Hollywood Celebrities with Ties to Dangerous Cults

By Jake SchroederLast Updated Apr 2, 2020 5:29:32 PM ET
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Often seen as pretentious and frivolous, Hollywood stars have often been ridiculed by the public for dabbling in seemingly ridiculous practices. From unconventional health regimens and beauty gimmicks to absurd fashion choices, the rich and famous seem to have an irresistible attraction to the preposterous in their quest to be unique.

In some cases, the pursuit of deeper meaning, power, greater success — whatever the goal might be — goes too far, leading celebrities down dark paths and into the clutches of dangerous — maybe even deadly — gurus. Let’s take a look at some of the most shocking cases of huge celebrities who fell for the propaganda promoted by dangerous cults.

Kirstie Alley

Breaking into the acting scene after a prominent role in 1982's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, actress and model Kirstie Alley continued to grow more popular throughout the last decades of the 20th century by starring in shows like Cheers and Veronica's Closet.

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Behind the scenes, however, Alley has long been a prominent Scientologist — a cult-like "religion" founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard that promotes self-healing and a set of ideas called Dianetics. Today, most people consider the so-called religion to be little more than a deceitful, money-hungry trap.

Joaquin Phoenix

Joker star Joaquin Phoenix might have garnered a cult-like following of his own in Gotham City following his accidental ignition of an anti-upper class movement in the 2019 Todd Phillips film. Interestingly, the actor actually has some real-life experience with a cult as well — one that is much more menacing than any fictional one.

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Called Children of God, the religious cult that Phoenix and his family belonged to many years ago probably contributed to the very troubled lives the Phoenixes have lived. They got out, but the scars still remain.

Jaden Smith

In cooperation with his sister, Willow, and their close family friend Kylie Jenner — maybe you’ve heard the name — Will and Jada Pinkett Smith's son is rumored to be quite active in the trendy (and mysterious) L.A. fad dubbed the Orgonite Society.

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Advertising itself as a "Secret Society of Individuals Who Create and Place Orgonite to Balance Gaia’s Energies," the group is very into the power of crystals. It gives its members a pyramid of Orgone — both Jaden and Jenner have been pictured with one. The concepts are all rooted in Greek mythology.

John Travolta

One of the two most famous members of the Church of Scientology, actor John Travolta has never been afraid to embrace his seemingly endless love and support for the cult known as Scientology. Along with his wife, Kelly Preston, Travolta is as synonymous with the religion as Hubbard.

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At one point, Travolta actually saved a woman from an accident and then claimed to media sources that he had healed her using the power of Dianetics. This was no doubt an attempt to rehabilitate the Church's poor image, but it didn’t work.

Michelle Pfeiffer

Although it’s certainly not as dangerous or as toxic as Children of God or the Church of Scientology, the cult that actress Michelle Pfeiffer was inadvertently roped into still seems plenty risky. Her exposure was all thanks to her (very Los Angeles-sounding) personal trainers.

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At the age of 20, Pfeiffer was new to the Hollywood game, and she wanted to stay in top shape to keep up with her peers. Two trainers got her hooked on breatharianism, a cult that argues that food and water aren’t necessary as long as you have air and sunlight. Not crazy at all, right?

Giovanni Ribisi

Known by many for his numerous guest appearances on the hit sitcom Friends (playing the younger brother of fan-favorite Phoebe), actor Giovanni Ribisi and his twin sister, Marissa Ribisi, are both quite involved with the Church of Scientology whenever they aren’t working.

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Also famous for his roles in Seth MacFarlane's many projects, Ribisi seems to have no reservations about his association with such a controversial institution. This is typical of those involved with Scientology. It’s not until they leave Scientology — and face the punishments dealt out by the "church" — that they see the reality of the situation.

David Arquette

Much like the Phoenix family, actor David Arquette and his equally famous siblings — Patricia, Alexis, Richmond and Rosanna — all grew up in an ominous ‘70’s cult. Known as the Skymont Subud commune, this spiritual organization was a social experiment of sorts.

