It is hard to imagine what it would be like to be a member of a cult. A cult is often defined as a group of people who have religious beliefs or practices that are regarded by others as sinister or strange. Those lucky enough to escape from cults and go on to live somewhat normal lives are still gravely affected by the often traumatic experiences they endured.
Celebrities are often looked at as icons and “god-like” beings that are perfect beyond belief, but famous people are humans too. Everyone has a past and some people’s history is darker than others. Growing up in a cult or being a part of one for even just a short period of time can have a significant effect on the rest of someone’s life.
Many of these celebrities have gone on to have successful acting or singing careers but you will be shocked to learn that they were once part of organizations or religious groups that most would consider to be cults. Some people have more horrific stories about abuse or assault they had endured, while others were lucky enough to get out before anything terrible happened to them. Either way, being part of a cult is not something that someone can easily forget and will likely be an experience you remember forever.
Maybe their lives were destroyed, motivating them to get out, while some of their lives were destroyed by angry leaders of the groups after they decided to get out of the cult. Some of these celebrities are even still involved with their cult-like organizations. Here are 15 celebrities whose lives were destroyed by cults.
15. Winona Ryder
Winona Ryder became well-known for films like Edward Scissorhands, Heathers, and Beetlejuice back in the day and she has recently made a comeback with the hit Netflix series, Stranger Things. The actress may be at the top of her game now but she did not always have it this good. When Winona was just seven years old, her family moved to a commune in northern California to live with a group called the Rainbow Family of Living Light. This was an organization of nud*sts, hippies, and nomads who gathered every summer for a month-long “love-in.”
The actress and her family lived with seven other families on a 300-acre plot of land. Although the cult was not considered to be necessarily dangerous, the members were required to live a Spartan lifestyle. There was no electricity or television allowed but her mother did show her a few movies on a screen in the family barn growing up, which is said to have sparked her interest in acting. The Rainbow Family still get together every summer in Utah but they have grown to have a rather sinister reputation, with reports of drug problems, violence, homelessness issues.
14. Michelle Pfeiffer
Michelle Pfeiffer was involved with a cult called “Breatharianism.” Breatharians believe that humans can transform themselves to be like plants and achieve photosynthesis. The “practice” has resulted in many deaths, as people believe they can live off of nutrients from the sunlight and do not have any food or water. Breatharians live under the guidance of their leader, Jasmuheen, who is a self-proclaimed prophet of peace, international lecturer, and author.
In a 2013 interview, the actress claimed she did not even realize she was participating in a cult until her ex-husband Peter Horton did some research and convinced her to leave. Pfeiffer later admitted to the cult draining her financially saying she had to “pay for all the time I was there.” She was glad to have left when she did and has never looked back.
13. Jerry Seinfeld
The Seinfeld star is known for his observational humor about relationships and the responsibilities of life. Many people would be shocked to learn that the comedian Jerry Seinfeld is actually a former Scientologist. Jerry took some Scientology courses before his big claim to fame. In 2007, he admitted to dabbling in the cult-like religious organization “about 30 years ago,” which would have been in the seventies, so the now-63-year-old would have only been in his twenties.
Seinfeld said that it bothered him that he was often associated with the Church of Scientology because “it is not [his] complete wacko resume” and “just one aspect.” The comedian also said that he was merely exploring different religions and stopped practicing Scientology because he was not willing to commit to one organization.
12. Glenn Close
Glenn Close is a well-known actress who has starred in countless films and television shows but before her successful acting career, she was part of a religious cult. Close’s father was a doctor who got involved with the Moral Re-Armament when she was a young child. She later recalled not being able to “do anything” and was “made to feel guilty about any unnatural desire.”
The cult was founded by the religious evangelist, Frank Buchman. Close and her family lived in the sect’s lavish headquarters inside a hotel in Switzerland for years. After having an epiphany in her early twenties, she decided to leave the cult. Glenn has admitted to the cult causing psychological trauma but has said that pretending to believe in the group’s oppressive beliefs helped her learn how to become such a good actor.
11. Joaquin Phoenix
Joaquin Phoenix was actually born with the given name, Leaf. He and his siblings, River and Summer, all appeared in television shows when they were young. Joaquin made it big when he starred in the historical film, Gladiator, and went on to be in several other Blockbuster hits. Phoenix had previously been extremely private about his past but recently opened up in 2014 about his childhood, which was spent in the Children of God cult.
Phoenix’s parents joined the religious sect in the early seventies. The Children of God cult has been accused of encouraging the abuse of young children, as well as creating an overly-s*xualized environment for their members and encouraging husbands to “share” their wives with others. Joaquin said that his parents got his family out when they began to realize “there was something more to it.” The family changed their last name from Bottom to Phoenix to symbolize a fresh start in life.
10. Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise is perhaps one of the most well-known actors in Hollywood. This successful star is also the face of Scientology. Cruise has been involved with the Church of Scientology for years, achieving the religion’s highest ranking. He is also known as David Miscavige’s right-hand man.
The Church of Scientology has been accused of abuse, fraud, and assault — just to name a few. Tom has been through three wives while he has been practicing Scientology, all of whom credit David Miscavige and the religion for the reason their marriages ended. His last wife Katie Holmes left him to keep their young daughter, Suri, away from the manipulative organization. Despite everything and everyone he has lost because of being a Scientologist, Cruise continues to be an active member of the church to this day.
9. Rose McGowan
Rose McGowan is known for her role in the popular series Charmed and has been in the headlines recently for being one of Harvey Weinstein’s s*xual assault accusers. The actress has definitely not had the easiest life. McGowan spent the first nine years of her life in the Children of God cult.
