The Massive List of Celebrities That Departed Scientology

It's not the celebrities in Scientology that matter — it's why so many more have left.

By , Contributor

The Scientology building on Hollywood Boulevard

Leah Remini recently exited Scientology stage left, and the resultant media attention will be ongoing, given her announced intention to publish a book. Meanwhile an interview with her sister Nicole revealed what happens when a person leaves L. Ron Hubbard's moneymaking scheme. Do I or others exaggerate about Hubbard's love of money? I can only report from my experience.

His long-time literary agent, Forrest J. Ackerman, once laughingly told me about "Ron" begging to borrow $50 so that he could pay child support and stay out of jail. Several people (all non-Scientologists) told me how Hubbard was popular pre-Dianetics because of his hypnotism skills and ability to entertain with bombastic stories that no one believed. Someone had to give him a ride to parties, however, because he never had a car and was always broke.

Recently, a number of publications compiled lists of celebrities who departed Scientology. The Hollywood Reporter wrote about "7 Stars Who Quit Scientology." Us magazine offered "Stars Who Left Scientology" — which I was happy to see because they included Jerry Seinfeld, who has often been left off of such lists. E! included Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze as stars who were involved. As I read these articles I wondered why the reporters hadn't done more homework? What about Brad Pitt, who dated Juliette Lewis for five years? How about Catherine Bach, the original "Daisy Mae" on the hit TV show Dukes of Hazzard? I suppose none of the journalists ever searched the site Big List That Left Scientology. It's not complete but the names are voluminous.

But first, let's look at how Hubbard defined celebrity. You can read it in full here. "Any person important in his field or an opinion leader or his entourage..." is a short version. What started the emphasis on celebrity was Hubbard's 1955 "Project Celebrity" with offered rewards. He didn't snag anyone on his list, but Scientology did get Walt "Pogo" Kelly's kids, Carolyn and Peter, when the Los Angeles Times revived Kelly's famous comic strip in 1989 under the title Walt Kelly's Pogo. The strip ran through the early 1990s, which is when I was in touch with Carolyn, but later the Kellys left the church. Their involvement reminded me of when Johnny Carson's son Cory took the Communications Course at the Scientology Celebrity Centre's original location on 8th Street near downtown L.A. Cory was quiet, practiced his classical guitar on breaks, and after that course never came back.

If you ever saw The King of Late Night's contentious exchange about Scientology with Karen Black on The Tonight Show and wondered why that happened, now you know.

As a staff member at "CC" and later as a "celebrity" myself, I saw many notables come and go. I was amazed one day when actress Anne Francis ordered something from the snack bar I ran, only to be later disappointed when she left Scientology because she heard Hubbard's daughter Diana say the purpose of the Public Division of Scientology was "to capture and control the public." I wrote about Rock Hudson's brief flirtation with the subject in another article about sex and Celebrity Centre. I didn't mention Lou Rawls taking the Communications Course at the short-lived Celebrity Centre Las Vegas, then visiting CCLA to get CC Founder Yvonne Jentzsch to quit promoting him as a Scientologist. I've written how all the members of David Bowie's "Spiders From Mars" band took the Communications Course at CC, but I failed to mention that The Grateful Dead did the same at a briefly-existent Celebrity Centre San Francisco.

Many famous musicians came through Scientology then left. Al Jarreau was involved on and off for years. Burton Cummings, leader of the Canadian rock group The Guess Who, did a drug detox program at Scientology's Narconon in Los Angeles, then got out of Scientology as he found out more about it. I met him at a party Paul McCartney gave after the "Wings Over America" tour in 1976. Arguably the best electric bass player alive, Stanley Clarke, was involved for years both when in a group with Chick Corea, and afterward, but is no longer involved. Van Morrison did quite a bit of Scientology in San Francisco via my former roommate, rock pianist Nicky Hopkins, then after leaving he came out with the album No Guru, No Method, No Teacher. Apparently, it took Van a bit longer to realize, as Elvis Presley once stated, "that son-of-a-bitchin' group. All they want is my money." (And the celebrity bragging status he would give them.) Numerous musicians came into Scientology via Corea and left, often very unhappily, such as Corea's former Return To Forever members: percussionist Airto Moreira; Moreira's wife, vocalist Flora Purim; and guitarist Al Di Meola.

