Ever since the early 20th century, new religious movements have captured the hearts and souls of many North Americans. In particular, the celebrity world is full of figures who’ve flocked to creeds such as Scientology and Kabbalah in search of a new slant on spirituality. But it turns out that some celebrities encountered these cults long before they were in the public eye. And while some of these movements have proven relatively benign, others are far more sinister…
10. Glenn Close
With six Academy Award nominations to her name, Glenn Close is one of Hollywood’s most respected actresses. What’s more, thanks to roles in the likes of Fatal Attraction, she’s one of the most famous to boot. However, things could have turned out very differently for Close.
That’s because, when she was only seven, her family moved to Switzerland to join the Moral Re-Armament – a right-wing group obsessed with restrictive moral absolutes. “You were made to feel guilty about any ‘unnatural’ desire,” she subsequently told The Hollywood Reporter. Close eventually left the group in 1970, but she remains reluctant to talk about her experiences in the cult.
9. David Arquette
Like his sisters Patricia and Rosanna, David Arquette has had a long and fruitful on-screen career. And although he remains most famous for playing the Scream series’ Dewey Riley, he’s subsequently made a successful move into the director’s chair for horror flick The Tripper. What’s more, he enjoyed a high-profile marriage to Courteney Cox in the ’00s.
But throughout the early ’70s Arquette and his family lived on a commune dedicated to Subud – a mystic tradition purportedly devoted to empowering one’s inner self. And though the family had freedom, their living arrangements lacked heating or running water. In addition, money was very scarce – something that led to the commune’s demise a few years later.
8. Michelle Pfeiffer
Michelle Pfeiffer has endeared herself to countless film fans since beginning her career in the ’80s. Following successful early roles in the likes of 1983’s Scarface, the actress then received an Oscar nomination for Dangerous Liaisons in 1988. Later, she played the definitive Catwoman in 1992’s Batman Returns.
However, during her formative years Pfeiffer met a couple who believed that they could live on sunlight and air alone. She has subsequently claimed that they brainwashed her into handing over large sums of money to them. Luckily, she then met future husband Peter Horton, who helped Pfeiffer free herself from their control.
7. Susan Justice
While she may not be the biggest name in pop music, Susan Justice still has a dedicated following hooked on her soulful sound. Since being discovered busking at a New York subway station, the singer has released two albums and performed at the MTV Video Music Awards.
But as a child, Justice was subjected to an extremely strict upbringing by her controlling parents, who were members of the infamous cult known as The Family. Indeed, the group forbade her to listen to popular music and forced the future singer to conceal her musical ambitions. Eventually, Justice broke free and ran away to New York in 2001.
6. Christopher Owens
Not everyone will be familiar with Christopher Owens’ band Girls, but they were among the most critically acclaimed acts of their era. Indeed, their second album, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, was voted the best record of 2011 by Stereogum. However, the group called it quits shortly afterwards.
But Owens hadn’t even used a telephone – let alone picked up a guitar – during his youth. Born into the Children of God, as a child he was denied almost all modern comforts, and this ultimately led his decision to run away from the cult when he was 16. Indeed, while speaking to The Guardian in 2011, Owens likened the group to “the Taliban.”
5. Toni Braxton
With six Grammy Awards under her belt, Toni Braxton has found enviable success in the R&B world. Following her first release in 1992, the singer has had a string of chart-topping singles, most notably 1996’s “Un-Break My Heart.” Meanwhile, her 1993 debut album has shifted five million units in the U.S. alone.
However, in her 2014 memoir Unbreak My Heart, Braxton revealed details of her upbringing in an oppressive religious group called Pillar of Truth. Forced as a child to pretend to speak in tongues, she felt enormous relief when her parents eventually moved on to a less restrictive creed. “I began connecting religion, God and church with judgment, anxiety and guilt,” she later lamented in her book.
4. Winona Ryder
After finding fame in 1988’s Beetlejuice, Winona Ryder has since enjoyed a long and rewarding career in film and TV. Indeed, the actress even received an Academy Award nomination for her work in 1993’s The Age of Innocence. More recently, Ryder introduced herself to a new generation of fans via Netflix’s hugely popular series Stranger Things.
But at the age of seven, the star moved with her parents to the Rainbow commune – a hippie hideout in California where several other families also lived. Ryder nonetheless developed an interest in acting during her four-year stay on the commune. In fact, she still seems to have fond memories of her time there, even though her home there had no electricity supply.
3. Angel Haze
Once described by The Guardian as “rap’s most original new voice,” Angel Haze certainly stands out from the norm in the hip-hop industry. Indeed, her open and confessional lyrics have seen her deal with difficult topics such as sexual assault. Unfortunately, it’s a subject the rapper knows all too well…
After her father’s death, Haze and her mother fell into the Greater Apostolic Faith. Besides enduring emotional abuse from their live-in preacher, the rapper was also raped by a family friend when she was seven. She finally escaped aged 15 when her mother fell out with the cult’s leaders and fled with her daughter to New York.
2. Rose McGowan
Probably most famous for her five year stint on Charmed, Rose McGowan has since become one of Hollywood’s most fearless performers. In addition to taking on roles in harder-edged films such as 2007’s Planet Terror, she has also recently become an active and vocal critic of sexism in the film and entertainment industry.
Furthermore, there’s no doubt McGowan’s resilient attitude was influenced by her upbringing in controversial cult Children of God. Raised within it until the age of nine, the young actress saw women reduced to sexual servants. Her family eventually left when the group advocated pedophilic relations. “I’m sure I could have been broken,” she subsequently confessed to People.
1. Joaquin Phoenix
While his brother River was the first to make his mark on Hollywood, Joaquin Phoenix has since carved out his own distinctive film career. Through the likes of Walk the Line and The Master, he has earned three Oscar nominations and established has a fine reputation for his acting.
Like Rose McGowan and Christopher Owens, however, Phoenix too was brought up in the Children of God. “I think it was really innocent on my parents’ part,” he told Playboy in 2011. “Cults rarely advertise themselves as such.” Nevertheless, after learning of the group’s many sinister practices, the family wisely made their exit.