A cult is a social group characterized by a boundless devotion to a person, idea, object, or movement. The word itself has been controversial among academia as well as in pop culture. While some people commonly relate it to socially deviant religious groups, the term can also refer to spiritual, philosophical, and lifestyle organizations.
Cults are generally known to be created or held together by charismatic leaders and demand high levels of commitment from its members. This commitment can range from financial dues to extreme lifestyle changes. For most members, the cults define their life and dictate how they live it.
People join cults for all types of reasons. However, one big reason is because of familial ties. Many people are born into cults and are raised with its ideals, knowing nothing else outside of the group. Sometimes these members grow up and manage to escape these cults, while others embrace the cult’s identity and continue with it into adulthood.
Hollywood actors are no different. There are many actors who have come forward to talk about the cults that they were born into. While most of the actors on this list were about to leave their cults, others have continued to spread their cult’s ideologies to present day.
So, get ready to hear their stories. This are the 15 Actors You Never Knew Grew Up In Cults.
15 Ellen Degeneres
Ellen Degeneres was born in Louisiana and isn’t shy about talking about her past. Her father was a first reader in the Christian Science Church, which is a role similar to a preacher.
In an interview with Parade, she recalled her childhood saying, “there was no drinking, smoking, or cursing. I didn’t see deep emotion from my parents. It was all very polite and very surface. I never knew how anybody was feeling. Because of that religion, everything was fine all the time.”
Since members of Christian Science do not believe in modern medicine, Degeneres says she didn’t have vaccinations or aspirin as a kid, and didn’t receive medical attention until she was 14 when she had a chunk of wood suck in her foot.
At the age of 16, her parents divorced and Degeneres went to live with her mother. After that, they no longer followed Christian Science. According to Degeneres, “we were not Christian Science anymore. And I took aspirin all the time. I was wild! I’d just drink Pepto Bismol and it was like ‘look at me!’”
14 Winona Ryder
Award winning actress Winona Ryder spent her childhood on a commune called Rainbow in northern California. She lived with seven other families on 300 acres of land. However, throughout these 300 acres, there was no electricity. Therefore, Ryder turned to literature to entertain herself.
The Rainbow Family lived on the principles of nonviolence and egalitarianism. Although generally a peaceful group, it sometimes has a darker reputation. Recent Rainbow Family gatherings have been exposed to have a lot of drug abuse and theft.
Ryder says that, although some of the adults around her did drugs, she was not interested. “My parents really did me a solid by taking all of the mystery of that stuff for me. So, I was really like, ‘I don’t want to!’”
13 David and Patricia Arquette
Scream actor David Arquette was born on a Skymont Subud commune in Winchester, Virginia. He lived with his siblings, Richmond, Alexis, Rosanna, and Patricia in the community with no electricity, bathrooms, or running water.
Arquette’s parents started the commune with a couple of friends to build a Utopian society. They believed that living in the commune would create a better life for their family and children.
Skymont Subud revolved around learning to communicate with God in a different way and taking spiritual directions from “The Great Life Force.”
Despite the teachings, though, Arquette’s parents were drug addicts and their life was filled with violence. Patricia Arquette told ABC News that “there was a lot of drama in the house … there were a lot of chairs flying around.”
Her sister, Rosanna added, “[My mom] stabbed me in the arm with a knife. Concussions. Just terrible physical abuse.”
Although the violence was not due to the family's cult following, their isolated surroundings made it worse, and prevented the kids from seeking help.
12 Glenn Close
Glenn Close’s father Dr. William Taliaferro Close was once a personal physician to Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Through this relationship, Dr. Close brought his family into the Moral Re-Armament.
The Moral Re-Armament, although initiated under Christian ideals, included people of all faiths. It focused on the "Four Absolutes," which consisted of absolute honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love, and was led by a violent anti-intellectual homophobe.
When Close’s family joined the group, she and her brother were uprooted from their life and taken to the group’s headquarters in Caux, Switzerland. Close told The Hollywood Reporter, “you basically weren’t allowed to do anything, or you were made to feel guilty about any unnatural desire.” She went on to say the group dictated how they were supposed to live, what they were supposed to say, and what they had to feel.
Close lived with the cult from the age of seven until her escape to Connecticut at age 15. She refused to talk about the details of her escape, but said that she was still haunted by the cult at the age of 22.
11 Rose McGowan
Charmed star Rose McGowan lived in an Italian sect of the Children of God (CoG) until she was nine years old.
Members of CoG, like McGowan, lived together in communes with a dozen other members. Female members were expected to show God’s love through sexual relationships and therefore, the cult has been associated with sexual violence and incest. Some people, including the founder’s daughter, have described CoG as a religious child sex ring.
