Once they reach a certain level of fame, many celebrities’ lives tend to be fairly similar. They’re earning major cash, so they usually end up buying a pretty impressive home. The paparazzi and the general public want to know more about them, so they splurge on some extra security measures. They go to the same awards shows and see each other at the same fundraisers.
One thing that’s different, though, is where they come from. There are certainly celebrities who grew up in the lap of luxury with wealthy parents, or who grew up in the entertainment industry. On the other hand, many celebrities have relatively unremarkable middle-class backgrounds or even come from relative poverty.
However, there are also a few celebrities who had entirely unconventional childhoods. Now, some celebrities have no issues talking about their background, even if it’s somewhat controversial. Others try to steer clear of the subject, leaving it as something left in their past. Either way, it’s fascinating to learn just how different celebrities’ upbringings were. Having that kind of experience definitely plays a formative role in shaping you, no matter who you are.
Here are 15 celebrities who grew up in, or were involved with, cults at some point in their lives. In comparison, even the craziness of Hollywood probably doesn’t seem all that nuts!
Joaquin Phoenix has always been a bit of an odd duck. Sure, he’s an insanely talented actor who can bring characters to life on screen seemingly effortlessly. He’s tackled tons of fascinating roles over the years with great skill.
However, there’s no denying that his background is fairly unconventional. He grew up with his siblings and parents in a cult in California — the Children of God cult, specifically.
His parents raised their children there for quite a few years before realizing they needed to leave. So, they ditched their last name — Bottom — and selected a new last name, Phoenix. Thus, Joaquin Bottom became Joaquin Phoenix and got a whole new start outside of the cult.
Glenn Close is insanely talented, and we have no doubt she could masterfully portray any character. However, we do wonder if she’ll ever choose to play a character involved with a cult, given her history.
You see, her parents joined the Moral Re-Armament cult when Close was just seven years old. They lived in a few different communes over the years but remained there for about 15 years. She even toured around the world with a singing group that the cult put together. Crazy!
Close eventually escaped when she was in her 20s — talk about an insane upbringing! However, she’s credited the process of having to pretend to believe in what the cult taught her as something that helped hone her acting skills, so — perhaps there’s a silver lining.
Winona Ryder got her start in Hollywood when she was quite young. However, before she was a household name appearing in tons of movies, she lived on a commune with her family.
You see, when Ryder was seven years old, her family packed up and moved to the Rainbow commune in California. They lived communally with seven other families on a 300-acre property and had no electricity. We can’t even imagine!
Ryder ended up living there for about three years. So, while it didn’t take up the bulk of her childhood, it was long enough to likely leave a lasting impression on her.
David Arquette truly had an unusual upbringing. He didn’t just grow up in a cult — he was actually born into one. Arquette was born in Virginia, in the Skymond Subud commune, where his parents were living at the time.
He lived there with his whole family for quite a few years, until the late ’70s when they decided to leave.
The Subud commune was intended to be a kind of utopia. However, the reality was, there was no electricity, no running water, and no bathrooms. We can’t even imagine raising four children in that kind of environment! We wonder how much of it Arquette remembers.
Rose McGowan has truly faced a lot of trials and tribulations in her life. And, it turns out that started at quite a young age.
McGowan was actually born in Florence, Italy, and spend her childhood years in the Children of God cult. And her family weren’t just casual members. Her father actually ran one of the Italian chapters, which means that a young Rose had to travel to other communes throughout her childhood.
She wasn’t a fan of that way of life, though. She dished to People that “at a very early age, I thought these beliefs are absurd… you were cut off from your family. There were no newspapers, no television, you were kept in the dark so you would obey.”
What a nightmare!
Scientology is a bit tricky. Some people view it as a religion and others view it as a cult. However, either way, there are several notable celebrities in Hollywood who are believers — including Giovanni Ribisi.
And, Ribisi isn’t just a casual Scientologist. His family is actually one of the most well-known families in the organization. His father joined in 1970, and Ribisi has been a member throughout his entire life.
In fact, he’s even quoted on the Scientology website, saying that “Scientology has given me the certainty of myself. I have the ability to comfortably communicate with anyone in any situation and be certain of my own goals.”
Sometimes, celebrities part ways with the way they were raised — but Val Kilmer didn’t. He was brought up as a Christian Scientist and remains a committed member of the group today. In fact, he’s such a strong believer that he even wrote and starred in a play centered on the group’s founder, Mary Baker Eddy.