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Created and intended to be somewhat of a Utopia, the Skymont Subud commune expected those who lived there to go without electricity, running water and bathrooms — and be happy about it. It's hard to imagine what that must have been like growing up, but the spiritual, sort of "one with the earth" approach is actually noticeable in the siblings’ personalities.

Laura Prepon

Equally famous for her starring roles in Fox's 2000’s sitcom That ‘70s Show and Netflix's breakout hit Orange Is the New Black, actress Laura Prepon doesn't necessarily fit the profile of someone you would expect to be associated with Scientology.

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Always willing to open up about the religion, even during these times when the dastardly deeds of the Church have been aired out in the open, Prepon projects the same proud attitude that Ribisi and Travolta and other Scientologists seem to harbor. Of course, it shouldn’t be surprising. Why would you bash your own religion?

Glenn Close

Mirroring the upbringing of the Phoenixes and the Arquettes, legendary actress Glenn Close was subjected to a similar childhood at the hands of her father. An active member in the conservative anti-war group known as Moral Re-Armament, Dr. Close and his daughter lived in Europe as highly regarded members of the cult.

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Close doesn't talk about her upbringing between the ages of 7 and 22 very often, but some of her past quotes allude to the fact that Moral Re-Armament was incredibly strict and enforced rules that were very difficult for her to follow.

Elvis Presley

Shockingly, the iconic King of Rock and Roll was pretty seriously involved in a dangerous cult throughout most of his years as a star. Titled the Self-Realization Fellowship, the organization has managed to live on long past Presley himself.

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Founded by a man named Paramahansa Yogananda, the quasi-religion sets out to find common ground between diverse groups. It sounds harmless, but it's ultimately just a money pit based on a whole lot of useless jargon that doesn't really help anyone in any real way. Sadly, they certainly got a decent chunk of Presley's wealth.

Michael Peña

"Scientology made me a better actor." This was the quote credited to comedic actor Michael Peña, famous for his appearances in Marvel Cinematic Universe films like Ant-Man and Ant-Man and the Wasp. He is yet another Hollywood type who says he owes it all to L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics.

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Like Laura Prepon, Michael Peña isn't anywhere near as eccentric as cult leaders like John Travolta, so it's surprising to see him associated with such an unpleasant group. Still, he has no worries or shame over his involvement — it's simply part of him.

Angel Haze

Singers and other artists tend to draw from their personal experiences to create their works of art. The fact that R&B star Angel Haze hasn't included anything about her upbringing in Detroit's Greater Apostolic Faith in her music should tell you how difficult it was for her.

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Based on the Pentecostal faith with a lot of extrapolating into its own thing, the Greater Apostolic Faith forbids its members from dating, listening to music, wearing jewelry, seeing movies or eating certain foods. It sounds much more like a punishment than a religion, and Angel Haze lived it.

Elisabeth Moss

You might think that an actress who works on a show about an actual cult would be able to recognize the similarities between a dystopian one and the Church of Scientology, but actress Elisabeth Moss doesn’t seem to be bothered. She remains a Scientologist, regardless.

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Rising to fame on AMC's critically-acclaimed drama Mad Men before moving on to other shows like Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale, Moss stands firm in her belief in Dianetics and the healing power of the Church of Scientology. It’s hard to understand what's keeping her there, but it must be quite a strong force.

Jayne Mansfield

Without a doubt one of the most prominent symbols of beauty and celebrity in the mid-20th century, actress Jayne Mansfield was a household name for men and women alike back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. However, for Mansfield, the most important household name was "LaVey."

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An early believer in the Church of Satan, Jayne Mansfield and her close personal friend, Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey, were not as dastardly as the name sounds. More of an anti-Catholic group than anything else, Mansfield mostly cared about indulging in the publicity of it all.