McGowan’s parents were very religious and brought McGowan to the commune. However, McGowan didn’t agree with the group’s ideals. She told People, “at a very early age, I thought these beliefs are absurd … 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 … I remember watching how the cult’s men were with the women, and at a very early age I decided I did not want to be like those women. They were basically there to serve the men sexually – you were allowed to have more than one wife.”
McGowan’s family escaped when the commune began advocating sex between adults and children. They fled during the night to America.
10 Joaquin Phoenix
Perhaps best known for his role in Gladiator, Joaquin Phoenix was a member of the Children of God (CoG) for the first four years of his life.
Phoenix’s parents, John and Arlyn Bottom were introduced to the cult by friends. According to Phoenix in a Playboy interview, they “had a religious experience and felt strongly about it. They wanted to share that with other people who wanted to talk about their experience with religion.” Therefore, in the early '80s, the Phoenix family travelled through Central and South America as CoG members.
Joaquin’s older brother, River Phoenix, detailed his life in the cult and said “children as young as three were encouraged to play sexually with their parents and other adults. But even greater emphasis was put on the children stimulating each other; they could pair off for sexual exploration at night.” He later said the first time he made love was when he was four.
When John and Arlyn Bottom started realizing that the group was more than just a religious community, the family left. In 1977, they boarded a ship to Miami and moved to Los Angeles. To mark their new life, they changed their last name from Bottom to Phoenix.
9 Giovanni Ribisi
Giovanni Ribisi was born into one of the most well-known families in the realm of Scientology.
Ribisi’s dad Al Ribisi joined Scientology’s Sea Organization in 1970. The group required members to sign billion-year contracts and work awful hours for mere pennies – all in the name of Scientology. Al was assigned to work out of Scientology’s Celebrity Centre and ever since then has been a rock star in the Scientology community.
To this day, Giovanni is still a devout Scientologist. He is quoted on the Scientology website saying “Scientology has given me a certainty of myself. I have the ability to comfortably communication with anyone in any situation and be certain of my own goals.”
Giovanni’s daughter Lucia, on the other hand, does not share her father’s views. She defected and left the organization. She talked about how miserable Scientology made her and even said that her father has questioned it at times.
Lucia also revealed that their family received special treatment in the organization since they were celebrities and got to break many of the rules. For example, even though members are not supposed to talk to defective members, they are allowed to make an exception for her.
8 Val Kilmer
Val Kilmer, known for his role as Batman in Batman Forever, was raised as a Christian Scientist and is still a devout member today.
Kilmer’s commitment to the group led him to write, direct, and star in a play about Mary Baker Eddy, the group’s founder. He has even shown his devotion by taking a pilgrimage to the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
However, Kilmer’s extreme devotion though almost led to his death in 2016. Christian Science believes that God’s creations are good and therefore evils, such as diseases, are not a part of fundamental reality. This means that Christian Scientists do not believe in medical treatment, and instead, believe that spiritual healing and prayer cure illnesses.
According to Kilmer’s family, he was informed about a tumor in his throat but neglected medical attention for several months because of his religious beliefs. He simply covered up his neck with scarves to hide the symptoms.
Eventually, he started bleeding from his throat and was rushed to the hospital where they operated on him immediately. While Kilmer’s family is happy that he is now more open to medical treatment, the actor credits love and prayer for curing him – not his doctors.
7 Elisabeth Moss
Elisabeth Moss, better known as Peggy Olson from Mad Men, was introduced to Scientology by her parents at a young age. To Moss, her faith gives her stability, empowers her, and makes her feel like a better version of herself. She can even attribute her devotion to the group as the reason why she has been so successful in Hollywood.
Moss’ career is managed by Gay Ribisi, Giovanni Ribisi’s mother and a prominent member of Scientology’s elite. Moss also has a close group of friends who are also Scientologists and have helped her blossom into the actress she is today.
Although Moss has been generally quiet about her faith in the media, she is regarded highly in the community. At one point, there was even a push from senior church members for Tom Cruise to consider dating and marrying Moss.
They had visions of the two biggest names in Scientology pairing up after Cruise’s divorce from Katie Holmes. However, Cruise apparently needed a break from dating and alas, Moss never became Mrs. Cruise.
6 Emily Schromm
Emily Schromm was a reality star on The Real World XXIII: Washington, D.C. and her interesting background was what intrigued directors during her audition.
Schromm grew up in a fundamentalist Christian group in Columbia, MO. She describes the group as an oppressive cult that didn’t allow members to have their own identity. They even forbade children from playing sports, such as football and rock climbing.
Schromm left the cult when she was 14 and tried to live a normal life. She used athletics to get back in the real world and invested her time into conquering the sports that her cult forbade. She is now a certified personal trainer and CrossFit Coach.
