Isaac Hayes’ History With Scientology
My friend, Isaac Hayes, died on Sunday, and his passing leaves many unanswered questions.
The great R&B star, actor, DJ, performer and family man, the composer of “Soul Man,” “Hold On I’m Coming” and other hits by Sam Moore and Dave Prater like “When Something Is Wrong with My Baby,” also was a member of the Church of Scientology.
Isaac was found dead by his treadmill, but conveniently missing from the wire stories was a significant fact: in January 2006, Isaac had a significant stroke. At the time, the word went out only that he had been hospitalized for exhaustion.
But the truth was, Isaac, whom I’d seen just a couple of months earlier when he headlined the Blues Ball in Memphis, was in trouble. Having lost the rights to his songs two decades earlier, he was finally making some money voicing the character of Chef on “South Park.” But “South Park” lampooned Scientology, so the leaders wanted Isaac out.
Push came to shove on Nov. 16, 2005, when “South Park” aired its hilarious “Trapped in the Closet” episode spoofing Tom Cruise and John Travolta. “South Park” creator Matt Stone told me later that Isaac had come to him in tears.
“He said he was under great pressure from Scientology, and if we didn’t stop poking at them, he’d have to leave,” Stone said.
The conversation ended there. Isaac performed Chef’s signature song at the Blues Ball a week later with great delight. Although he was devoted to Scientology, he also loved being part of “South Park.” He was proud of it. And, importantly, it gave him income he badly needed.
But then came the stroke, which was severe. His staff — consisting of Scientology monitors who rarely left him alone — tried to portray it as a minor health issue. It wasn’t. Sources in Memphis told me at the time that Isaac had significant motor control and speech issues. His talking was impaired.
In March 2006, news came that Hayes was resigning from “South Park.” On March 20, 2006, I wrote a column called “Chef’s Quitting Controversy,” explaining that Hayes was in no position to have quit anything due to his stroke. But Scientology issued the statement to the press saying Hayes had resigned, and the press just ate it up. No one spoke to Isaac directly, because he couldn’t literally speak. “Chef” was written out of the show.
Isaac’s income stream was severely impaired as a result. Suddenly there were announcements of his touring, and performing. It didn’t seem possible, but word went out that he’d be at BB King’s in New York in January 2007. I went to see him and reported on it here.
The show was abomination. Isaac was plunked down at a keyboard, where he pretended to front his band. He spoke-sang, and his words were halting. He was not the Isaac Hayes of the past.
What was worse was that he barely knew me. He had appeared in my documentary, “Only the Strong Survive,” released in 2003. We knew each other very well. I was actually surprised that his Scientology minder, Christina Kumi Kimball, with whom I had difficult encounters in the past, let me see him backstage at BB King’s. Our meeting was brief, and Isaac said quietly that he did know me. But the light was out in his eyes, and the situation was worrisome.
But the general consensus was that he needed the money. Without “Chef,” Isaac’s finances were severely curtailed. He had mouths to feed to home. Plus, Scientology requires huge amounts of money, as former member, actor Jason Beghe, has explained in this space. For Isaac to continue in the sect, he had to come up with funds. Performing was the only way.
The publishers of Religion New Blog consider Scientology to be a commercial enterprise masquerading as a religion. In our opinion Scientology equals quackery, and we believe that its practices and teachings make Scientology a dangerous, destructive cult.