March 31, 2001
HIDDEN REASONS BEHIND THE CRUISE-KIDMAN SPLIT?
IS IT MORE THAN JUST FAN
Note: This article has run in Switzerland's top newspaper, the
Tages-Zeitung; Italy's La Repubblica; Belgium's Knack Focus magazine; and will soon run in the Dutch version of Esquire.
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.
BY: Russ Baker
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 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
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
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
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 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 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.