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
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
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
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
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.
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 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
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 pervert..is 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.