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Publications: This article appeared in the magazines Esquire (Netherlands edition) and Focus Knack (Belgium), and in the magazine supplements of La Repubblica (Italy) and Die Tages-Anzeiger (Switzerland).

More than the usual Hollywood Fodder

Hidden Reasons Behind The Cruise-Kidman Split?

Is it more than just fan fodder?

March 2001

By Russ Baker


One thing you can say about celebrity splits: as with elected officials who get out of politics, it’s almost never for the reason they publicly say it is. And so it may be with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.

When the news of their breakup came in February, it surprised nearly everyone. They were the Hollywood poster couple, after a decade together one of the few matches to seemingly endure the pressures of the celluloid life. Die-hard gossips, on the other hand, had heard rumors of all kinds for years, and so when it became public that the two were separating, theories abounded.

The official explanation proffered by Cruise’s publicist was a short statement indicating that the constant pressures of work, and long periods of forcible separation, had taken its toll. But this sounded unlikely. In the past, Kidman has said that she and her husband made sure never to be apart for long -- and that she would have no trouble choosing family over career in instances when the two options clashed.

So what gives? Speculation has been rife for years that it was essentially a marriage-for-show – a characterization vociferously disputed by the couple, yet fueled in part by comments from Cruise’s former wife, the actress Mimi Rogers, in which she declared that Cruise showed little interest in sex, and had been thinking about becoming a monk. In addition, some of those who have spent time with the couple say that although their devotion was apparent, they have frequently seemed remote from each other, for example showing no demonstrable affection during long trips.

Still others believe the split had something to do with the Church of Scientology, the controversial organization to which Cruise belongs. Although news accounts have mentioned his involvement with the group, there’s been little in-depth exploration of what role it might have played. That’s not surprising, given the group’s longtime track record of – and even more outsized reputation for – ferocious intolerance of anything perceived as critical. Nevertheless, knowledgeable Scientology-watchers believe that no situation like this can be considered properly examined without taking into account the group’s unique influence over its most visible members.

Celebrities and Scientology

Cruise is just one of numerous popular figures – among them John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, Lisa Marie Presley, Isaac Hayes and Jenna Elfman – who count themselves amid Scientology’s adherents, and partake of tailored services at elegant “Celebrity Centres” throughout the world, far from the hordes of ordinary Scientologists. This star-seduction was by design: the group’s founder and quasi-deity, the late science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, made clear that if Scientology was to become the world’s dominant belief system – and he predicted it would – celebrities must play a key role in building credibility and wooing the general public. Indeed, many ordinary Scientologists say they joined the group in part because they figured that if seemingly well-adjusted celebrities had benefited from the self-help procedures the group offers, they could too.

The stars themselves show tremendous commitment, with some of them buying homes near Scientology’s advanced training centers. Being in close proximity allows them to concentrate on moving up the designated spiritual ladder -- part of a complex, gradually-revealed cosmology in which a person may expunge past, troubled lives, and after years of expensive courses and private counseling sessions, attain almost godlike powers.

It was Mimi Rogers, having grown up inside the sect, who introduced Cruise to Scientology. A famously hardworking actor and a perfectionist, he quickly took to it, presumably attracted to the myriad treatments, procedures and rituals that promise to address every imaginable ill, challenge and opportunity – if  the member hews strictly to the rules and remains deeply and regularly involved in the specified path to enlightenment. (Cruise has publicly credited Scientology with aiding his career and helping him overcome dyslexia.)

Scientology and Marital Problems

One reason some dismiss the “busy careers” theory is that Scientology offers (and touts highly) its training to deal with such common relationship challenges.  Members with troubled unions go through a specific regimen, directed toward finding the source of their problems  – and correcting them. In theory, since Cruise has attained an extremely high level of personal perfection based on an internal Scientology scale – he is an “Operating Thetan” in the group’s lingo – he should be able to easily resolve any such problems. (However, it must be noted that celebrity Scientologists – and ordinary ones, for that matter – seem to have as many failed marriages as anyone else – with Lisa Marie Presley and her two divorces being just one such example.)