The actress’s parents were “passionate about Jesus” and lived in the Children of God commune. However, Rose said she did not believe in God and did not buy into the cult’s philosophies, and she completely disagreed with their attitudes towards women. She later recalled women being treated poorly, living “to serve men” in the bedroom. Fortunately, Rose and her family got out of the cult as soon as the leaders began advocating for highly inappropriate relationships between children and adults.
8. Angel Haze
Female rapper Angel Haze is known for her 2013 debut album Dirty Gold. In 2014, the self-proclaimed pans*xual recording artist was dating Ireland Baldwin, the daughter of Alec Baldwin. The musician came out with a freestyle rap over top of the beats from Eminem’s “Cleaning Out My Closet” with the same title but her version featured graphic details about the childhood abuse she suffered as a young girl in the Pentecostal Greater Apostolic Faith.
She described the church as a cult and said that she recalled not being able to “talk to anyone outside” of the community of members. She was not allowed to wear “jewelry” or “listen to music” and were even restricted from eating “certain things” or dating people. They were forced to go to church three days a week but sometimes they had to go every day. She escaped the cult when she was fifteen years old after her mother had a falling out with the leaders.
7. Lisa Marie Presley
The daughter of Elvis Presley has lived her whole life in the music industry. Lisa Marie Presley has worked as a vocalist and wrote songs in a variety of genres ranging from rock, country, blues, and folk. What many people do not realize is that during the height of her music career, she was also a practicing member of Scientology.
After cutting ties with the cult-like religious organization in 2012, Presley told the press “f**** those people” and that “all they want is [her] money.” Scientologists have been accused of draining their members of funds with ridiculous requirements and membership fees. She later said that the Church of Scientology was “taking [her] soul, [her] money, [her] everything” and that she could see that she was “slowly starting to self-destruct,” which is when she knew she had to get out. She also claimed to have been around “people who were not well-intended,” exposing a “sinister situation” within the church with “kind of intel and covert ops going on.”
6. Leah Remini
Leah Remini is best-known for her role on The King of Queens. However, she is becoming even more well-known in recent years for Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, a docu-series that the actress created with former Scientologists to expose the church for fraud and abuse.
The actress had grown up in the Church of Scientology for the first 30 years of her life; it was all that she knew. When she broke from the religious organization, Leah was blackmailed, stalked, and harassed. Since the release of her memoir, Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology and her docu-series, the Church of Scientology have repeatedly made attempts to get the network to pull the series, as well as created websites to exploit and defame Remini.
5. Paul Haggis
Many celebrities have tried to leave the Church of Scientology quietly, but not Paul Haggis. The award-winning director cut ties with the church after 34 years. He began questioning the church’s values after they endorsed a law that would ban same-s*x marriage in California. He began looking into the policies and investigating some of the allegations when he came to the conclusion that he was in a cult.
Haggis has been outspoken about his departure from Scientology. He even appeared on Season 2 of Leah Remini’s docu-series, Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, which exposes the religious organization. Paul has revealed that Scientologists have consistently harassed him since he left the church. The church made false accusations against him as well as attempted to defame him publicly.
4. Emily Schromm
Emily Schromm starred on MTV’s The Real World: DC in 2009. She revealed to her roommates on the show that she had grown up in a strict, fundamentalist Christian household. It was an oppressive group that Emily later said did not allow its members to have a personal identity. She was working at a coffee shop on the University of Missouri campus when an MTV casting director asked her to audition at just 20 years old.
Schromm had lived a sheltered life and had never watched the reality series before being cast on it because her religious upbringing did not allow television. It turned out to be the best thing she could have done to get away from her cult-like upbringing. After The Real World, she went on to star in the series’ spinoff competition series, The Challenge. Emily realized she had a knack for fitness and after enjoying her 15 minutes of fame, she became a health and wellness coach in Colorado.
3. Jason Beghe
Jason Beghe is best-known for his role in G.I. Jane. The actor renounced Scientology in 2007, following Leah Remini and many other celebrities who have left the cult-like church. Beghe released a video following his split from the religion, claiming that it was indeed a cult.
He described the organization as “destructive” and a “rip-off.” He also said that being a Scientologist was “very, very dangerous” for people’s “spiritual, psychological, mental, emotional health and evolution. He warned people not to fall for Scientology’s propaganda, saying, “If Scientology is real, then something’s f***ed up.” The Scientologists were obviously not happy with Beghe bashing their organization and did everything they could to stop him, including filing a false assault lawsuit against the actor saying that he had beat up another member of the church.
2. Christopher Owens
Christopher Owens is a singer and songwriter, best known as the frontman for the indie band, Girls. He’s also released some solo albums. The musician attributes his musical talents to his upbringing in the Children of God cult. As a young member of the religious group, Owens was taught to play the guitar and collect money on the street from passing strangers.
The singer was born into the Children of God in the late seventies. He has compared growing up in the cult to being raised in the Taliban. Christopher later recalled being told that all other people in the world were bad, that they should reject technology and modern research. He also remembers being led to believe that America was “evil” and that the end of the world was coming. After his older sister had escaped and started a new life in Texas, she convinced Owens to come with her and get out of the cult.
1. David & Patricia Arquette
David and Patricia Arquette are siblings who are both famous actors. David starred in classics like Scream and Never Been Kissed and shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Cougar Town. Patricia has played the leading role in films like Boyhood and Nightmare on Elm Street, as well as series like Boardwalk Empire. The two Hollywood acts had a difficult upbringing in Virginia’s Skymont Subud commune.
The Arquette family believed that living in the commune would help their father, who was struggling with drug addiction. The Subud is an international cult that was founded in Indonesia back in the twenties. Their members practice Christianity, Judaism, and Islam and often live in seclusion. The community had no electricity, running water, or bathrooms and was supported financially by the members. The family got out in the late seventies but the Arquette children perfected their acting skills while members of the cult because their mother taught acting classes for the community.