Scientology has been battered and bruised by numerous high-profile defections in recent years, including the loss of some its coveted celebrities. But one defection occurred recently in such a quiet manner — and yet in plain sight — that it went by without making any news of any kind. Until now.
Last May, Lucia Santina Ribisi, the daughter of Avatar actor Giovanni Ribisi, talked openly about what it was like to become disaffected and leave Scientology, even though she grew up in one of the most well known, loyal Scientology families in the entire organization.
But that very public announcement went without notice because Lucia made it during a segment on the Los Angeles radio station KCRW while using a pseudonym to protect her identity. Dubbed “Carole” by KCRW reporter Madeleine Brand, Lucia talked at length about her father’s history of changing involvement in Scientology, and how she became so fed up with the church she sought an intervention at her school.
Several weeks after the radio show aired last year, we got a tip from an anonymous reader that “Carole” was, in fact, Lucia Ribisi. We didn’t take that tip at face value, but instead began working to develop sources who could tell us about the Ribisi clan and the radio show.
As a result of that work, today we have five independent sources — including two in the Ribisi family itself — who tell us that it was Lucia who was heard on KCRW and who has, in fact, left the church.
And that’s put her family in a precarious place, our sources tell us.
Lucia comes from one of the most well known families inside the closed world of Scientology. Her grandfather, Al Ribisi, was from a Catholic family in San Jose; in high school he became the keyboard player in People!, a rock band which formed in 1965. People! had one hit, 1968’s “I Love You,” and by then most of the members had joined Scientology, which caused the band to split up. But then in 1970 the members who were Scientologists, including Ribisi, took the unusual step of joining Scientology’s “Sea Organization” as a group. The Sea Org requires members to sign billion-year contracts and work extreme hours for pennies an hour and dedicate themselves completely to Scientology — it was about as far from the rock and roll life as possible.
They were assigned to work out of Scientology’s “Celebrity Centre” which had been founded the year before on W. 8th Street in Los Angeles. Al learned there to become a Scientology “registrar,” executives who are notorious for hounding members for money to pay for their courses or to make donations for building projects. While working there, Ribisi met Gay Landrum, another Sea Org worker. His marriage to Gay was his second, and soon the couple had children when their twins were born on December 17, 1974: Antonio Giovanni and Santina Marissa. In 1976, their younger sister Gina arrived. When the children were toddlers, the couple left the Sea Org, but remained loyal to Scientology. Al went into the printing business, while Gay later became a successful talent manager.
Al and Gay Ribisi split up when their children were in their teens, family friends tell us, and Gay helped to shepherd Marissa and Giovanni through their acting careers. She also picked up as clients other actors who became involved in Scientology, including Jason Lee of My Name Is Earl fame. Marissa Ribisi (Dazed and Confused, The Brady Bunch Movie) married musician Beck Hansen, who was also from a Scientology family — his mother, Bibbe Hansen, had helped Gay deliver Giovanni and Marissa in 1974. The extended Ribisi-Hansen clan became one of the most well known in Scientology and Hollywood, and helped fuel the notion that getting into Scientology was a legitimate way to advance a career in the entertainment industry.
Giovanni Ribisi’s acting career started in television, first with appearances on Highway to Heaven when he was only ten years old, and a decade later as Phoebe’s brother Frank on Friends. In 1997, he married actress Mariah O’Brien (Halloween: The Curse of Michael Meyers), who was also a Scientologist and the daughter of actress Jackie O’Brien (Pretty Woman). In December 1997, the couple had their only child, Lucia Santina Ribisi.
They divorced four years later, and each went on to second marriages. In 2012 Giovanni married English model Agyness Deyn, who then started Scientology training. They split up last year. Mariah’s second marriage was to musician and Scientologist Anthony “Trae” Carlson, who had previously been married to Carol Burnett’s daughter, Erin Hamilton.
In 2011, Carlson, O’Brien, and Carlson’s mother Arvina were arrested by California state authorities on charges that they had been operating a Ponzi scheme that had taken $2.5 million from investors. Charges were later dropped against O’Brien; Carlson pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison, his mother was given seven months.
Paparazzi caught pictures of a grim-looking Giovanni Ribisi, Lucia in tow, as he went to a police station in 2012 to be questioned about his ex-wife’s legal troubles.
Lucia, meanwhile, has been gaining success making her own way in the world of fashion and art. She was featured this week in a film at the W magazine website. And Teen Vogue included her in a feature it titled “10 Badass Young Feminists Who Are Totally Changing the Game in 2016.”
But last year, when she was just 17, she made her radio appearance to talk about how miserable Scientology had made her.
“‘Carole’ — not her real name — is the daughter of a celebrity,” KCRW’s Madeleine Brand said about Lucia more than once during the program, and Lucia gave out numerous details about her life that made it not really very difficult to figure out who she was.
She said that Hollywood had been an “integral” part of her father’s life, and that he had “questioned” his involvement in Scientology.
That’s a bit of a bombshell in itself. Giovanni, the son of such prominent, dedicated Scientologists, has never publicly given any indication that his own involvement in the organization has wavered. In fact, in 2012 when there were questions raised about whether he would be encouraging his new wife, Agyness Deyn, to join Scientology, he reacted with an angry tweet: “In regards to recent press items… Bigotry: Stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own”
In regards to recent press items…
Bigotry: Stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one's own
— Giovanni Ribisi (@GiovanniRibisi) July 4, 2012
Lucia said that her father’s involvement had waned in particular when he’d been involved with women who were not Scientologists.
