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One word that’ll instantly get a reaction out of anyone, no matter the context, is the word “Cult.” It’s a loaded word, with an intense meaning and history behind it. Per the New Yorker, a cult is simply defined as a small group run by a self-appointed leader who controls its members in rather disturbing ways. These ways can range from taking drugs to drastic forms of showing devotion to the cult. For centuries, people have created and been a part of cults — including some of your favorite celebrities.
There are a lot more cults than people want to acknowledge, with people thinking there are only a few out there, like the Manson family or NXIVM. But the truth is, there are many that are still heavily active to this day.
Quite a few celebrities have opened up about their experiences with these groups, with some explaining how they had to run away in the night to escape the cult and how others were in them until they were in their 20s. Along with that, there have been plenty of celebrities merely linked to cults (including one who spent a lot of time with Charles Manson).
From Bachelor Nation alums to one Kardashian member, it seems cults and Hollywood go together more than people may have originally thought. So whether they were born into these cults or were linked to past members, we have it all here.
Check out which celebrities have been in or been linked to cults over the years.
Bethany Joy Lenz
One Tree Hill alum Bethany Joy Lenz recently opened up about being in a cult for 10 years. “That would be a really valuable experience to write about, and the recovery—you know, 10 years of recovery after that,” she said on an episode of her podcast Drama Queens. “So there’s a lot to tell.” With so many stories, the actress is getting ready to share her experience with the world. “I have lots of essays and lots of chapters and things, but to really commit to putting it all together because I would love to write about my experience,” she added.
Unlike many celebrities who joined or were linked to cults in adulthood, Winona Ryder was basically born into one. In a previous interview with Parade, she talked about how she and her family lived in a commune in Northern California. While she admitted that the group was cult-like, she looked back on the scenery she lived in fondly. “The place we lived at was 380 acres of redwoods. It was beautiful,” she said.
Many may or may not know this, but Michelle Pfeiffer was previously linked to breatharianism (a cult who believe the only source of nourishment should be sunlight)! She revealed her husband at the time Peter Horton was the one to tell her it was dangerous.
She said in 2013, “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.”
While she’s never spoken publicly about it, multiple sources linked Shirley MacLaine to NXIVM, per LittleThings.
Bachelor alum Keira Maguire was also born into a cult: a polygamist cult called The Seaside Sect that was founded by her father. “I didn’t know who my mum was until I was five. It sounds strange, but it just is what it is. I didn’t even have birthdays,” she said in 2016 after the story broke. “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.”
Like her brother David Arquette, Patricia Arquette was raised in the Skymont Subud cult (which was known for not letting members have access to bathrooms and electricity in the name of inner guidance)! The minute she could, she fled the commune.
Like Patricia, David Arquette was in the cult and was in fact born into it. Patricia previously told Oprah per ABCNews, “They started it with a bunch of their friends, and they wanted to kind of build this utopian society. David was born there.”
Jaden Smith has been linked to the Orgonite Society for multiple years now, a cult that claims they are “A Secret Society Of Individuals Who Create And Place Orgonite To Balance Gaia’s Energies,” per their Instagram.
Along with Jaden, Willow Smith has been linked to the Orgonite Society. Back in 2014, she shared a now-archived photo of her, Jaden, and Kylie Jenner with crystals and tagged the society, per Little Things.
That’s right, even Kylie Jenner was linked to the Orgonite Society because of that post, and many speculated that her boyfriend at the time Jaden Smith was the one who inducted her.
Bachelor alum Megan Marx revealed in 2017 that she was brought up in a religious group that banned drinking television, but she stands firm that it wasn’t exactly a cult. She told Elle, “I don’t like to call it a sect or a cult, although many people would regard it as such. Its main purpose was to save individuals from hell — a perspective obviously I disagree with now.”
So Neil Young was never in a cult, but he was definitely linked to the Manson Family. He spent quite a bit of time with the leader Charles Manson and even wrote a song about him, per Far Out. Yikes.
Joaquin Phoenix, along with his siblings River, Rain, Liberty, and Summer, were raised in Children of God, which is a group with an extensive history of making members give up their money and contact with the outside world. In a previous interview with Playboy per Marie Claire, Joaquin revealed his parents left soon after he was born, saying, “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.”
Another celebrity who grew up in the Children of God group was Rose McGowan. In McGowan’s memoir Brave, she detailed how she started to separate herself from it when she was nine and saw how the women were treated. “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,” she said. “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.”
As a child, Glenn Close and her family entered the movement Moral Re-Armament and she revealed to Hollywood Reporter per NowtoLove that it had a serious impact on her formative years. “You basically weren’t allowed to do anything, or you were made to feel guilty about any unnatural desire,” she said. “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.”
And per Listverse, she revealed she uses her experiences in that to contribute to the powerful feelings with her characters.
Probably the most well-known instance of a Hollywood star being in a cult is Allison Mack, who was charged with on charges of sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and forced labor conspiracy for her involvement with NXIVM. Per AP News, she was sentenced to three years in prison, three years of probation, 1,000 hours of community service, and a fine of $20,000.
One group called the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishnas) has been called a cult, but not as criticized as others for what they do with members. Per NPR, their biggest controversy was making members take acid, and apparently, Beatles alum George Harrison was allegedly in it for a bit, according to Listverse.
The latest instance of worry surrounding a celebrity in a cult was with YouTuber Alyx Weiss. Back in 2022, fans grew worried when Weiss hinted she may go to a potluck run by a cult, and then months later, she revealed she was a part of a different cult, per her YouTube video.