This is part one in a multi-part series detailing Scientology's role in the downfall of Tom Cruise's professional and personal life.
Nothing has been natural or normal about the Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes union, not from their dubious beginnings to their sad but predictable end.
On Friday, Holmes filed for divorce from her husband of five years, ending speculation on whether Katie would ever "run." Holmes cited "irreconcilable differences" as grounds for the divorce. Interestingly, Holmes filed in New York, despite her and Cruise being based in California, with some sources suggesting this was done based on advantages in custody (Katie is seeking sole custody) and taxes.
Reports you read elsewhere will speculate over what caused this marriage to disintegrate, but as someone who has covered Scientology and celebrities for over five years, and Tom Cruise in particular, I can give you a very accurate account of what was likely the root cause of Katie leaving Tom.
Answering Scientology's Call
To understand what went wrong with TomKat we must go back in time to BEFORE Katie Holmes was even on Tom's radar, before Tom jumped on Oprah's couch, before Tom told Matt Lauer he was glib, and well before Tom scared the hell out of the world with his cultishly fervent maniacal ruminations on the power of Scientology.
Tom Cruise was a toothy, boyishly handsome star on the rise when he met actress Mimi Rogers, seven years his senior, in 1987. It was Rogers who introduced Tom to Scientology in 1990, and it was Scientology that precipitated his divorce from Rogers that same year. Rumors persist that despite Rogers' own involvement in the controversial religion and bringing Tom in, Scientology perceived her as a liability to their new convert's image and, more importantly, his devotion to Scientology.
Rogers' father Phil Spickler had been involved in Scientology during the L. Ron Hubbard era, but became increasingly disenchanted with its new leader, David Miscavige, and his interpretation of how Scientology should be managed. The one thing you need to know about Miscavige as a leader is that there is no room for dissent or disagreement. It is strongly suggested that Miscavige orchestrated the demise of the Rogers/Cruise marriage, for he saw big things from his new recruit.
From that moment on, Scientology has taken a central role in every single aspect of Tom Cruise's life — from his love life, to his professional life, to those in his inner circle and to those who've been forced out his life, including his uber-successful talent agent Pat Kingsley. It is widely believe that Kingsley was fired (despite steering his career into a string of box office hits for 14 years) because she dared to suggest that he stop speaking so publicly about Scientology.
As the story goes, Kingsley tactfully suggested that Tom not be such a vocal proponent of the Church of Scientology, as she believed it was tainting the public's perception of him and affecting his popularity, which was stratospheric in Hollywood terms.
To paraphrase, Kingsley put it this way: "Tom, women want you, men want to be you. You are handsome, talented, and a huge star. However, how many stars in your position use their power to push a religious belief, which frankly the general public considers really far out of the mainstream? The answer is none. Now, let's get back to focusing on being a star, churning out box offices smashes, filling our bank accounts with millions, and leave this Scientology stuff to your private life." Then she went in for the high five and Tom left her hanging.
As soon as David Miscavige, the de facto head of Scientology, got wind of this, Tom was severing ties with Pat Kingsley and his career went in to a tailspin of mostly box office disasters for close to eight years. Up until his last two movies, Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol and the recent Rock of Ages (he's gotten mostly great reviews for his performance, but not great ticket sales), Tom's most popular role was that of that of Les Grossman, a balding, hairy-handed, bloated studio executive whose over-the-top bloodlust and greed Cruise captured with perfect humor and precision. That was a bit role, yet to this day, one of Cruise's best.
What Exactly IS Scientology?
To best understand how Cruise's "religion" can so effectively destroy both his career and his personal life, perhaps a crash course in Scientology is needed.
As a journalist and a celeb writer, I became fascinated by Scientology about five years ago, when I started writing about Tom Cruise's apparent mental breakdown. Like Alice through the looking glass, when I entered the world of Scientology I uncovered outrageous claims of heightened psychic abilities, 75 million-year-old aliens, ghostly saboteurs wreaking havoc on our souls and, above all, a cultish paranoia stemming from the half-brilliant but 100% insane creator of Scientology, fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.
Despite poring over text (including reading Dianetics) trying to understand what drew people to Scientology, I never TRULY understood the appeal, but I did find a common thread among those who found themselves hooked on it: existential crisis. Scientology's foundations came at a time when people were questioning the norm and looking for answers to life's big mysteries.
Hubbard, a moderately successful sci-fi writer, cobbled together Scientology by borrowing from various self-help techniques popular in the '40s and '50s. What began as a practical pursuit (a way to make money by offering techniques to improve the mind) turned into a spiritual concoction, fusing modern psychology with far-fetched sci-fi fantasy. Hubbard himself is credited with saying, "You don't get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion."
And that's exactly what he set out to do.
Scientology's core belief system is based on the concept of levels. Essentially, it's the dangling carrot principle: each level you achieve brings you that much closer to "nirvana," or in Scientology's case ultimate power and knowledge. Hubbard combined Eastern religious philosophy, western psychology, and good ol' business sense to create a system of courses that would help the individual unlock the power of the mind. Sounds reasonable enough, right?
Obviously, these courses cost money, and were set up in a pyramid type scheme that at the lowest level seemed affordable and plausible, but as you worked your way up the pyramid, the courses became more expensive and the "truths" more outlandish. By way of example, a core tenet of Scientology's belief system is that all of our emotional and physical maladies are caused by alien ghosts who've attached themselves to our body and must be cleansed by revealing our most intimate secrets (especially of the sexual or immoral kind) to an "auditor." These auditing sessions are then recorded and kept in a file maintained by Scientology, in what I like the call the "blackmail vault."
The files are supposed to be secret, but in truth this information is often used to keep the disillusioned or disconnected quiet, or worse yet, forever tied to Scientology. It's a vicious cycle exacerbated by expensive loans extended to individuals who can't afford the classes and course materials, but have been pressured to continue. As long as you stay on course, your loan is forgiven, but the minute you threaten to leave you are hit with thousands and thousands of dollars in expenses you must pay back. Frankly, it reminds of me of post-Civil War sharecropping — the only one truly benefiting is the land owner.
Which brings up the most salient point in all of this: initially, Scientology CAN offer benefits, which is how people get hooked, but there are grotesquely diminishing returns for those who stay the course, including emotional and financial bankruptcy.
There's a reason why Scientology hooks so many celebs. In the hyper-competitive world of entertainment, where everyone is competing for a handful of opportunities which can lead — if you are lucky — to a lucrative and rewarding career, Scientology offers short term gains.
The introductory courses offer an emphasis on focusing the mind, cleansing the body of drugs and impurities, and of course improving communication and self-confidence. These skills can give one an edge over one's peers, not to mention the promise of Hollywood connections one can gain via Scientology's network of celebrity members.
However, in exchange for these widely available self-help techniques, Scientology expects a slavish loyalty to their hive mentality, including ex-communicating anyone in your life who disagrees or questions Scientology or its teachings, all the hallmarks of a cult.
This brings us full circle to Tom Cruise and his three failed marriages, his spiraling career and tarnished image. The minute someone in Cruise's inner circle questions his blind devotion to Scientology, they're either pushed out or run for the hills.
Next up: Nicole Kidman frozen out and Tom's "future wife" casting call.