Juliette Lewis

Once you’re aware of the sheer number of Hollywood stars involved in Scientology, it's easy to start making connections between certain stars and their frequent co-stars. For example, Scientologists Giovanni Ribisi and Juliette Lewis have appeared together on-screen in what could possibly be a Scientology scheme.

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Lewis got her start in an early Martin Scorsese film from 1991 titled Cape Fear before continuing on to other roles throughout her career. She has been a part of the Church for practically as long as she has been part of Hollywood.

George Harrison

You have John Lennon, you have Paul McCartney, you have Ringo Starr and you have George Harrison. These are the four Beatles, obviously, but the first two are certainly a lot more notable than the last two, primarily because of their equally popular solo work that followed on the heels of their contributions to the group.

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Perhaps this discrepancy in the distribution of fame and his desire for personal creative success is what led Harrison to join Hare Krishna. Fortunately, the group isn’t nearly as dangerous as some of the other celebrity cults out there, but Harrison's strange involvement with the movement is worth noting.

Tom Cruise

Easily the most famous and controversial member of the Church of Scientology, action movie star Tom Cruise is practically the poster child for Scientologists everywhere. Cherished by the leaders of the Church and despised by the Church's most vocal opponents, Cruise literally embodies Scientology.

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Along with John Travolta, he has undoubtedly brought more people to the Church than any other star associated with the fraudulent and frequently terrifying "religion." From cutting off his daughter to making threats to detractors, Cruise and his relationship with Scientology are sure to remain in the spotlight — and under a magnifying glass.

Winona Ryder

California's Rainbow Commune wasn't the first — and probably won't be the last — collective living community to enforce no running water or electricity. Still, that doesn't make actress Winona Ryder's upbringing at the Rainbow Commune any less personal or troubling.

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Guilty of all kinds of Native American appropriation, Rainbow Commune was where Ryder spent a lot of her adolescence. While she did manage to grow up and escape, there's no denying that the roots planted by the cult are still within her to this day. Interesting question: Why are so many of these "utopian" communes found in California?

Erika Christensen

Recognizable for her recent run on NBC's Parenthood throughout the 2010s, actress Erika Christensen is just as noteworthy for her work in the early 2000s. From Steven Soderbergh's Traffic to the notoriously cheesy 2002 film Swimfan, Christensen has been entertaining fans for years.

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As it turns out, she has also been a Scientologist for a bit. While she hasn't scored a big role in a couple of years, you can be certain that she hasn't failed to keep up with her responsibilities over at the Church.

Rose McGowan

Launched into the pop culture stratosphere in recent years for her pioneering of the #MeToo movement and her legal action against disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, actress Rose McGowan is equal parts movie star and activist. Coincidentally, she was also formerly a part of the Children of God cult.

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Growing up in the same "religion" as the Phoenixes, McGowan spent her formative years in Italy while her father pursued a career as an artist there. Shockingly, Children of God leaders were guilty of some of the same things as Weinstein.

Nancy Cartwright

Bart Simpson is not a Scientologist. The voice of Bart Simpson — well, that’s an entirely different story. Nancy Cartwright gives Bart his snarky voice, and she has been involved in the Church of Scientology for as long as The Simpsons have been on the air. This is, of course, more concerning with each passing year.

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Currently in its 30th year on television, The Simpsons continues to break records. Voice actress Cartwright no doubt thanks the Church for all her success throughout those three decades, but you have to wonder how she could believe for so long.

Dennis Wilson

Dennis Wilson, one of the original members of the iconic Beach Boys and the middle brother to fellow bandmates Carl and Brian Wilson, made innumerable contributions to one of the most instantly recognizable bands of all time. Unfortunately, he also did the same for infamous serial killer Charles Manson and his Manson Family cult.

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Wilson was friends with Manson for quite some time and continued to associate with him even after he started to take a turn for the worse. He definitely should have done himself a favor and abandoned Manson long before he did.