Did Scientology Cause the Breakup?

Other than career pressures, the most frequently cited cause of the Cruise-Kidman split is a growing “religious rift.” Indeed, Kidman, who became involved in Scientology when she married Cruise, has increasingly exhibited doubts about Scientology. She has sought to downplay its role in her life, even saying that her beliefs involved “a little Buddhism, a little Scientology…a big part of me is still a Catholic girl.” 

But mixing Scientology with other belief systems isn’t easy. Although Scientology spokespersons often declare that the organization’s members can also subscribe to other faiths, Hubbard (whose sayings and pronouncements are considered the sacred law of the organization) ridiculed and dismissed other religions, including Catholicism (which he characterized as a delusion), and made clear that no other thought system could coexist  with his. Indeed, Scientology’s basic “creation” story, which has humans as amalgams of alien beings transported from another galaxy 75 million years ago, is fundamentally incompatible with Christian – and other – dogmas. (Cruise himself renounced Catholicism when he joined Scientology.)

Cruise Promotes Scientology

Though Cruise has been a member for more than a decade, he generally has been quieter about Scientology than some other well-known members, including Travolta, Presley, Alley, Hayes and others, who frequently show up at Scientology groundbreakings and other events and often talk about their beliefs. Still, Cruise does discuss it from time to time. Last year, for example, he told ABC News: “People don’t know the great things they [Scientology] do, within education, and how they really try to help the community.” To critics, though, these kinds of comments reflect a stunning lack of acknowledgment and even awareness of the enormous controversy that has continued to surround Scientology since its founding. Copious documentation of alleged abuses abounds: in books, magazine and newspaper articles, academic papers, government reports and court testimony –which separately and together paint for many people a picture of an organization whose practices are far, far, outside the pale of conventional religious group behavior.

Among the controversies: a huge Scientology operation to burgle government offices in the 1970s that led to the imprisonment of top organization officials including Hubbard’s wife; Hubbard’s own years of flight from investigators; the discovery of extensive dossiers the group kept on the private lives of officials in foreign countries; and controversial deaths of members. In addition, former Scientologists frequently complain about (and sometimes go to court over) allegedly having been coerced into spending fortunes on the self-improvement courses and counseling marketed by the organization, a regimen quite a few insist caused them serious mental and emotional damage. Ex-members also say that while getting in is easy, getting out is another matter altogether; they provide  routine accounts of heavy pressure, including phone calls and personal visits from Scientology operatives, who – explicitly or otherwise – warned them of the dangers of discontinuing the group’s expensive regimen.

Even many of the outreach programs the group touts, ranging from educational to drug rehabilitation, are enormously controversial, and it would take almost no effort at all for individuals like Cruise to at least survey the criticisms and then be able to address them with some knowledge. Yet neither Cruise nor the other celebrity members even demonstrate any awareness of these concerns. When ABC entertainment editor Joel Siegel asked Cruise the seemingly disingenuous question, “Why is there this obsession with Scientology?” Cruise answered: “I don’t know…people don’t understand.” Cruise went on to deliver a standard Scientology response, that he doesn’t ask the people he works with about their religions, thereby equating Scientology with conventional religious practices.

Cruise is not a naïf, however. He has been a longtime and close friend to David Miscavige, who took over the organization after a power struggle at the time of Hubbard’s unexpected death in 1986. The actor has often stayed and socialized with Miscavige at his base, a Scientology facility outside the small, remote Southern California town of Hemet.

The Kids

If, as it appears, the divorce action is not an amicable one, the matter of their children – and Scientology’s attitudes and policies toward young people –  are likely to figure in the mix. Cruise and Kidman have two adopted kids, at least one of whom was reportedly born to an impoverished Scientologist in Florida. Some background: Scientologists who do not have the money for the expensive courses and counseling sessions can join a sort of lay clergy called the Sea Organization (or “Sea Org”), a name related to Hubbard’s nautical passion and years operating on the run from government investigations on a large private ship.  Sea Org members generally work full-time for Scientology in return for lodging in dormitories and pocket money. In part due to their heavy workload, they are discouraged from having children. According to former members, Sea Org staffers who do become pregnant are encouraged to have abortions – although some may have been given permission to give up their children for adoption, in which case those children may have gone to more affluent Scientologists.

