stand for something like that? The courses help me solve my problems. I also attend religious counselling where, with a spiritual guide, I tackle personal problems.’ But most of the focus is on the cult’s biggest star, Cruise, who now uses his considerable power and influence in Hollywood – not to mention his estimated Pounds 150million fortune – to gather recruits for the so-called religion, which suggests that humans are an exiled race from outer space called Thetans and claims to have eight million followers worldwide (though some critics would argue its true membership is only about 50,000).
Founded by the late L. Ron Hubbard in 1955, Scientology is defined by a belief in the power of a person’s spirit to clear itself of past painful experiences through self-knowledge and spiritual fulfilment.
This is achieved through intensive counselling or ‘auditing’. Mental pain is measured by an electropsychometer, a machine that Hubbard invented. The basic aim of the cult is to create a society in which everyone, even non-Scientologists, is managed by the Church’s ‘leaders of tomorrow’. In this imagined society, human rights would be disregarded – only ‘cleared’ and ‘non-aberrant’ Scientologists would be entitled to any rights.
One critic of the cult, psychologist and author Milton Sapirstein, has argued: ‘It is the authoritarian dream: a population of zombies free to be manipulated by the great brains of the founder, leader of the inner manipulative clique.’ Some members around the world have been convicted of serious crimes.
In 1996, a French Scientology leader was convicted of involuntary homicide when a court found he was responsible for driving an acolyte to suicide, while in Italy the following year, 29 Scientologists were sentenced to between nine and 20 months in jail after being found guilty of defrauding members and evading Pounds 35million in taxes.
Scientology is extremely sensitive to criticism. It uses the vast funds it accrues from its members to defend itself and harass its critics around the world.
Members have been known to hold ‘shoot-a-thon’ parties, in which cult members use Uzi and AK47 submachine guns to shoot at photographs of critics and staff members who have left and publicly criticised the organisation.
In spite of this, the cult’s appetite for rich, influential supporters knows few bounds – Winfrey aside.
Oprah Winfrey is not Tom Cruise’s only prey when it comes to wooing the powerful.
Just two years ago, Cruise made a determined effort to convince Jamie Packer, the Australian media tycoon (and heir to a Pounds 4.5billion fortune), of the benefits of Scientology, just as he did with his second wife, actress Nicole Kidman, and his subsequent girlfriend, Penelope Cruz. None of those attempts worked, however, which accounts for his current fascination with Oprah.
Cruise is now so much in thrall to the Scientologists that he insists that his children and anyone else close to him must embrace its bizarre teachings – which include the claim that Scientology can free individuals of negative views ‘implanted’ in humans by aliens centuries ago.
Indeed, some movie insiders say that Cruise’s passion for the cult has grown to such extraordinary proportions in recent the past year that it now pervades every part of his life. On the set of his latest film, War Of The Worlds, Cruise demanded that a Scientology tent – complete with volunteer ‘ministers’ – should be available at all times to ‘help the sick and injured’ among the cast and crew.
There are suggestions that Scientology lies behind his sudden engagement to the beautiful Katie Holmes, which some in the industry have dismissed as a sham romance conducted for publicity purposes – a claim Cruise firmly denies.
Sham or not, what isn’t in doubt is that Holmes has fallen under the spell of the cult since meeting Cruise.
The young former Dawson’s Creek TV star has already announced her conversion to Scientology and is followed everywhere by Scientology ‘monitors’, who constantly whisper into walkie-talkie devices strapped to their wrists and wear ear-pieces as if they were intelligence agents.
She is also seldom to be seen without her Scientology minder, a shadowy 29-year-old woman called Jessica Feshbach Rodriguez, whose family are one of the cult’s largest financial donors. Holmes calls Rodriguez her ‘best friend’, even though they have known each other for only a matter of weeks.
Bizarrely, a series of red blotches on Katie Holmes’s face, which suddenly appeared after she met Cruise, were alleged by some critics to be the result of a niacinbased ‘detoxification process’ performed by the Church of Scientology, although this process was officially denied by the organisation.