Ethan Suplee

Co-star of cult — that would be a different kind of cult, of course — NBC comedy My Name Is Earl, actor Ethan Suplee has appeared in all kinds of roles across film and television since Earl was cancelled in the late 2000s. No matter what he's starring in lately, though, he remains loyal to his faith.

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Frustratingly, that faith lies in the Church of Scientology. His former co-star Jason Lee was also a member of the Church at one point, but he has since abandoned his membership to the sci-fi religion and disavowed his faith.

Neil Young

Like Dennis Wilson, Neil Young is a name that any music fan is likely to recognize, even if they haven't listened to their music or attended one of their concerts or bought some of their merch. Also like Dennis Wilson, Neil Young was no stranger to Charles Manson.

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Taking things even further than Wilson, however, Young actually continued to support and defend Manson and the Manson Family even after Manson had committed murder and led his followers to do the same. The ‘60s were truly an insane time to be alive.

Danny Masterson

These days, Danny Masterson is a name that comes with a lot of heavy baggage. Not only is the actor an active member of the Church of Scientology, but he has had quite a number of sexual misconduct claims filed against him in recent years.

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Like Ethan Suplee and Jason Lee, Danny Masterson and his fellow Scientologist and former co-star Laura Prepon probably aren’t finding any solace in the fact that they are both members of the organization during a time when membership is more scrutinized than ever before. As more and more former members tell their scary secrets, the cult is running out of excuses.

Val Kilmer

Former Batman actor and star of the acclaimed biopic The Doors, Val Kilmer is one of the most unique actors of our time. While he hasn't been seen in a while — possibly due to an unannounced illness, at least according to rumors — Kilmer remains a recognizable name and a great actor all the same.

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For most of his life and theoretically still to this day, Kilmer abides by the teachings of Christian Science. Basically, that means he doesn’t believe in medicine and instead chooses to put his trust in God for healing — a scary concept if he’s truly ill as rumored.

John Lennon

The other member of the seminal rock band known as The Beatles who found himself scuffing up against a famous cult is John Lennon. Although it had nothing to do with his tragic and untimely death at the hands of a delusional fan, it's still worth exploring the bizarre nature of the man Lennon pledged to follow.

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Named Father Yod, the man with 14 wives was viewed by Lennon as some sort of Christ-like figure. Dubbed the Source Family, Father Yod's followers — including Lennon — were apparently willing to ignore Yod’s manslaughter charge in exchange for positivity.

Riley Keough

One of the most prominent up-and-comers of the 2010s, Riley Keough starred in such films as Mad Max: Fury Road, American Honey and It Comes at Night. So, would you be surprised to learn she’s also the granddaughter of Elvis Presley?

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As such, it's less surprising to find out that she was also involved in a cult — specifically, the Church of Scientology. While it's unclear whether or not she's still a part of it today, the actress was undoubtedly raised within the "religion" by her mother and her father. Her gospel-loving grandfather would not be happy to hear it.

Neil Bush

The brother of George W. and Jeb and the son of George H.W. and Barbara, Neil Bush is the Bush brother who seems to have slipped under the radar for the most part. That doesn't mean that he's free from the controversy that surrounds the rest of his family, however.

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In fact, Neil gives plenty of money to the Unification Church — a group that seeks to globalize religion. The frightening part is the church believes that a man by the name of Sun Myung Moon was the second coming of Christ before his 2014 death.

Leah Remini

Unlike many of the other Scientologists and religious cult members in our world today, Leah Remini is a reformed member of the Church of Scientology who has made it her life's mission to help those who are trapped in the church, as she once was herself. She has revealed various shocking secrets about the cult’s practices.

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Spending many years in her early days as an actress as a Scientologist, Remini eventually saw the light and got out. Now, she spends her time shedding light on the inhumane practices of the cult and other cult-like organizations around the country (and even the world).