What's Scientology Got to Do with It?

By Richard N. Lei1994, The Washington Post | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), August 12, 1994 | Go to article overview
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What's Scientology Got to Do with It?

Richard N. Lei1994, The Washington Post, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

WHY DID LISA Marie Presley and Michael Jackson get married?

Love, if you believe her press release, the one pledging to "dedicate my life to being his wife."

Or, according to speculation from Hollywood, Jackson is rehabbing his image and simultaneously consummating the ultimate entertainment empire merger.

But another possibility is circulating among the conspiracy-minded former members of the Church of Scientology. It's an astounding theory - that the church itself helped arrange the Presley-Jackson union. But these defectors say that nothing about Scientology would astound them.

"Scientology has been known to tell people to get divorced or married for public relations purposes," says Lawrence Wollersheim, a former Scientology celebrity handler who won $2.5 million in damages from the church after he sued it for alleged brainwashing.

Lisa Marie Presley, the only daughter of Elvis Presley and the King's only heir, has been a Scientologist since childhood. Her mother, Priscilla, is said to have joined the church about a year after Elvis' death.

Lisa Marie was married to a prominent Scientologist, Danny Keough, but quickly and quietly dissolved that union to marry Jackson in the Dominican Republic in May.

Keough's younger brother, Thomas - also a Scientologist - was an official witness of the Jackson-Presley nuptials. The Church of Scientology International issued a statement this week wishing the newlyweds "the very best for a joyful future."

So what does this add up to? The hot theory among former Scientologists is that the church previously selected Jackson for recruitment and, in the words of Wollersheim, used Lisa Marie as "the bait."

"Stars are heavily recruited, and you can be sure that Michael Jackson was targeted," says one ex-Scientologist who worked at Celebrity Centre, the church's social hub for its glamorous members in Los Angeles.

"Why would she marry him? The only answer is Scientology," speculates another church defector who worked as a liaison with people in entertainment.

"A complete fabrication," responds Karin Pouw, an L.A. spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology, which was incorporated by pulp science-fiction writer L. Ron (for Lafayette Ronald) Hubbard 40 years ago and has waged war against detractors in the press, the government and the medical establishment ever since.

In a faxed statement, Pouw added: "There is no factual substance to the rumor that there is a project to `recruit' celebrities. Any such reports by `former members' or in past media articles are false."

It's true that the church has long treasured celebrities for the seeming legitimacy and publicity they bring. Scientology Celebrity Centres - there are 13 around the globe - "offer a distraction-free environment which is free of drugs and the other harmful influences that often plague celebrity lifestyles," according to Pouw.

Stars, of course, bring with them lots of cash and might be magnets to prospective members.

"One of my jobs was to get celebrities active, to convince them they should hustle and promote Scientology," recalls Robert Vaughn Young, a publicity officer in most of his 20 years in the church.

As early as 1955, Hubbard offered plaques and free seminars to induce followers to bring in celebrity "quarry." A Scientology magazine listed luminaries such as Ed Sullivan, Groucho Marx, Walt Disney and Jackie Gleason as potential candidates for "auditing" - that is, the problem-solving technique Hubbard advanced in his best seller "Dianetics."

The hunt was dubbed "Project Celebrity," and later church documents point to the importance of "using Scientology celebrities to mold the opinions of their publics."

Current stars involved with Scientology include actors Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Kirstie Alley and Anne Archer.

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