Famed jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo did more than leave - he filed a $21 million lawsuit against Scientology before his death.

How do I know all this? For years while a staff member at CC I ran the Central Files and wrote the majority of the recruiting letters, as many as 1300 per week hand-typed on a portable typewriter while making a carbon copy of each letter. Any time anyone bought a book, they went into Central Files. I found TV legend Steve Allen there once, corresponded with him, and found out he'd read Dianetics, but way back in 1950 when it first came out. Allen had not visited CC; Yvonne Jentzsch put Allen's name and address in "CF" when she found out he'd read the book.  She didn't mind subterfuge to get her way; she used the "Project Celebrity" idea to get off the Scientology ship Apollo and escape Hubbard, who was continually hitting on her. Too bad for her the celebrity recruitment didn't pay off, as I chronicled in my first article about Scientology for The Morton Report.

Celebrities leaving Scientology has been going on as long as I remember, as well as lies about who was involved. When I took my first course in Austin, Texas, I was told The Moody Blues were involved — it was a story told often to recruit people. I wanted proof, so I called the then central headquarters of Scientology in the world, St. Hill in England, and was told the Moodys had never been involved.

A great many major stars got in and got out. How major? How about Superman? I met Christopher Reeve when he showed up at the Celebrity Centre on La Brea Avenue in Hollywood to fly Yvonne Jentzsch and her husband Heber to a Scientology event called Prayer Day in Anaheim, California. (He was a licensed pilot.) "Can I go?" I asked naively and was told the small plane was full. I remarked that obviously he was an actor, and he said matter-of-factly that he was in town to film Superman.

Being a typically uninformed Scientology staffer who didn't read newspapers (Ron's recommendation) or watch TV (ditto), I said, "That's great, who are you playing?"

After he got the stunned and bemused smile off his face, Chris said, "Superman."

I learned he'd done a good bit of Scientology counseling in New York at a mission run by Helen Geltman and wanted his pre-paid "auditing hours" transferred to Celebrity Centre. Yvonne went all the way to Hubbard to try to get that accomplished, but Geltman refused. Reeve got disgusted and left Scientology, and the whole world benefited. He later wrote about it but without the details I just gave you. Can you imagine how Hubbard and his minions would have played it, publicity-wise, had Reeve stayed? "Superman is a Scientologist! Come fly our clear blue skies!"

It's a long, long list of celebrities who came, saw, and said adios - Sonny Bono; Candice Bergen (got involved to write an article about it); actress Peggy Lipton (her brother Kenny was on staff at CC); William Burroughs wrote a book about it; Leonard Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat" had a line about "going Clear"; actress Cathy Lee Crosby; All-Pro NFL quarterback John Brodie; actor Michael Fairman; and many more that you can sort through (both those who remain and the many more who left) here. (Watch out, though, rumors must be sorted through. For example, actor Ron "Tarzan" Ely got confused with another person by that name who was in Scientology. The actor did, however, show up at Celebrity Centre on La Brea Avenue one day to buy a used pickup truck from a Scientology course supervisor named Ron Santasierro - I met him when he was there.)

Internally-generated setbacks of alienating celebrities have, for decades, kept Scientology from achieving its ambition of total domination of Hollywood and fooling the world into thinking Scientology is worthwhile. Lately, I've been continually pleased as people like my old friend Paul Haggis wake up and depart, and I'm thrilled with how Leah Remini turned the Scientology policy of "Never defend, attack!" on her former comrades. As Scientology stumbles to its inevitable imminent demise, I applaud every single person I've known who has left, and particularly those who spoke out. They have helped greatly toward ridding the world of the former pulp fiction writer's most evil creation.

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Skip Press is an author and teacher who has been active in Hollywood for decades. He knows as much about the inner workings of celebrity Scientology as anyone alive.

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