Inside Kelly Preston’s Deep Scientology Ties: ‘She Was Hardcore’
Former friends and handlers in the Church of Scientology remember the late actress, who tragically passed away at 57 from breast cancer.
Kelly Preston sat across the table, holding the metal sensors of a Scientology E-meter in her hands. On the other side of the table, facing the meter’s dial, Sunny Pereira prepared to ask Preston three questions.
“Do you have any doubts or reservations concerning attesting to the completion of your pregnancy assist?” Pereira asked her.
No, Preston answered.
It was 1992, and Preston had recently given birth to Jett, her first child with her husband John Travolta, who was one of the most famous names in Scientology. She had met him while they were filming a comedy, The Experts, in 1987 in Canada. They married in 1991. Preston had already been introduced to Scientology by acting coach Milton Katselas in 1985, and like Travolta she had become an ardent member of founder L. Ron Hubbard’s celebrity-obsessed church.
And one of the things you do as a dedicated Scientologist preparing to have a child is go through a counseling regimen known as a “pregnancy assist,” which Preston dutifully subjected herself to in the final weeks before Jett’s birth, recalls Pereira, a Sea Organization worker who had been assigned to be her “examiner” that day. She was just 19. Pereira had signed the Sea Org’s billion-year contract four years earlier at 15, dedicating herself to Scientology’s cause, lifetime after lifetime. She says she worked 365 days a year, for about 50 dollars a week, when she was paid at all.
Now, with the baby born and after receiving further counseling—known as “auditing” in Scientology—Preston, then 29, was going through the final step of the procedure at the Hollywood Celebrity Centre.
After making sure that the needle indicator on the E-meter did not react in a way that might suggest Preston’s answer to the first question was untruthful, Pereira went on to the second.
“Would you like to attest to your pregnancy assist being complete?”
Yes, Preston said.
“Would you like to write a success story?”
Preston indicated that she would do so.
“They have to write a success story, they know that,” Pereira says today, thinking back on that day when she was Preston’s examiner.
The various counseling methods of the pregnancy assist program were all based on the writings and lectures of Hubbard, just as everything else in Scientology is based on books and letters and policies that he wrote.
Hubbard described one of the processes of the pregnancy assist in a 1954 lecture. In order to help a woman give birth who was having a hard time of it, he said that an auditor should command the woman to pick up various items and hand them over.
“Give me that pillow,” or “give me that book,” Hubbard instructed his auditors to say to the mother-to-be.
And then after she handed over the book or comb or vase, the auditor was told to put the items back and do it over again.
“This process will break through the ‘got-to-hold’ and help her have a normal delivery,” Hubbard claimed.
Scientology, the 70-year movement that began with Hubbard's 1950 book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, is made up of countless similar assertions by Hubbard, a man who had been a successful pulp-era science fiction writer, and not a medical doctor or scientist.
Many of his ideas forming the foundation of Scientology sound like science fiction. That we are each of us immortal beings known as “thetans” who have lived trillions of years and not the meat body that we currently walk around in; that we are enslaved on a prison planet and are subjected to harmful mental implants forced on us by psychiatrists, the most evil beings in the universe.
And that women who have recently given birth should be quizzed about it methodically and repeatedly while holding the sensors of an E-meter in order to handle any painful lingering effects, as well as recalling what it was like to be birthed themselves.
These were ideas that Kelly Preston had absorbed and didn’t question.
“She was hardcore. She was awfully pleasant to me, and sweet. But she was a strict Scientologist,” Pereira says.
“Strict, that’s the word,” says Geoff Levin, a musician and longtime Scientologist who recently broke with the church after decades as a fixture at the Celebrity Centre.
He remembers seeing Preston at the Celebrity Centre more than Travolta, and that she was more likely to be involved in efforts to promote the church.
“Whenever I was around them, she was the one who did the social betterment stuff, the Scientology front groups,” Levin says, referring to the church’s subsidiaries that promote Hubbard while sometimes keeping their connection to Scientology in the background. “It was very clear to me that she was much more involved at Celebrity Centre, like for the ‘Christmas Stories’ events, raising money for the LAPD. John did a little bit of that too, but she did more.”
Scientology’s own publication Freewinds magazine reported that Preston had finished Operating Thetan Level Eight in 2015, the highest auditing level in Scientology and the culmination of a journey that can take a Scientologist decades to complete. Marc Headley, another former Sea Org worker, has estimated that to finish the entire “Bridge to Total Freedom” of courses and auditing levels will cost a member between $500,000 and $2 million.
Preston was OT 8, and that meant, according to Hubbard, that she “was cause over” (had control of) “matter, energy, space, and time.” Scientologists are routinely told that “OTs” have astounding powers, including the power to leave their bodies, to read minds, and to create matter out of nothingness.
They are also supposed to be impervious to disease.
Late Sunday night, Travolta revealed that Preston had died after fighting breast cancer for two years. She was only 57 years old.
The couple had kept her illness private, and the sudden news has produced an outpouring of grief for a woman who was universally hailed as a kind and gracious person dedicated to her famous husband and their children.
