03.17.10

The Scientology Diet?

Kirstie Alley is denying links between her diet system and Scientology. But an ex-church member tells Kim Masters she sees a link between Alley’s products and Scientology's—and expert calls the system "pseudoscience."

Soon after Kirstie Alley appeared on the Today show early Tuesday morning, she tweeted her outrage.

"Just experienced the meaning of BLINDSIDED...," she pecked. "Shame on you Today Show...Shame on you."

Alley was upset because host Meredith Vieira kicked off an interview meant to promote Alley's new A&E show, Kirstie Alley's Big Life, by asking whether Alley's new Organic Liaison diet program—which will be on view in the A&E program—is linked to Scientology.

A longtime member of the church, Alley responded by saying, "Bullshit," though she was bleeped.

"It's not true," Alley scoffed. "And it's not the same building. Oh, God, no...I'm the top executive and the address in Clearwater is my accountant and he's a Scientology Jew!"

Alley, who has long struggled with her weight, lost 75 pounds as a Jenny Craig spokesman, only to gain it back and then some. A spokesman for A&E says that though the launch of her diet system coincides with the launch of the show, the program is not an infomercial and there is no product-placement deal.

Like Alley, A&E wasn't pleased that Today raised allegations about Scientology. Vieira asked whether Alley's diet program is associated with the religion and whether the Organic Liaison offices are based in a Scientology office building in Florida.

"It's not true," Alley scoffed. "And it's not the same building. Oh, God, no...I'm the top executive and the address in Clearwater is my accountant and he's a Scientology Jew!"

As columnist Roger Friedman has reported, the accountant is Saul B. Lipson, whose Web site establishes him as a Scientologist, though not as a Jew or an accountant. "I am a Scientologist," reads a banner on his homepage. "Support Scientology."

Links below the banner include "My Success in Scientology," "My Favorite L. Ron Hubbard Quote," and "Groups I Support" (all associated with Scientology). A link for those who would like to contact Lipson "personally" brings up a request form from the Scientology Institute.

Friedman, who has been tilting at Scientology for some time, makes the case that Organic Liaison is packed with other Scientologists or Scientology-associated advisers. Among them is Scientologist Michelle Seward, CEO of a company called Protégé Financial.

Alley's advisory board also includes Thomas Lovejoy, a former high-ranking official at the Smithsonian and World Bank who is now with the Heinz Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment. Anti-Scientology groups say Lovejoy appears to be linked to Scientology through a group called Artists for Human Rights. The organization was founded by Scientologist and actress Anne Archer, and Lovejoy is on its board.

Reached by email, Lovejoy said, "There is no Scientology connection for Kirsty's [sic] diet initiative and of course not for me. I know her because she likes animals." Asked whether he endorsed the diet program and products, Lovejoy did not respond.

Another member of the Organic Liaison board is doctor-to-the-stars Soram Singh Khalsa, an associate physician in the division of internal medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. In his practice, he combines Western medicine with alternative therapies.

I asked a prominent executive who had been a devoted patient of Khalsa's about him. He said he had stopped seeing Khalsa after the doctor became well-known in Hollywood. "He became less available for office visits (lots of pesky questions from female aides draped in white diaphanous Sikh garb)," the executive wrote in an email. "He also began to refer specific illnesses to 'specialists'... I felt pushed around and unimportant, and I hated all the celebrity name dropping."

I emailed Khalsa questions about Alley's business and whether he endorses her products. The office administrator replied that the doctor was "booked solid" with patients. "He said to tell you that he would like to reply but he simply cannot with the time restraints," she wrote.

At my request, former Scientologist Claire Headley, who grew up in the church and worked in its internal affairs office until she left several years ago, looked over the products offered by Organic Liaison. One supplement, Release Me, rang a bell, she said. The Organic Liaison description says it is a combination of calcium and magnesium to "help support the nervous system, letting your muscles contract and relax to keep your heart running steadily and prevent blood from clotting. Alkaline substances even loosen fat from cells!"

Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard advocated the use of vitamins and supplements, said Headley. Cal Mag—a concoction of calcium, magnesium, and apple cider vinegar—is consumed daily by those undergoing a cleansing program called the "purification rundown," she said. (Clearly this is not identical to the Organic Liaison supplement, as vinegar is acid, not alkaline.) Alley was the spokeswoman for the anti-drug program Narconon in the '90s, Headley added, "so links to the purification rundown, which Narconon delivers, [would not be] surprising."

But could Release Me help with weight loss? Dr. Naomi Neufeld, a weight-management specialist who teaches at the UCLA School of Medicine, said Organic Liaison's offerings seem harmless, but implying that they are part of a meaningful weight-loss program is "pseudoscience." She added, "You're paying a lot of money for stuff that you can buy over the counter." (All in, Alley's program costs about $1,700 a year.)

Meanwhile, Alley is still defending her diet system. On Wednesday, she told reporters that the Today show was guilty of "fringe bigotry and intolerance." Her system is not affiliated with Scientology, she repeated, adding, "90 percent of my company are non-Scientologists."

And she tweeted out a warning to gossip columnist Friedman. "GOING TO HAVE Mr. Attorney call Mr. Friedman's Attorney," she wrote. "Mr. Friedman is treading on thin LIBELOUS ice with my company. Crackkkk."

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Kim Masters covers the entertainment business for The Daily Beast. She is also the host of The Business, public radio's weekly program about the business of show business. She is also the author of The Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everybody Else.