After a painful childhood, Tom Cruise now believes…
Tom Cruise, 43, has had a very difficult year. Although he has long contended with public skepticism of everything from his Scientology beliefs to the state of his marriages, the current media storm is more intense and fueled largely by his own missteps.
It began last spring with his very public selection of actress Katie Holmes, 27, to be his next bride, an arrangement that seemed to some observers more calculated than sincere. He coupled that with a bizarre appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s TV show, using her sofa as a trampoline while shouting his love for Ms. Holmes.
Next, he upbraided actress Brooke Shields for taking antidepressants to treat postpartum depression and later ranted against medically-prescribed drugs and psychiatry on NBC’s Today. “I’ve never agreed with psychiatry, ever,” he declared. “It’s a pseudo-science.”
I met with Tom Cruise in Los Angeles, where he shares a home with his younger sister Cass, her three children, and his fiancée Holmes, who was getting ready to deliver their first child. Cruise, normally guarded and defensive about his personal life, was surprisingly open and responsive when we spent an afternoon talking. In private, he dropped his exuberantly self-satisfied public persona and allowed me to glimpse something of the fearful, troubled boy he once had been. It is that boy who governs the man Cruise has become.
“I had no really close friend, someone who understands you,” he said. “I was always the new kid with the wrong shoes, the wrong accent. I didn’t have the friend to share things with and confide in.”
Cruise, born Thomas Cruise Mapother IV, grew up in near poverty in a Catholic family dominated by an abusive father he described as “a merchant of chaos.” His father was an electrical engineer who could never hold down a job and kept the family on the move in a restless search for work. His mother, Mary Lee Mapother South, now 69, struggled to support the family.
“He was a bully and a coward,” Cruise said of the father who beat him. “He was the kind of person where, if something goes wrong, they kick you. It was a great lesson in my life—how he’d lull you in, make you feel safe and then, bang! For me, it was like, ‘There’s something wrong with this guy. Don’t trust him. Be careful around him.’ There’s that anxiety.”
As a boy, Cruise said, he was unable to read. Being in remedial classes away from “normal” kids caused him intense frustration. He felt excluded. Small for his age, he was lonely and eager to be liked. Instead, he was bullied regularly in the 15 different schools he attended in 12 years.
“So many times the big bully comes up, pushes me,” he said. “Your heart’s pounding, you sweat, and you feel like you’re going to vomit. I’m not the biggest guy, I never liked hitting someone, but I know if I don’t hit that guy hard he’s going to pick on me all year. I go, ‘You better fight.’ I just laid it down. I don’t like bullies.
When Cruise was 7, his reading disability was diagnosed. “The school took me to a psychiatrist to get tested,” he recalled. “They said, ‘Oh, he’s dyslexic.’ I’m labeled. It instantly put me into confusion. It was an absolute affront to my dignity.”
The diagnosis created the emotional basis of his current contempt for psychiatry. “I remember thinking, ‘I’ve got to figure this out. What’s normal? Am I normal? Who’s to say what’s normal?’ I didn’t understand what ‘normal’ is. It still doesn’t make sense.
“This is what led me to the study of psychiatry. I went and looked at it and realized all these labels don’t mean anything. Labels aren’t a solution.”
In 1974, when Cruise was 11, his parents divorced. “It was painful,” he said. “My mother finally had the courage to stand up to my dad and go, ‘No more! I’m not taking it. So long.’
“People can create their own lives,” he said. “I saw how my mother created hers and so made it possible for us to survive. My mother was the one who rose to the occasion. She held three jobs. She said, ‘We’re going to get through this.’
“And I decided that I’m going to create, for myself, who I am, not what other people say I should be. I’m entitled to that.”
Cruise’s mother packed up the family station wagon and drove her kids to Louisville, Ky., her hometown. Tom, 12, did not see his father again for almost 10 years.
“He was in the hospital dying of cancer, and he would only meet me on the basis that I didn’t ask him anything about the past,” Cruise said. “When I saw him in pain, I thought, ‘Wow, what a lonely life.’ He was in his late 40s. It was sad.” His father died shortly afterwards.
Cruise went away to a Catholic seminary in Cincinnati when he was a teenager, hoping to discover who he was and where he belonged. “I looked at the priesthood and said, ‘This is what I’m going to do,’” he recalled. “I was interested in spirituality, but after a year I decided being a priest was not for me.”
Back with his mother and stepfather, he landed a role in a student production of Guys and Dolls at Glen Ridge High School in New Jersey, where the family had moved.
“I knew I wanted to be an actor,” he said. “I felt very comfortable on stage. I enjoyed it.”
People who knew him then describe Cruise as a slick-haired “greaser,” angry, muscular, intense, obsessed with success. He skipped his high school graduation in 1980 and headed to Manhattan, giving himself a decade to make it as an actor. He did it in less than a year. Taps, a small success in 1981, gave him a career. Two years later Risky Business made him a star. He was 21.
“When success happened for me people in the industry changed,” he said. “All of a sudden I was being offered tremendous amounts of money. I went, ‘Uh, oh, be careful.’ You realize that there are people you can’t trust. I knew from being around my father, who hurt people, that not everyone really means me well.”
Tom Cruise’s success is enormous. The worldwide gross of his more than two dozen movies is now over $5.5 billion. His new movie, Mission: Impossible: III, opens May 5 and is expected to be another blockbuster.
Cruise’s marital life, however, has been less ideal. In 1987, at 24, he married actress Mimi Rogers, then 31. She was a member of Scientology, a religion started in the 1950s by a science-fiction writer, the late L. Ron Hubbard. Cruise joined the controversial group in 1990, the dogmatic authority of Hubbard’s religion replacing the father who had abandoned him. The union with Rogers, reportedly a mismatch from the start, ended the same year.
At about the same time, he met Australian actress Nicole Kidman, then 22, a Catholic, on the set of Days of Thunder. They married on Christmas Eve, 1990. In 1998, they won a libel judgment against a London tabloid for suggesting they were gay and their marriage a sham. “It was a lie,” Cruise said. The next year they sued the supermarket tabloid Star for printing that sex experts were hired to tutor them on physical intimacy for Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Star retracted the story as untrue.
Two months after their 10th anniversary, Cruise filed for divorce, allegedly catching an angry Kidman by surprise. Today they share alternating custody of their children, Connor, 11, and Isabella, 13. Kidman is involved with country singer Keith Urban.
I asked Cruise if, on balance, his marriages had been happy.
“I don’t forget the good times I had with those people,” he replied. “I’m respectful of what we had together. I don’t try to think about every horrible thing there was. But you don’t live life and not know heartache, sorrow and fear. You learn that those things are just part of life. That takes some doing, but it can be done.”
Before I left Cruise, he introduced me to Katie Holmes, who is about 5 foot 10 (he’s 5 foot 7) and pretty. She wore a large diamond engagement ring. She seemed dazed, passive and vacant. She never stopped smiling. The minute she appeared, Cruise’s now-familiar public mode of behavior returned. He began hooting how beautiful she was, touching and kissing her like a teenage boy on his first backseat date, aware that he was being watched.
“I am very, very happy!” Cruise exclaimed, grinning his public grin. “I’ve got a baby on the way! My concern is being the best parent I can be, making sure my kids can think and make decisions for themselves.”
He paused. “Let me tell you what happiness is,” he said. “It’s being able to confront and overcome problems. It’s not running away but trying to see life in its full glory.”
By Dotson Rader, Published: April 9, 2006 in Parade Magazine.
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