New Weekly, 19 Aug 1996, p18-21

Cover: John Travolta and Kelly Preston pic, with headline "Real-Life Miracle: Travolta: SECRET PSYCHIC POWERS"

John's secret powers:

'Travolta cured me'

The star of Phenomenon claims the movie is close to real life and says he can cure people with his bare hands - but is it just cult fiction?

In John Travolta's latest movie, Phenomenon, the once disco-dancing star plays an ordinary man who is miraculously given supernatural abilities. It sounds like fantasy - but in real life John believes he, too, has weird powers.

Behind that famous smile, the 42-year-old gentle family man is an obsessive cult follower who claims he has cured fellow cast members with his "healing hands".

John is convinced he owes his super-stardom to Scientology, a mysterious religion that claims the world's problems are caused by the invisible remains of aliens blown up by a tyrant called Xenu millions of years ago.

Among some of the more bizarre beliefs of Scientologists are that women should keep totally silent while giving birth, and that a machine invented by cult founder Lafayette Ron Hubbard can measure emotional pain.

It may sound crazy, but to John - and a growing number of the Hollywood elite - Hubbard's teachings are the key to a happy life.

Like other Scientologists, John believes pain can be eased by a laying-on of hands, a process called a "contact assist". He has astonished fellow cast and crew members by attempting to cure their illnesses with his magic fingers.

Randal Kleiser, who directed John in Grease, experienced John's powers when he cut his foot in a river in Los Angeles.

"I had a 101-degree fever and John came into my dressing room to cure me," recalls Kleiser.

"He took his index finger, pushed it on my shoulder and said, 'Feel my finger?' And I said, 'Yes'. And he did this all over my body for about a half hour or so. I went back to work the next day."

When rock star Sting suffered a sore throat before a concert, John rushed to help him regain his voice. And he claims to have cured his flying instructor's shoulder injury by encouraging him to remember a painful childhood incident.

John even uses his healing hands on his four-year-old son, Jett, who he is raising by Scientology rules - that means Jett can do almost anything without getting into trouble.

John's wife, actor Kelly Preston, is also a devout Scientologist. She is certain her husband has his religion to thank for his mega-success.

"John has an amazing life - he has remained on top of it all, and I know it's because of Scientology," she says.

"It's misunderstood sometimes, and I couldn't give a f***. Scientology is so radically cool."

So cool that John wants the rest of the world to know about it. He has signed up to star in two movies based on Hubbard's sci-fi books, Battleship Earth and Fear (not to be confused with the film of the same title currently on release) - and he even sings Hubbard's praises on the Scientology Internet site.

Observers have also spotted eerie links between Hubbard's book, Dianetics, and the plot of Phenomenon. In the film, John plays a character called George Malley, an ordinary guy who suddenly develops extraordinary intelligence and telepathic powers.

George is able to learn Portuguese in just 20 minutes, master complex mathematical concepts and remember the names of all the world's mammals - in alphabetical order. Dianetics states that "a clear", or follower of Scientology, has "complete recall of everything which has ever happened to him or anything he has ever studied".

Followers also believe 70 per cent of diseases start in the brain - and George discovers his mysterious powers may be the result of a brain tumour.

Not surprisingly, John says he would love to be more like George, who he believes is the ideal man.

Brought up a Catholic, John joined the Scientologists 20 years ago, after his girlfriend, actor Diana Hyland, died of cancer. These days, he insists there is nothing creepy about the movement, even though former Scientologists have spoken about how difficult it is to leave.

"It's not murky and cultish. No-one should be afraid of it," he says. "It gave me the strength to survive all the years when no-one wanted to work with me.

"It helped me overcome a lot of the anguish that I had about my personal life, even though I was making millions and supposedly living the Hollywood dream, I wasn't. I was miserable for a long time."

And he credits the religion with helping him keep away from booze and drugs, as well as boosting his career.

John is not the only Hollywood star to put his success down to Scientology. Tom Cruise says he used Hubbard's ideas to overcome a difficult childhood - and has since converted his wife, Nicole Kidman.

When John and Tom meet up at a party, they often discuss their progress in the cult's training programs. Both stars go to special "celebrity centres" to worship in secret, and John thinks nothing of flying his 16-seater jet to Florida to attend Scientology classes.

But despite his ample opportunities for being healed, John has had no luck with curing his biggest health problem - his massive weight gain.

The paunchy star is said to have forced Roman Polanski off the set of his upcoming film, The Double, after the director insisted he do a nude scene.

"Never in my whole career have I ever filmed in the nude, and I'm not going to start now I'm fat," said John.

[photos:] Free rein: John and Kelly allow Jett to do virtually whatever he wants, because that's what the church says.

Scientology facts

It is easily the worst movie John Travolta has ever made. His appearance is ... oh, 10 seconds max, and he delivers the heartfelt lines with maximum gravity. "It's helped me in every area of my life."

Fatal Attraction star Anne Archer and Cheers star Kirstie Alley are in there too. Alley's lines are the most heart-rending. "Without Scientology, I would be dead," she says wistfully.

The testimonies are from Orientation, the new introductory video from the Church of Scientology, an incredibly tacky promotional film.

The sales pitch claims that the cult can change your life, and the movie is part of Scientology's attempt to increase its worldwide membership.

Hubbard's "pain measuring" machine is used in a process called auditing. An auditor listens as the "pre-clear" (someone burdened by the past) talks about his or her bad experiences/memories ("engrams") in an attempt to become "clear".

Hubbard seized upon the idea of using artists and celebrities, like Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley, Juliette Lewis, Mimi Rogers, singers Isaac Hayes and Jermaine Jackson, as well as several high-ranking directors and studio execs, as role models for a "clean, fulfilled and wholesome society".

"A culture is only as great as its dreams, and its dreams are dreamt by artists," wrote Hubbard, who was a sci-fi author and Hollywood scriptwriter.

If celebrities are setting high moral standards, the idea is that the public will follow suit. Stars are also rumoured to donate huge funds to Scientology.

When Tom Cruise and John Travolta are in Britain, they stay in a luxury manor house where Hubbard used to live. Bob Keenan, who is bizarrely Hubbard's personal assistant, although the cult leader has been dead for 10 years, says, "They come here to relax. They get looked after."

The complex also includes "auditing rooms" and a small building where newcomers are given a Purification Rundown (a detox regimen). For auditing, the newcomer holds a small box with two electrodes attached, that looks like a car battery charger, and a 1.5 volt electric current is passed through the body.

When the needle flickers, the auditor encourages the subject to talk about what is producing the charge. As the subject talks, the charge reduces and the painful memory goes away.

Ordinary people can join by having a personality test and paying to attend life-improvement courses. Questions in the lengthy personality test include: "Do you ever find yourself reading the phone directory for something to do?"

[Press articles on Scientology]