Holmes says it is ‘ludicrous’ to suggest that she has been pressganged into adopting Scientology by her new fiancé.
She says: ‘Tom doesn’t put pressure on people. He is the kindest, smartest, most adoring man.’ Not everyone is convinced. One American commentator said this week: ‘Holmes, who was previously a sweet, thoughtful, articulate young woman, now comes across as a zombie,’ adding: ‘It can only be more worrisome for her parents as they see the steady hold Tom Cruise and Scientology have taken of their beloved daughter.’ So pervasive is Scientology’s influence in Cruise ‘s life that he has even placed the education of his two adopted children with his former wife Nicole Kidman – Isabella, 12, and Conor, 10 – in the hands of Cass and Marian Cruise, two of his three sisters, who both converted to the religion over a decade ago.
They are reported to be placing heavy emphasis on the teachings of Scientology.
‘Bella Cruise’, as his daughter is known, has recently been listed in the Scientology bulletin for completing-what it calls the ‘basic course’. ‘This can only be heartbreaking for Kidman,’ says one industry insider, ‘as she is a devout Roman Catholic from an observant family.’ Holmes, too, comes from a Catholic family, but has agreed to convert to Scientology – something that Kidman always refused to do.
It was Nicole’s reluctance to embrace the religion, and the effects she saw it having on her husband, that some friends insist helped to destroy their marriage.
‘Nicole’s very worried about her children now,’ one friend of the actress said this week.
Actress Penelope Cruz, whom Cruise dated after his separation from Kidman, also took some Scientology courses during their three- year relationship, but she, too, declined to convert – which many Hollywood insiders believe was one cause of their break-up.
‘You can hardly get to Tom these days without going through a Scientologist,’ says one industry professional.
Cruise’s third sister, Lee Anne De Vette, another convert to Scientology, has taken charge of his public relations this year, replacing respected movie industry figure Pat Kingsley.
Since his sister’s arrival in the job, Cruise’s public support for Scientology has increased dramatically – so much so that there are signs that even senior Scientologists feel that he may have ‘gone overboard’ in his preaching.
‘But they’d never rein in their poster boy,’ says an insider.
‘He’s their best recruiter.’ Cruise insists that the Paramount studio executives on Mission Impossible 3 attend the cult’s lavish ‘Celebrity Centre’ in Los Angeles for a four-andahalf-hour induction course before they meet him.
He also insists that any journalist wishing to interview him should also first attend the centre’s course.
One executive at Paramount’s parent company, Viacom, has confirmed that the studio is considering cancelling the third instalment of the Mission Impossible series, due to start shooting next month, because of Cruise’s ever-increasing support for the cult.
A convert to Scientology in 1987 in the wake of his first marriage to actress Mimi Rogers, Cruise claims that its teaching helped him to overcome his dyslexia.
According to members of the Church, Cruise has reached the sixth of eight ‘Operating Thetan levels’ and is trusted enough to ‘know almost all the secret truth of the universe’.
He now puts his so-called religion ‘above everything else in his life’ in the words of one friend.
‘In the past few months Tom’s gone completely crazy with his public support for Scientology,’ adds another insider. ‘So much so that it’s beginning to affect his standing in the movie industry.’ When asked if he sees it as his role to recruit new followers for Scientology, Cruise says: ‘I’m a helper.
For instance, I myself have helped hundreds of people get off drugs. In Scientology, we have the only successful drug rehabilitation programme in the world called Narconon’.
However, independent experts in various a series of countries have warned against the Narconon programme, warning that calling it is based on ‘in pseudo- science’, a description that Cruise heatedly disputes.
In Hollywood, one rumour refuses to die down – that Cruise interviewed a number of young actresses in the months before the sudden announcement of his attachment to Katie Holmes – ostensibly about their appearing as his co-star in Mission Impossible 3.
One was Scarlett Johansson. The Lost In Translation star was reportedly subjected to a long interview by Cruise, before being ushered into a room for dinner with senior Scientologists.
The actress is said to have made her excuses and a sharp exit. The smitten Miss Holmes entered shortly afterwards – under Cruise control.
Oprah Winfrey beware.