Some of her story and struggles are revealed through episodes of The Real World: DC and her sister even visits during an episode to talk about their family life.
5 Mimi Rogers
Mimi Rogers, best known for her role in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, became involved in Scientology at an early age. Her father Phil Spickler was a close friend of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology and therefore was an avid follower.
Early in her life, Rogers married another Scientologist by the name of Jim Rogers and opened up a field auditing office in Shermon Oaks called the Scientology Enhancement Centre. The romance doesn’t have a happy ending, though, as she divorced Rogers in 1980 and sold the center.
In 1985, Mimi introduced Scientology’s current most prominent member – Tom Cruise – to the organization. The two actors started dating and she took him to the Enhancement Centre to introduce him to Scientology. She figured teaching him about her faith would help with his promiscuity problem.
Ultimately, the Rogers and Cruise eventually divorced. According to multiple sources, the church was partly to blame for the divorce. They encouraged Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s relationship and even delivered the divorce papers to Rogers. She obliged, and this is the main reason why she quit the Church of Scientology.
4 Toni Braxton
Singer and actress Toni Braxton grew up in Severn, Maryland in a two-bedroom trailer. Her family had very little money and eventually Braxton’s mother led the family out of the Baptist faith and into an Apostolic Pentecostal congregation known as Pillar of Truth.
According to Braxton, the cult had so many religious restrictions that she and her siblings weren't allowed to do much. They couldn’t go roller-skating because the music at the roller skating derbies was evil, and even going to a movie was considered a sin.
The group taught its members to be prepared for the rapture to come at any moment, so the aim was to be saved by being obedient, being baptized, and speaking in tongues.
According to Braxton, she “began connecting religion, God, and church with judgement, anxiety, and guilt.” She did whatever she could do survive, even faking speaking in tongues at the age of eight to appease the church members.
Her only salvation came in the form of the children’s church choir. She eventually worked with a producer at night who made her a demo and started her career. Braxton’s voice literally saved her from the cult.
3 Angus T. Jones
In 2012, Angus T. Jones shot a video testimonial for the religious group The Forerunner Chronicles. During the video, he trashed Two and a Half Men and said that he no longer wanted to play his role as Jake Harper because the show was filth and it contradicted his religious beliefs.
The man sitting opposite Jones in the video was Christopher Hudson, the leader of the Forerunner Chronicles. Famous for his Hollywood conspiracies, Hudson has accused Jay-Z of being a Freemason who used his albums to celebrate his link to Satan. Hudson has also claimed that the deaths of Michael Jackson and Osama bin Laden were part of a conspiracy and that people should be worrying about “the menaces of gay marriage.”
Jones’ mother Carey Jones spoke out after the release of the video and saying, “I’m concerned he’s being exploited by the church.” She and many others believed the Two and a Half Men star was being manipulated by Christopher Hudson.
2 Leah Remini
When Leah Remini was ten years old, her step father convinced her mother to move their family from Brooklyn, NY to a “roach-infested motel” that served as the Scientology compound in Florida.
On the topic of their move, Remini remembers being separated from her mother, signing billion-year contracts that she didn’t understand, and constantly asking “why are you doing this? Why are we here?”
As soon as the kids arrived in Florida, they were put to work from morning until night with barely any schooling. According to Remini, “there was no saying no. There was no being tired… There was only ‘get it done.’”
Eventually Remini’s mother moved the family to LA, where Remini dropped out of school and instead received an education at the Church of Scientology. Soon after, she landed herself an agent and started her career.
Remini quit the Church of Scientology in 2013 after what she said was years of interrogations and thought modifications. She now takes a stand against the group and even has a docuseries called Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath to reveal the shocking truths behind the group.
1 Michelle Pfeiffer
As a young, struggling actress, Michelle Pfeiffer became involved with a very controlling couple who brought her into Breathanarianism.
Followers of Breathanarianism believe that food is unnecessary and all the body needs for nourishment is sunlight. Therefore, Pfeiffer was put on a strict diet that she describes as a regime that “nobody could adhere to.”
Pfeiffer said that vegetarianism was their thing and that the couple was "very controlling.” Although she didn’t live with them, she was there a lot and they always told her that she needed to go to their center more. She also always had to pay for the time she was there and said that it was “financially very draining.”
Pfeiffer was eventually saved by her first husband Peter Horton. He was cast in a movie about the Moonies – followers of Rev Moon Sun-myung’s Unification Church. While helping him research the role and the cult, she realized that she was in one.
According to Pfeiffer, “we were talking with an ex-Moonie and he was describing the psychological manipulation and I just clicked.”
Do you know of any actors who were raised in a cult? Let us know in the comments!