Cults maintain a large presence in popular culture, with famous ones frequently referenced in movies, TV shows, music, and even day-to-day conversations. Debates regarding whether Scientology and the Ku Klux Klan can be considered cults rage on, but most cults are viewed as disturbing and bizarre (and in most cases, they definitely are). So it's certainly surprising for many people to discover how many famous people grew up in cults.
In dictionaries, the definition of a cult is nearly identical with that of religion. Cults are formed by people who gather and practice shared beliefs. However, these beliefs tend to be far more radical than those of standard religions. Cults also tend to be secluded and closed off from the rest of the world, which is another reason why the involvement of celebrities and even politicians within cults should come as a surprise. These groups are usually dominated by one Pope-like figure who exemplifies the extremist values of the cult and doggedly recruits new members.
From Children of God and the Unification Church to the Church of Scientology and breatharianism, you'd be surprised how many famous people out there were either raised in cults or dabbled with them at some point.
Breatharianism is a cult that stresses the ability to live without food or water, and use sunlight as the only source of nourishment. According to The Daily Beast, those who practice breatharianism believe fresh air and sunshine will be enough to keep a people alive if he or she is sufficiently spiritual.
Michelle Pfeiffer became involved with breatharianism when she first arrived in Los Angeles. In a 2013 interview featured in the Sunday Telegraph’s magazine Stella, Pfeiffer claims she didn't even realize she was involved with a cult until she met her ex-husband Peter Horton, who was working on a film about the Unification Church. Horton's research convinced Pfeiffer that breatharianism was a cult.
Lukyanova, a Ukrainian model known as the "Human Barbie Doll," has opened up about her diet of air and sunlight to the International Business Times, stating:
In recent weeks I have not been hungry at all; I'm hoping it's the final stage before I can subsist on air and light alone.
Lukyanova has also claimed to be from another planet and says she's able to communicate with aliens.
Children Of God
Founded in 1968, the Children of God, which spreads a message of apocalypticism, was eventually renamed The Family International. The cult has reportedly been involved in child abduction, including the 1983 kidnapping of Steven Riddell by his father, a member of the organization. The cult identifies itself with fundamentalist Christianity and, according to former supporters, uses sex and sexuality to attract attention. Its "spirit helpers" include angels and other mythical figures as well as possibly celebrities.
McGowan and her family were involved with the Children of God until she was 9 years old. She recalled being entirely cut off from the rest of the world and has discussed the role of women as sexual objects in the cult. McGowan told People:
Like in most cults, you were cut off from your [outside] family. There were no newspapers, no television. You were kept in the dark so you would obey. ... [Women] were basically there to serve the men sexually.
The Gladiator actor was raised in Children of God until he was 4 years old. His parents changed their last name to Phoenix upon leaving. Phoenix told Playboy:
I think my parents thought they'd found a community that shared their ideals. Cults rarely advertise themselves as such. It's usually someone saying, "We're like-minded people. This is a community," but I think the moment my parents realized there was something more to it, they got out.
Founded as the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity in South Korea, the Unification Church, its main beliefs emerge from the Christian Bible, and its members worship God but also believe that Jesus Christ appeared to the cult's founder Rev. Sun Myung Moon when he was 16 years old. Members also believe that on Easter morning in 1935, Jesus asked Moon to finish his work on earth. The Church has attracted a wide following in Asia and even parts of Europe.
The son of President George H.W. Bush and brother to President George W. Bush, Neil Bush is famous for promoting Moon in Asia and around the United States in 2009. Ten years ago, Neil supported Moon's ideas for a $400 billion World Peace King Tunnel that would link Alaska and Russia. The tunnel project garnered little support before Moon's death in 2012.
A state legislator from Nevada, Hickey met his Korean wife through Moon himself, he wrote in his autobiography, Tahoe Boy: A Journey Back Home. Hickey joined the Unification Church of the United States after fighting in the Vietnam War, and he and his wife were married through the Unification Church. By 2010, when Hickey returned to politics after a 14-year hiatus, Hickey was once again a member of the Roman Catholic Church, which he had been born into.
Church Of Scientology
While the church repeatedly insists it is a religion, many view Scientology as a cult, including doctors who treat ex-Scientologists struggling to leave. Either way, it teaches that humans are immortal beings who require expensive spiritual rehabilitation sessions. An "auditor" helps members relive traumatic experiences in order to be set free. In the United States, Scientology is legally recognized as a tax-exempt religion.
Cruise became involved with Scientology in 1990. In November 2013, he admitted ex-wife Katie Holmes left him "in part to protect Suri from scientology." Despite recent rumors that Cruise would be leaving the Church, he is reportedly donating $50 million to develop a Hollywood studio under Scientology Media Productions. From the studio, the Church of Scientology will launch a program nicknamed "Scientology's CNN."
Greta Van Susteren
Van Susteren, a Fox News personality, and her husband are registered members of the Church of Scientology. Neither Van Susteren nor her husband often publicly discuss their involvement. In 2009, Van Susteren's friendship with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin stirred controversy. Their relationship led many to question Van Susteren's journalistic ethics, and led others to wonder why Palin was involved with a Scientologist.
Subud is an international cult that began in Indonesia in the 1920s. It was founded by Muhammad Subuh Sumohadiwidjojo, who described it as a representation of the "Power of God" or the "Great Life Force." Members practice Christianity, Islam, and Judaism and are encouraged to communicate with God in a unique way, but often live together in seclusion.
Arquette was born and grew up in Virginia's Skymont Subud commune. His parents, who struggled with drug addiction, believed that secluded religious life would benefit their family, his sister Patricia told Oprah Winfrey in an interview in February 2011.
Patricia also lived at the Skymont Subud in Virginia during her childhood. She recalled the commune lacked electricity and running water until the late 1970s. "[My parents] started it with a bunch of their friends, and they wanted to kind of build this utopian society," she told Winfrey. Unlike her brother, David, Patricia wasn't born in the commune.
Numerous political correspondents, politicians, and big-name actors and models alike either spent some of their formative years in cults, or willingly joined cult-like organization later on in their lives. As we continue to grapple with what exactly distinguishes cults from interest groups or religions, it's possible that more affiliations will rise among popular culture personalities.
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