A forthcoming Vanity Fair article about the Scientologist movie star promises eye-popping revelations. It's the final proof that he has become the new Michael Jackson.
In his excellent essay on Michael Jackson, now titled simply, "Michael" and included in the recently published collection Pulphead, US journalist John Jeremiah Sullivan looks with clear eyes and a gossipy but open mind at how the media – specifically the white media – lobbed "passive-aggressive accusations" against Jackson for pretty much his entire adult life: "We moan that Michael changed his face out of self-loathing. He may have loved what he became," writes Sullivan.
I'll admit, I find it difficult to imagine that Jackson – who, according to Sullivan, was using medication to knock himself out not for hours but whole days – was a man overburdened with self-love. But Sullivan does touch on one of the many sad truths about Jackson's life: how useful he was to the media as the resident freakshow, the vessel into which all mockery about the weird, self-centered, overly permissive world of celebrity could be poured.
There are always celebrities around, usually in the Los Angeles area, who can justly be described as at least slightly doolally. To want to be famous requires a crackpot nature from the start; to then become A-list world-famous would drive most into the far reaches of egocentric lunacy.
But there is also always one person who is decreed to be the weirdest, loopiest, LOL-iest show in town, the one about whom anyone can say anything and, no matter how deranged it sounds, it will have the smack of plausibility to it.
During much of the last century it was the reclusive, compulsive Howard Hughes. When he finally died in 1976, pain-raddled and filth-riddled, Jackson was conveniently around to fill the role, which he ably did until the end of his life. Even before Jackson died, a new keeper of the weirdo flame was already lining himself up nicely to take over.
With his freakishly perfect face, Tom Cruise has always come across more like a sexless android attempting to be a human than human himself, one who had studied earthlings from abroad and was attempting to live among them. In Rob Lowe's otherwise blandly unrevealing autobiography, Stories I Only Tell My Friends, he describes filming The Outsiders back in 1983 with Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon and a slew of other pretty boys all waiting to be famous.
During the shoot, the actors occasionally had to share bedrooms and the only one who protested, Lowe recalls, was Cruise. Panicked, he called his agent to make the producers find a single bedroom for this unknown 20-year-old actor. It's an anecdote that brings to mind the scene in Tootsie in which Dustin Hoffman's female persona "Dorothy" realises she'll have to share a bedroom with Jessica Lange on a weekend away. How to maintain the artifice 24 hours a day?
But it wasn't until 2004 when Cruise fatefully fired his publicist, Pat Kingsley, and replaced her with his sister, Lee Anne De Vette, that it really became obvious who would follow in the ignoble footsteps of Hughes and Jackson in the media pantheon as Cruise, for really the first time in his life, was pummelled by various PR disasters. Cruise replaced his sister with a professional publicist a year later, but it was too late.
When he sneered at psychiatry and then jumped on Oprah's sofa, he did the equivalent of extolling the joys of oxygen chambers and toting about a chimp. The final kicker for Cruise's reputation was when his third wife, Katie Holmes, fled their marriage this summer, and now the bloodied gloves are truly off.
Vanity Fair – a magazine that has puffed Cruise possibly more than any other, publishing the first photos of his daughter Suri and cooing over the loving normality of his family life and how ridiculous all the nefarious gossip about him is – will this week publish an excoriating takedown of the actor. The article alleges, among many other things, that in 2005 the Church of Scientology embarked on a project to find a suitable partner for Cruise and interviewed various women.
Eventually, they settled on a young actress and she accompanied Cruise on charmingly romantic dates in New York: just her and Cruise and various Scientology agents, all watching to see if she was up to snuff. When, for various ridiculous reasons it was decided that she wasn't, Cruise outsourced dumping her to a Scientology official. The woman then made the mistake of confiding what had happened to someone she considered a friend in the Scientology centre in Florida, only to then be punished by being forced to scrub toilets with a toothbrush, like the Cinderella story in reverse.
Incidentally, the article was written by Vanity Fair's celebrity-destroyer-at-large, Maureen Orth, whose previous articles include a particularly eye-popping one about Woody Allen during his break up from Mia Farrow and several similarly brutal ones about Michael Jackson.
Cruise and the Church of Scientology have, of course, denied all charges but this horse has bolted. Coming after the New Yorker's extraordinary article about the church in 2011, and just as Paul Thomas Anderson's cinematic take on L Ron Hubbard, The Master, is being lauded in Venice, not even the best publicist in the world can save Cruise from his fate as the new Michael Jackson. He is the man who, most have decided, lives a life far weirder than anything anyone can say and so anyone can say anything, and he appears unable to do anything to refute the assumptions.
Unlike Jackson, Cruise has never been accused of self-loathing or self-doubt. But it's hard to imagine that this deeply ambitious man loves what he has become. – © Guardian News and Media 2012