The rumors over the years that John Travolta had male lovers never really went away, even prompting the irrepressible Carrie Fisher to tell Out magazine in 2009: “We don’t really care that John Travolta is gay.”
But Travolta, 68, also managed to mostly keep those rumors in the background of his larger Hollywood narrative, while upholding the public image that he was strictly devoted to his wife Kelly Preston until her death in 2020 at age 57.
The positive PR that Travolta and Preston enjoyed as one of Hollywood’s few longtime married couples didn’t just benefit them, it also was important for the Church of Scientology, according to Mike Rinder, a former church executive who has become one the church’s premiere whistleblowers.
Behind Tom Cruise, Travolta and Preston were two of the most powerful and loyal Scientologists in the world, the Daily Beast reported in 2019. Rinder writes that he was tasked with helping the “Saturday Night Fever” heartthrob and his wife combat the occasional rumors about Travolta’s sexuality.
“Gay allegations are land mines for Scientology,” Rinder writes in an excerpt from his new memoir, “A Billion Years: My Escape from a Life in the Highest Ranks of Scientology.” The excerpt was published by The Daily Beast Thursday.
Rinder continues: “Scientology publicly claims it is not anti-gay (despite founder L. Ron Hubbard’s writings to the contrary), yet the threat of a story describing a Scientologist as gay would cause panic internally because for a Scientologist, not being ‘cured’ of homosexuality would indicate that the tech doesn’t work.”
As head of the church’s Office of Special Affairs and often serving as the public face of Scientology before defecting in 2007, Rinder was often called upon to help Travolta with “public relations issues,” he writes.
The Daily Beast does not include a response from the Church of Scientology to Rinder’s excerpt. But over the years the church has strongly and consistently denied allegation made by former members such as Rinder.
Since the beginning of the 1990s, Travolta had been hounded by claims about various alleged male lovers, Rinder says. The gay rumors first became public after the National Enquirer ran a cover story, describing an alleged two-year affair between Travolta and a gay porn producer.
Nonetheless, The Daily Beast reported that Travolta and Preston mostly managed to dodge, or “handle,” in Scientology parlance, years of accusations from male masseurs and others, alleging that Travolta sexually harassed or assaulted them. That includes lawsuits filed by two male masseurs in 2012 that were later dismissed.
According to Rinder, he was the person tasked with working with Travolta’s attorneys to help “handle” these PR “land mines.” At one point, the National Enquirer reached out to Travolta and the church for responses, Rinder said.
“Realizing the potential PR damage a story of gay sex would have on the perfect Scientology couple of John and Kelly, we dug up dirt on the sources of the stories and threatened the media with lawsuits,” Rinder writes in the excerpt. “The stories were shut down, and I became a trusted person in John’s life. Similar claims have continued to pop up over the years and they have been denied by Travolta or shut down.”
John Travolta, his wife Kelly Prestonand their children Ella Bleu Travolta and Benjamin Travolta pose as they arrive on May 15, 2018 for the screening of the film “Solo : A Star Wars Story” at the 71st edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France. (Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty Images)
For that reason, The Daily Beast reported in 2019 that the issue never managed to stick to Travolta for long and he was able to project the image that he was a much-loved husband and family man. With Preston, Travolta had three children, Jett, who died in 2009, Ella, now 22, and Benjamin, 12.
In his excerpt, Rinder also recounts a widely reported story about how the church worked to get its mega-star Tom Cruise back in the fold, when he seemed to lose interest while married to Nicole Kidman in the late 1990s.
Rinder writes that the church’s leader David Miscavige asked him to find out what was going on with Cruise, who had been in the U.K. with Kidman, filming Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut.” Meanwhile, Rinder says that another church executive, Marty Rathbun, hired the infamous private investigator Anthony Pellicano to spy on Kidman and tap her phones.
Rathbun also worked to turn Cruise and Kidman’s two adopted children, Isabella and Connor, against her by indoctrinating them into the Hubbard teachings about “Suppressive Persons,” Rinder says.
When Cruise and Kidman divorced in 2001, Miscavige was happy that the “negative influence” of Kidman was no longer dragging Cruise away, Rinder writes.
“Cruise thereafter became more fervent in his vocal public support of Scientology— and Miscavige,” Rinder adds.