Scientology has very strict rules on how children are to be brought up, and former members say it is likely that if Kidman was having doubts about the organization, her concern would have mounted as the children grew older. Today, the couple’s eldest child is 8, an age at which she might be enrolled in Scientology-run schools, a system whose educational merits also draw controversy and criticism. Also, children of about that age start going into their own confessional sessions (more about that later.)

The Parents

The most likely source of marital difficulty, say Scientology-watchers, probably centers on the relationship between Kidman and her parents in Australia, who work in the mental health field – a profession Hubbard was determined to stamp out. He regularly attacked psychiatry as a “criminal” profession, arguing that only his methods could correct aberrations and relieve mental and emotional difficulties. Anyone in Scientology having regular contact with those involved with conventional mental health work  is labeled a “potential trouble source” - and strongly pressured to break such ties. As Kidman refused to do so, this would put real pressures on her Scientology spouse to sever his own links with her.

Another possible factor, say some, is that inasmuch as Kidman’s close relationship with her parents created a rift with Scientology, Cruise’s own family connections may have the opposite effect. Former members say that Cruise has at least one sister who is deeply involved in Scientology, having joined at the actor’s urging, and that, if he were to leave the fold, it would put tremendous pressure on his sister to sever ties with him.

One thing is clear: it’s tough to be in the public spotlight and maintain an image. And it may be even tougher for public Scientologists. A lot of that comes on account of Scientology’s core counseling sessions, emotionally intense affairs in which members regularly reveal intimate details of all aspects of their lives to Scientology operatives wielding a type of lie detector apparatus. These so-called “auditors” keep careful records of what is said, and the most compelling information revealed in these sessions is kept in folders and periodically “culled” for the most interesting information, according to former officials. In short, and in practice, this means that whatever the truth of Tom and Nicole’s lives and their split – all is known to the leadership of a very controversial and aggressive organization - one that routinely employs private investigators to probe and rattle critics, former members among them.

Much of the heightened interest in the Cruise-Kidman saga is on account of persistent rumors about Cruise’s sexual orientation. He has insisted that he is a heterosexual – and sued publications that claimed otherwise. Travolta has faced similar problems: his abrupt marriage to fellow Scientologist Kelly Preston just as the National Enquirer was preparing an article about his private life – raised eyebrows. Rumors have continued to dog that couple ever since, with wags remarking upon separate bedrooms and other indications they consider telltale.

It may well be argued that a person’s sexual preferences, whatever they may be, are no one else’s business. Yet the general subject of Scientology and its attitude toward homosexuality – admission of which even in these supposedly more liberal times is still considered bad for Hollywood careers - is a legitimate topic of examination. Scientology’s founder, the science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard, decried homosexuality, considered it an aberration and a disease (“the sexual actually quite ill physically”) – and Scientology has offered to help its adherents “treat” this problem, along with anything else that keeps the person from attaining a godlike state of perfection that the group promises can be achieved through a years-long – and enormously costly – regimen.

Whatever the effects of rumors on their careers, both Cruise and Travolta have gone through periods when they seemed to be wavering in their commitment to Scientology – but neither ever strayed for long. That’s a good thing for Scientology, which, according to former officials, has a strong incentive for encouraging well-heeled members - and celebrity members in particular – to stay. The organization is very aggressive about fundraising, and Cruise (like most of the stars) is believed to contribute large sums annually. Since Scientology is said to take a particularly strong interest in the financial viability of its members, and since, through auditing, it closely monitors their actions, the group’s leadership would likely be aware of the timing of the split. The official date of separation reportedly listed in court documents is December 21, 2000, three days shy of the couple’s ten year anniversary, an interesting fact given that, under California law, marriages lasting less than ten years are subject to lighter alimony obligations, leaving far more of Cruise’s fortune intact.



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