Hubbard harbored strange views when it came to cancer, as it were. In a 1956 lecture, Hubbard explained that cancer was caused by cells having the realization that the body they inhabit is blocked in some way from having children, and so the cells then decide to start reproducing on their own in a runaway fashion.
“It always requires a second-dynamic or sexual upset, such as the loss of children or some other mechanism to bring about a condition known as cancer,” Hubbard said on Nov. 11, 1956, in the lecture “The Scale of Havingness.”
He then described therapies he had tried out in order to convince those cells that the subject could, in fact, have children, by “mocking up babies” (in other words, creating them out of the imagination) so that “a considerable change” occurs to the cancer case.
Dianetics itself had been founded on the idea that the vast majority of human ailments are psychosomatic, and that Hubbard’s clever “technology” of counseling techniques could cure almost anything.
So according to Hubbard’s way of thinking—which is the only way of thinking in Scientology—Kelly Preston, an OT 8 and the most accomplished of Scientologists, could only have been diagnosed with cancer if she had some “second-dynamic or sexual upset, such as the loss of children.”
In fact, Kelly Preston and John Travolta had lost a child, the same son Jett whose birth in 1992 had motivated Preston to get a pregnancy assist at the Hollywood Celebrity Centre.
Bruce Hines, a former Scientology technology expert who audited Nicole Kidman and interviewed John Travolta, cautions, however, that although Hubbard had connected cancer with the loss of a child, Preston and Travolta may not have been aware of it.
“Even if they’d heard of it, they might not think it was relevant,” he says.
Former Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder concurs, saying that the Hubbard lecture is not widely known even inside Scientology. “Most Scientologists have no idea about that reference,” he says. “What they do know is that cancer—and all disease—can be resolved with auditing. That is what they believe.”
“Scientologists truly believe that any physical condition can be resolved through auditing—specifically by removing BTs,” Rinder added, referring to “body thetans,” invisible alien souls that Hubbard proposed were left on planet Earth 75 million years ago after an interstellar genocide carried out by a galactic overlord named Xenu. (Scientologists don’t learn this material until OT 3, when they have already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on auditing.)
Hines says the same thing—that Scientologists often try to rely on auditing rather than medical care when faced with serious illnesses.
“My sister was an OT 8 when she passed away at 52 of cancer,” he says. “She got no medical treatment. She went to some kind of natural healing person. It was breast cancer, but slow growing. She didn’t get it treated at all until it was too late.”
(In a letter to The Daily Beast, The Church of Scientology claimed, “There is nothing in Scientology that says an individual at any level is impervious to disease, and there is nothing in the religion that says anything about ‘curing cancer.’”)
Hines says he wonders how Preston reacted to being an OT 8 with cancer. “She was very devout. A dyed-in-the-wool Scientologist, and she was much farther along than Travolta was,” he says. “I wonder what the church did for Kelly. Did they get her special auditing? I guess they would never say.”
In his announcement of her death Sunday night, Travolta thanked the staff at MD Anderson Cancer Center, where Preston had presumably been treated. MD Anderson is based in Houston, but it has treatment centers in other places—including Florida, where Travolta’s family lives.
The former Scientologists interviewed for this story all wondered how Preston’s death might affect Travolta’s own connection to the Church of Scientology.
Author Lawrence Wright in the 2015 HBO documentary Going Clear explained that Travolta has drifted away from the church at certain times, and that Scientology has made great efforts to keep him in.
In a 2014 interview in The Telegraph, Travolta revealed that after the death of his son Jett, Scientology installed auditors at his house to be on call 24 hours a day. “I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t had the support of Scientology. I don’t think I could have got through it. They were with me every day after Jett died,” explained Travolta. “They even traveled with me when I needed to get away. And for a solid two years it was like that. It was only in the second year that I started to take a break of a day or two just to see how I was doing on my own.”
Travolta used it as an example of how supportive Scientology had been, but former Scientologists pointed out that it also suggested that the church was making sure the tragedy wouldn’t push the actor away from it.
“If they had a handler constantly with him for over a year, then yes, they were making sure he didn’t say the wrong things or meet with the wrong people or decide to leave Scientology. They would have been monitoring him, under the guise of ‘helping him.’ But the monitor would be reporting back to the Office of Special Affairs or [church leader] David Miscavige,” Jefferson Hawkins, a former high-ranking Scientology official, said at the time, referring to Scientology’s internal police force and spying wing, OSA.
On July 3, nine days before Preston’s death, Travolta was photographed in downtown Clearwater, where Scientology has its “spiritual mecca,” the Flag Land Base, suggesting that the church will be keeping him close as he goes through yet another catastrophe.
“He lost [girlfriend] Diana Hyland to breast cancer. He’s lost Jett. And now he’s lost his wife. How much does he have to lose before it crashes down on him?” says Spanky Taylor, a former Sea Org member who had been Travolta’s handler in the 1970s. She helped Wright understand Travolta’s journey into Scientology and the doubts he has had about it at certain times.
Karen Pressley, another former Scientology official who was the commanding officer at the Hollywood Celebrity Centre in the 1980s, agrees. “How is it that this isn’t causing him to question Scientology?”