15 Celebrity Cult Members (And a Few Leaders)
You might like to think you’d never fall prey to a group of controlling creeps trying to take all your money and/or recruit you into sexual slavery, but even the people society has decided are the most impressive people aren’t immune. Sometimes, they even decide to leverage their best-person status
You’re surely aware that R. Kelly is criminally gross, but maybe not that his charges include racketeering, which is defined as an organized scheme to profit from crime -- in this case, accruing a harem of young women through abuse and coercion. The methods by which he ran his “sex cult” -- recruitment, isolation, surveillance, and threats -- are very similar to other, less Grammy-recognized cult leaders.
When she first moved to Hollywood in the ‘80s, Pfieffer got mixed up in a cult of “breatharians,” who believe that the most spiritually advanced people can live without food or water, who she initially thought were harmless personal trainers but soon began controlling all of her time and taking all her money. It wasn’t until she was researching cults for her then-husband’s role in a movie that she was like, “Oh, hey, I’m in a cult, maybe I should get out of this cult.”
After some of the more attractive “family members” intentionally got themselves picked up by Wilson while hitchhiking, the Beach Boy became tight with Charles Manson, encouraging his music career and even letting the family live in his home before they snagged their ranch. Wilson claimed he cut ties with Manson after witnessing him murder a man, which he inexplicably didn’t report and almost certainly didn’t happen.
Through Wilson, Manson also met Neil Young, who became a frequent guest at the ranch and even apparently dated one of the family members. Young compared Manson to Bob Dylan and tried his best to get him a record deal, but then Manson pivoted to murder.
Former members describe the Self-Realization Fellowship as a yoga cult that requires its most devoted followers to give up everything in exchange for becoming gods through stretching, and they definitely almost convinced Elvis to do so in the ‘60s. According to his ex-wife, he wanted to start a commune for the group, but in the end, he wasn’t willing to make the commitment. He just loved bacon too much.
You probably know that tons of celebrities were involved in the creepy MLM/self-help group/sex cult NXIVM, but one surprising name that’s come up is Shirley MacLaine -- you know, Steel Magnolias, Terms of Endearment, Glee, etc. It’s not clear what her role in the organization was, but she (probably) never branded anybody.
This is a sad one, so gird up. Are you girded? Kilmer is a Christian Scientist, i.e. those people who don’t believe in medicine, preferring to pray the sick away with often catastrophic results. When he was diagnosed with throat cancer (or what he called the “claim” that he had cancer, which he regarded as an “outward manifestation” of a spiritual cold) in 2014, he initially planned to do just that, but his family convinced him to get treatment. By then, it was severe enough to require a tracheotomy and a feeding tube. He’s pretty pissed about it -- not the cancer, which he believes he prayed away, but the treatment, which he insists is what “caused suffering.”
Mel Gibson isn’t just Catholic -- he’s the most Catholic it is possible to be, to the point that even the Catholics weren’t Catholic enough for him, prompting him to start his own church that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles (you know, the Catholics) refuses to recognize. The private church is somewhat secretive, but what we do know suggests that it’s the oldest of the old school, with some members who don’t even believe in the Pope. (Fun fact: Gibson’s father wrote a book earnestly called Is the Pope Catholic?)
In 2014, Kylie Jenner, Willow Smith, and Jaden Smith posted photos of themselves making orgonites, which are manmade healing crystals, and reading books by a cult leader influenced by the guy whose theories about “orgones” (a vague sort of energy derived from orgasms) led to the concept of the crystals. It’s not clear how much they knew about the sex cult they were ostensibly aligning themselves with, but you know. It’s probably fine.
The Source Family
The Source was a famous L.A. vegan restaurant featured in Annie Hall in a scene about how much L.A. vegan restaurants suck. It was also run by a cult headed by a guy who had 13 child brides. It was nevertheless popular with celebrities, particularly John Lennon, who was said to get into deep conversations with the waitresses/cult members and whose son even made a music video inspired by the guru.
Fonda has never been an uncontroversial figure, but when she buddied up to Jim Jones in the leadup to the Jonestown massacre, she went beyond “controversial” and into “Jesus Christ, really?” She ghosted him just in time to avoid the Kool Aid, but only because it was inconvenient for her husband’s political aspirations; she had previously written him a letter of support swearing that he couldn’t possibly be responsible for the horrendous abuse he’d been accused of and “recommit myself to your congregation as an active full participant -- not only for myself, but because I want my two children to have the experience.” Fortunately, they didn’t.
Brand got into the Hare Krishna movement in 2007, saying it helped him overcome his various addictions and other mental health issues, which is fine, if you overlook all the racketeering, abuse, and murder.
The Hillsong megachurch family is a group of churches popular with celebrities like Justin Bieber, Chris Pratt, and various Kardashians which ex-members have described as a “toxic” environment full of abuse, coercion, isolation, and Chris Pratt.
Okay, Jared Leto and his band, Thirty Seconds to Mars, don’t actually have their own cult (as far as we know). But they do hold an annual retreat in Croatia for fans to wear identical white robes, do yoga, and watch their master’s movies, so if he did decide to do a real cult, he’s got the perfect cover.
Andrew Keegan, on the other hand, absolutely has his own cult, with its own California temple and everything. Their beliefs are vague, relying heavily on crystals and illegal kombucha, but what all the “inner circle” members can agree on is that Keegan has a knack for attracting and enlightening followers thank to his “vortex” of vibes, which is hippie for “big dick energy.”
Top image: Nancy Wong/Wikimedia Commons