These Celebrities Were in Dangerous Cults

Rose McGowan, Michelle Pfeiffer, Glenn Close
Everett Collection

After Allison Mack and Leslie Van Houten have been released from prison after serving for cult-related crimes, it begs the question… what celebrities have gotten caught up in cults? Some of them chose to join while others were forced into them growing up. Bethany Joy Lenz, best known for being on One Tree Hill, recently admitted that she was in a cult for 10 years and is still processing the trauma of it. While she did not name the cult for legal reasons, she did hint that fans might expect to hear more about her experience later, perhaps in a tell-all book. Lenz is beginning to open up more and more about her experiences and even credits her time on One Tree Hill and her co-stars for helping her get out of the cult, although admitting she was stubborn about it at first as cults generally make their members feel secluded from the rest of the world.

ONE TREE HILL, Bethany Joy Lenz, (Season 3), 2003-

Nigel Perry/Warner Bros./Everett Collection

Now, let’s talk more about Allison Mack. She was best known for being in Smallville, the Superman-themed show. It came out that she was involved in the cult NXIVM, which was led by Keith Raniere. Raniere, Mack, and others were arrested with serious charges of sex trafficking, money laundering, identity theft, extortion, and more. It also came out that there was a cult within the cult called the Vow, made up of women who slept with Raniere and helped him sex traffic other women. Mack originally faced 20 years per count but was released after serving two years.

SMALLVILLE, Allison Mack, Season 1, 2001-2011

WB/Everett Collection

A cult called Children of God was able to recruit three famous faces. Joaquin and River Phoenix along with Rose McGowan have been involved in the cult that wanted to combine Christianity with the free love moment of the ’60s. All of the celebrities were brought into it by their parents but Joaquin once said that once his parents realized the group was heading towards cult status with child abuse, they left. He said, “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.”

The Phoenix Family next to the RV they travel in when they do missionary work, at their home in Los Angeles, California, US, circa 1986; L-R Summer Phoenix, River Phoenix, Liberty Phoenix, John Lee Phoenix, Rain Phoenix, Joaquin Phoenix, Arlyn Phoenix.

Dianna Whitley/Getty Images

McGowan’s family actually had to leave the country to get out of the same cult. Her father led the country’s chapter in Italy and once he realized that the leader David Berg was advocating for sexual relationships between children and adults, the family left and had to go to the United States to truly get away. McGowan admitted that she “got out by the skin of my teeth.”

PHANTOMS, Rose McGowan, 1998

Dimension Films/Everett Collection

Glenn Close was also a victim of a cult after her father joined, took off to work in Africa, and left his kids in Switzerland at the Moral Re-Armament headquarters. Close spoke about that time and shared, “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.”

MEETING VENUS, Glenn Close, 1991

Warner Brothers/Everett Collection

Close left the group when she was 22 and was able to build a successful acting career, but some of the trauma stayed with her and she struggled with nightmares.

INTO THE NIGHT, Michelle Pfeiffer, 1985

Universal/Everett Collection

Lastly, Michelle Pfeiffer, of Scarface and Grease 2, was involved with Breatharianism, a cult that believes that you don’t need to eat food (Say what?!). She joined after moving to Los Angeles and looking for a group to feel comfortable with. They focused on diet and exercise but believed that people could live by sunlight alone at the highest level of the cult. She actually realized that she was in a cult after helping her first husband Peter Horton prepare for a movie role where he played a cult member. She said, “We were talking with an ex-Moonie, and he was describing the psychological manipulation and I just clicked.”


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