For years, cults have largely dominated popular culture, with famous ones of history forming the basis to some of the world’s biggest blockbusters. In the last few years, we’ve seen the box-office success of Quentin Tarantino’s Manson family film Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood and Ari Aster’s terrifying depiction of a pagan commune in rural Sweden in Midsommar, starring Florence Pugh.
But while many may consider the world of cults to be a disturbing and bizarre occurrence, there are plenty of famous faces who both grew up in and later joined them. Below, a deep dive into the celebrities who were born into communes started by their own parents, to ones that began the organisation themselves.
Scroll down to discover 11 celebrities you had no idea have been tied to cults.
David & Patricia Arquette
The Arquette’s had an unusual start to life, living on Virginia’s Skymont Subud commune – an international cult that began in Indonesia in the 1920s. The famous siblings’ parents were the ones to start the commune with friends in the hopes of building a utopian society, however, drug abuse and violence turned it into hell for their children.
The group itself does not identify as a religion, religious sect or a cult, but as a “spiritual movement” that followed a form of worship known as ‘Latihan’, with the primary objective being to enable members to “become more truly who they were destined to be.”
“They started it with a bunch of their friends, and they wanted to kind of build this utopian society,” Patricia told Oprah, adding, “David was born there.”
And as the actress has previously explained, her family had no access to electricity, bathrooms or running water.
The Gladiator actor and his siblings – River, Rain, Liberty and Summer – were raised in Children of God until he was 4-years-old. His parents changed their last name to Phoenix when they eventually left, with the actor telling Playboy: “I think my parents thought they’d found a community that shared their ideals. Cults rarely advertise themselves as such. It’s usually someone saying, ‘We’re like-minded people. This is a community,’ but I think the moment my parents realised there was something more to it, they got out.”
The first five years of Maguire’s life in a polygamist cult came to light after Keira Maguire appeared on The Bachelor in 2016, and was first uncovered by Woman’s Day. The cult was founded by her father in the ‘70s and was dubbed “The Seaside Sect.” Maguire’s mum was one of nine “wives” and the cult leader reportedly had 64 children in total.
Breaking down on The Project, Keira said: “I didn’t know who my mum was until I was five. It sounds strange, but it just is what it is”, adding, “I didn’t even have birthdays. I think I had my first birthday when I was seven. For other people, it might be really sad. But it’s not, because it’s my story.”
At the age of seven the Hollywood legend, along with the rest of her family, moved to Switzerland to join the spiritual movement Moral Re-Armament (MRA). It wasn’t until she was in the midst of studying acting at the College of William & Mary at age 22 that she ended up leaving the group founded in the 1930s by Reverend Frank Buchman, known for his belief that the world could avoid war if people experienced a moral and spiritual awakening.
“Each of us had to go through that process of forgiveness,” the actress told People’s Editor-in-Chief Jess Cagle in an episode of The Jess Cagle Interview. “It wasn’t easy for my parents to talk about, certainly my father. But I guess I’ve made my career figuring out the why’s of behaviour, and I did the same thing with my parents.”
“[For years], I wouldn’t trust any of my instincts because [my beliefs] had all been dictated to me,” Close said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “You basically weren’t allowed to do anything, or you were made to feel guilty about any unnatural desire. If you talk to anybody who was in a group that basically dictates how you’re supposed to live and what you’re supposed to say and how you’re supposed to feel, from the time you’re 7 till the time you’re 22, it has a profound impact on you. It’s something you have to [consciously overcome] because all of your trigger points are ,” Close confessed.
Andrew Keegan, who portrayed male model Joey Donner in the cult classic 10 Things I Hate About You, co-founded the California spiritual community Full Circle, where he “passionately seeks to inspire and empower the community to co-create a better world.”
Originally founded by Robert Goddard in Ojai, CA, during his quest for enlightenment in the late 1960s, Goddard’s son Gunnar and Andrew came together to form the “peaceful community centre that is Full Circle Venice.” Keegan, who is often referred to as a “guru,” promotes organic experiences within the temple, including hand-holding, group meditation, spooning, crystals, candles and “soul medicine.”
According to Vice, followers describe it as “advanced spiritualism”, and all members are considered “enlightened”.
During her childhood, Winona Ryder’s family lived in a commune in Northern California with six other families. While she acknowledges that it was unconventional and might evoke cult-like images, she looks back on it fondly. “The place we lived at was 380 acres of redwoods. It was beautiful,” she told Parade.
In her memoir, Rose McGowan revealed she and her family were involved with the Children of God until she was 9-years-old. The actress recalled being entirely cut off from the rest of the world and has previously discussed the role of women as sexual objects in the cult, telling People: “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.”
Her family escaped the cult once it was made clear that sexual relations between adults and children were encouraged. “My dad and I escaped with my dad’s other wife in the middle of the night,” she said. “I remember running through a cornfield in thunder and lightning, holding my dad’s hand and running as fast as I could to keep up with him…[The cult] sent people to find us. I remember a man trying to break in with a hammer.”
When she first arrived in Los Angeles, Michelle Pfeiffer became involved with the breatharianism, revealing to the Sunday Telegraph in 2013 that she had no idea it was a cult until her ex-husband Peter Horton, who was working on a film about the Unification Church, researched the group.
She said, “They were very controlling. I wasn’t living with them but I was there a lot and they were always telling me I needed to come more. I had to pay for all the time I was there, so it was financially very draining. They believed that people in their highest state were breatharian.”
Breatharianism is a cult that stresses the ability to live without food or water and use sunlight as the only source of nourishment. According to The Daily Beast, those who practice breatharianism believe fresh air and sunshine will be enough to keep a people alive if he or she is sufficiently spiritual.
The infamous NXIVM sex cult began as a ‘self-help’ group founded by Keith Raniere in 1998 and quickly turned into an abusive cult which was thrust into the global spotlight in 2018 when two whistleblowers came forward with horrific claims of psychological and sexual abuse at the hands of its founder.
Smallville actress Allison Mack was named as a key figure in the organisation’s operations and she later pleaded guilty in court to racketeering conspiracy.
One of the most disturbing rumoured aspects of the cult was the forced branding that took place, where women were cauterised on their groins with the group’s symbol, made up of Raniere and Mack’s initials, an idea that Mack admitted to coming up with.
Dynasty star Catherine Oxenberg’s daughter India was one of the more notable recruits. She told People about how she felt when hearing about some of the horrors her daughter endured, “It’s so many layers of disgust. When you think it can’t get worse, it does. The layers of sadism and cruelty are endless.”
Rising to fame following her appearance on Richie Strahan’s season of The Bachelor, Megan Marx has previously spoken about her strange upbringing. The reality star was born into a ‘community’ that was extremely religious, banned drinking, revealing clothes and television.
“I don’t like to call it a sect or a cult, although many people would regard it as such,” she said. “Its main purpose was to save individuals from hell — a perspective obviously I disagree with now.