Celebrities who were involved in cults

The term "cult" has many different connotations and can mean lots of things to different people. Some consider Scientology a cult, given the secrecy that surrounds the celeb-heavy religion; others might consider commune life, which is a stripped down alternative to mainstream living, to be a kind of cult as well. In general, cults typically include a religious component and some level of isolation from the rest of the world. The following celebrities were reportedly involved in cult-like situations, with some upbringings appearing far more intense than others. From a belief that one can survive on air and light alone, to allegations of terrible abuse, learn how these celebs have contended with their controversial connections.

Rose McGowan

In 2011, Charmed alum Rose McGowan revealed to People magazine that she spent the first nine years of her life growing up among the Children of God sect in Italy. At first, she claimed the setting "was really idyllic," but she later rebelled against the cult's hippie lifestyle and specific gender roles. "I did not want to be like those women. There were basically there to serve the men sexually," she said.

Things took a turn for the worse when McGowan's father reportedly feared his daughter might be molested by members of the group, prompting their family to escape and flee to America. "My dad was strong enough to realize that this hippie love had gone south," she told People.

Despite her unusual upbringing, McGowan looks back on her experience as if it was normal. "There are people who will read this story and think I had a strange existence," she told the magazine. "I think they've had a strange existence!"

Glenn Close

At the tender age of 7, Glenn Close's family was part of the radical, conservative missionary group called "Moral Re-Armament," which has since been rechristened as "Initiatives of Change." The actress told the Daily Beast that she lost her sense of individuality during this time. "It's cult living where you're told what to say and how to act. It's very sexually repressive and yet you're supposed to be re-making the world, but you re-make the world in someone else's eyes, so you give up your individuality," she said. "As a child, it's catastrophic because that's where you're trying to figure out who you are. I think I still have elements of that."

She escaped the situation at the age of 22 but told The Hollywood Reporter that the experience negatively affected her for years to come. "I wouldn't trust any of my instincts because [my beliefs] had all been dictated to me," she said.

Michelle Pfeiffer

When a young Michelle Pfeiffer arrived in Hollywood, she was taken in by a couple who practiced "breatharianism," the belief that one can subsist solely on light and air. The actress told The Telegraph, "They worked with weights and put people on diets. Their thing was vegetarianism. 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." Pfeiffer was eventually emancipated by her ex-husband, actor Peter Horton.

Angel Haze

The Detroit-based rapper was raised in the Pentecostal Greater Apostolic Faith commune. The lifestyle was reportedly extremely insular. "We all lived in the same community, within 10 minutes of each other," she told The Guardian. "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. Church was on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. When they did revivals, it was every day. I used to just crawl under the bench and try to sleep."

The Arquettes

Actor David Arquette was born in a Subud commune in Virginia, where he lived briefly with sisters Patricia and Rosanna and their parents. "They started it with a bunch of their friends, and they wanted to kind of build this utopian society," Patricia told Oprah in 2011, adding that the commune had no electricity, bathrooms, or running water.

In an episode of WTF with Marc Maron, Patricia said her family left the commune when its members' true colors started to reveal themselves. "My dad said, you bring the seeds of society with you," she recalled. "So, you think this is all a great concept, but then suddenly you realize, 'Oh, that dude has a real anger management problem,' and 'this person's an alcoholic'...and 'this person's greedy' and 'What are we doing here?'" After leaving Virginia, Patricia said her family returned to Chicago before settling in Los Angeles.

Winona Ryder

Winona Ryder spent part of her childhood living among the redwoods on an alleged California commune called Rainbow, where there was no television or electricity, according to the Independent. In 1998, the actress told Rolling Stone she stayed there for a year and lived in a house with a car on 300 acres of land shared by other houses, but she didn't assign a label to her lifestyle. "It was just tagged as a commune because people wanted to tag it as that. They wanted to make me out as a flower child," she said. "But it was an amazing way to grow up."

Ryder's story has changed slightly over the years. She told Toronto's Metro News in 2015 that she did, indeed, live on a commune for four years with seven other families. In that interview, she fended off the "cult" label. "When I say I lived in a commune for four years, people think I was in a cult," she said with a laugh. "And it was not a cult at all."

Toni Braxton

In her Unbreak My Heart memoir, the famous R&B singer revealed that she joined Pillar of Truth, a Pentecostal Apostolic group, with her family as a young girl. She said her family fell into "religious extremism," where women and their nakedness had to be covered up in full and almost everything was considered evil, including going to the movies. "I began connecting religion, God and church with judgment, anxiety and guilt," she wrote (via the Daily Mail).

The group allegedly required its members to speak in tongues, which Braxton reportedly faked at 8 years old just to keep up. "The ties that bound us together became the ties that strangled us," she said. According to the Daily Mail, the Braxtons subsequently joined "two more repressive churches" before settling in at the Truth Foundation.

Joaquin Phoenix

In the 1970s, the Phoenix family was also part of the Children of God, which is now known as The Family International. Joaquin spoke about his experience in the cult in a 2014 interview with Playboy (via Us Weekly): "My parents had a religious experience and felt strongly about it. They wanted to share that with other people who wanted to talk about their experience with religion," he said. "These friends were like, 'Oh, we believe in Jesus as well.' 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 realized there was something more to it, they got out."

Joaquin's family moved to California and changed its last name from Bottom to Phoenix after leaving the community. The actor cautioned against passing judgment on his family or other members of the group. "When people bring up Children of God, there's always something vaguely accusatory about it," he said. "It's guilt by association. I think it was really innocent on my parents' part. They really believed, but I don't think most people see it that way. I've always thought that was strange and unfair."

Kristin Kreuk and Allison Mack

Smallville stars Kristin Kreuk and Allison Mack were allegedly members of the Nxivm cult, which branded itself as a self-help group for bigwigs and celebrities, according to The Albany Times-Union.

Kreuk reportedly joined the group in 2005 and recruited Mack shortly after, reported the New York Post. Sources alleged the actresses were used to recruit sex slaves for alleged cult leader Keith Raniere's Nxivm subgroup called "The Vow," in which women were reportedly routinely degraded, blackmailed, and sexually abused. A former publicist for Nxivm claimed the group used underage girls as sex slaves for Raniere, and that the girls were branded with his and Mack's initials — and that the branding was Mack's idea.

Raniere was arrested in Mexico in March 2018 for sex trafficking and forced labor, and there is video footage of Mack getting ready to follow police as they leave the property with him.

Kreuk tweeted that she enrolled in a Nxivm course to overcome her shyness, adding, "I left about five years ago and had minimal contact with those still involved. The accusations that I was in the 'inner circle' or recruited women as 'sex slaves' are blatantly false. During my time, I never experienced any illegal or nefarious activity."

Another former member concurred with Kreuk. "For the record, @MsKristinKreuk was never in the inner circle of #NXIVM. She never recruited sex slaves and has been out since 2013 before s**t got weird. She is a lovely person who should not be dragged into this mess."