However, it wasn’t always smooth going. According to his beliefs, spiritual healing and prayer can help cure illnesses. So, when he got a tumor, he didn’t consider any type of treatment for it — and he nearly passed away because of it. Eventually, he got surgery, but still — what a traumatic event.
Elisabeth Moss’ career simply continues to grow and grow. She went from starring in the smash hit Mad Men to starring in the hit The Handmaids Tale. She’s basically television royalty at this point and is an expert at playing complex, nuanced characters.
She’s also, it turns out, a Scientologist. Her parents introduced her to Scientology when she was a child, and she’s been a believer ever since. It even has a major impact on her career. Scientologist Gay Ribisi, who is actor Giovanni Ribisi’s mother, is Moss’ manager.
She’s not one of the more outspoken celebrity Scientologists, but her beliefs are strong.
Emily Schromm isn’t exactly a household name. However, you may remember her from her season of the reality show The Real World. While there are plenty of religious individuals who became cast members of the show, there weren’t many with as unique of background as Schromm.
You see, Schromm grew up in Missouri, in a fundamentalist Christian cult. Members weren’t allowed to play sports, and really even have their own identity of any kind.
When she was just 14 years old, Schromm decided to leave the cult and put all her time and effort into pursuing sports. She eventually became a personal trainer and CrossFit coach.
There are plenty of religious rappers who credit God with their success. However, Angel Haze comes at her fame from a different background — and it’s not one she still believes in.
She was raised in the Pentecostal Greater Apostolic Faith commune, which was allegedly super isolated. She spilled about her experiences to The Guardian, saying that “you weren’t allowed to talk to anyone outside of that. You weren’t allowed to wear jewelry, listen to music, to eat certain things, to date people. You weren’t allowed to do pretty much anything.”
Sounds like a tough way to grow up! Luckily, Haze managed to leave the commune eventually and pursue her dreams.
Michelle Pfeiffer is pretty much the perfect warning story for actresses who come to Los Angeles to be aware of who they associate with. Pfeiffer didn’t move as far as many aspiring actresses — she was born in Santa Ana, California. However, when she decided she wanted to become an actress, she made the move to Hollywood.
And when she did so, at just 20 years old, she ended up making a connection with a couple who practice Breatharianism. To sum it up, the cult believes that sunlight and air provide all the nourishment you need, and that food was unnecessary.
Pfeiffer has been honest about her experiences, saying that they controlled her life and even took a lot of her money before she realized what was happening and got out.
Singer-songwriter Christopher Owens is best known for his role in the band Girls. However, he had a fairly tumultuous path to the music industry — and not in the way that many other aspiring musicians do.
Owens grew up in the Children of God cult and actually grew up traveling all around Asia and Europe trying to recruit new members. His family was very poor, and he even had a tragedy occur because the members of the cult didn’t believe in health care.
Eventually, at age 16, he managed to escape and begin his own life outside of the cult. It must take such strength to leave everything you know behind and start fresh.
Before she entered the music industry, singer-songwriter and guitarist Susan Justice was a member of The Family, a part of the Children of God cult. She and her family would move from commune to commune, living by the principles and beliefs of the cult. They, like many others in the cult, were tasked with recruiting other individuals to join the group.
Eventually, Justice found the courage to run away from the cult and landed in New York City. She performed in subway stations while she tried to make her music career happen. In tribute to her roots as a newly free individual, her debut album was called The Subway Recordings.
Okay, this one is too crazy not to share. Many people remember Andrew Keegan as the dreamy guy from 10 Things I Hate About You. In fact, he seemed to have a relatively promising film career in his younger years. However, he sort of disappeared from Hollywood — and now we know why.
Instead of going on auditions and trying to build his career as an actor, he founded a cult called Full Circle. He founded it back in 2013 and talks endlessly on his social media about the flows and vibes within the group.
It’s one thing to be involved in a cult — it’s a whole different thing to actually create one. Who would have guessed?
Jaden Smith has always been kind of an unusual guy. He’s marched to the beat of his own drum for quite some time now. And, it seems, he may have a bit of a cult connection as well.
You see, Smith is allegedly a member of the Orgonite society. Orgonites are a secret society who apparently create and place orgonite in an attempt to balance Gaia’s energies.
There are plenty of celebrities who have a passion for crystals. However, Smith seems to take it to an entirely different level. It’s certainly an unusual passion, but it kind of makes sense for his personality, we have to admit.
References: Ranker, Screen Rant, Nicki Swift, Baby Gaga, Decider