For Lucia herself, growing up in Scientology involved long hours at the Celebrity Centre in a special section reserved for the family members of the rich and famous. She enjoyed herself, she said, but she was aware that she was getting special treatment because of the family she came from. Eventually, she was struggling under the workload — she was going to the Celebrity Centre six days a week while attending a highly competitive private school — and she finally admitted that she needed help.
“Is this mental health help?” Madeleine Brand asked Lucia, and Brand explained that Scientology is anti-psychiatry (and rabidly so). Lucia was quick to say that she hadn’t seen a psychiatrist, but she had received the help she needed, an intervention she called it. And that, apparently, was the cue she needed to leave the Church of Scientology. She’s doing much better since she pushed it away, she added.
During the radio show, Lucia also pointed out one of Scientology’s most basic realities — that celebrities get to break the rules that govern others in the church. And for that reason, she said, her family was “protected” from Scientology’s policy of “disconnection.”
“If my family was following what Scientology actually says, they would not be allowed to talk to me,” she said on the program.
But our sources tell us that in fact Lucia is concerned that her grandparents will, in fact, disconnect from her — implying that they have been unaware of her participation in the radio program.
A close family friend who has known the Ribisis for more than 50 years tells us that the Ribisi clan is, in a way, reflecting the crisis that is gripping Scientology itself, with many longtime members quietly reducing or ending their involvement while a hardcore and shrinking membership remains. Al and Gay Ribisi, lifers who got into Scientology more than 40 years ago, are bitter-enders. Gay in particular, our source tells us, is not only loyal to the organization, but she’s also an enforcer.
“You’re either with us or against us. That’s her attitude,” the family friend tells us. (Oddly, two of Gay’s Scientology plaques — rewards for making huge donations — were found discarded in Hollywood by our friend and fellow journalist Mark Ebner in 2014. But our source doesn’t think that’s an indication that Gay’s dedication to Scientology has wavered; he thinks it was probably a mistake made by a Ribisi family employee.)
If Al and Gay were not Scientology celebrities, they would be required to “disconnect” from a granddaughter who went on a public radio station to talk about leaving Scientology and criticizing it openly. And our source says they may still be required to do that even with their special status.
“If Lucia thinks that might happen, she’s probably right. If Al and Gay get directions directly from [Scientology leader] David Miscavige, it’s hard to know what they’ll do. That family is very tight,” he says, and as evidence points out that just ten days ago, the entire Ribisi clan got together, including Al Ribisi’s 93-year-old father, Al Ribisi Sr (who is not a Scientologist).
The subject of Scientology was avoided entirely at that gathering, he tells us. And he agreed with our observation that the younger generation of celebrity Scientologists who have grown up in the organization have never pursued courses with as much enthusiasm as their parents. We then brought up the example of Jason Lee: We told him that for years we’d been hearing that Gay Ribisi’s star client was all but out the door. In 2008, he married Turkish-Australian actress Ceren Alkaç, and they’ve had two children. Their second child, Sonny, was born in 2012, and one of our better sources told us the Lees had Sonny baptized at St Thomas the Apostle, an Episcopal church in Hollywood. And, perhaps most significantly, Jason moved his family last year to a ranch outside Denton, Texas, to get as far away from Hollywood as possible.
“That’s a sure sign of ‘get me away from Scientology so the registrars can’t knock on my door’,” the close Ribisi family friend told us. He says it’s pretty clear that Jason Lee is no longer a Scientologist, but, like many others, is keeping quiet about it.
Is that the case with Lucia’s father, Giovanni? The actor finds himself in a tough spot. If his parents do disconnect from his daughter, he’ll be forced to choose sides. And what then happens with his sister Marissa? And with Marissa’s husband, Beck?
Actress Leah Remini recently showed that there’s only one way for a Scientology family to avoid the organization’s toxic disconnection policy — and that’s to walk out of the church as a whole. But it’s hard to see the Ribisi family learning from that example.
We contacted Lucia by email, but she declined to comment for this story. We left a voice mail with Al Ribisi and will add a response here if we get one. We sent a detailed message to Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw pointing out that when KCRW’s show aired last year, the station featured her response to the program at its website.
“The claims made by your so far ‘anonymous’ source are false and bigoted. They take aspects of Scientology and twist them to the point they are unrecognizable solely to create prejudice against members of my Church,” Pouw wrote. “The airing of such obviously biased claims without challenging the source and providing the Church with a meaningful opportunity to respond is irresponsible.”
We asked Pouw, was she aware when she responded to the program that it featured Lucia Ribisi? And would the church encourage the Ribisi family to disconnect from her?
We’ll let you know if we get a response.
THE RADIO TRANSCRIPT
We transcribed Lucia Ribisi’s portions of the KCRW radio program, which also featured a young man who had interesting things to say. Listen to the entire show here.
Lucia on her famous father:
I was born into it, and my family is also like, my dad’s side of the family everybody is in the church. So I’m a second-generation, yeah. I think it’s this thing where they were like saved by it. They were like picked up and nurtured by it. And then my dad was obviously born in it, and living in Hollywood it was just like a really integral part of his life. He has questioned it. I think there were certain times like, when he was in his twenties he was working a lot and he dated some women who weren’t Scientologists. So I think he floated away for a second, and then came back and eventually married somebody who was also a Scientologist.
On being a child in Scientology:
I went to private schools in LA, so there were times where people were like, ‘What is Scientology?’ or like, ‘You don’t take medication when you’re sick?’ and stuff like that. I didn’t know what to do because I didn’t know why anybody would be against it. When I was a kid, I always had like very positive experiences. In fact I felt like I almost was treated like a princess like my whole childhood. I think because my family is prominent in Hollywood that like the church protected me and shielded me from just like what Scientology really is, or like, I didn’t meet anybody who wasn’t really wealthy. Like, the Celebrity Centre has a totally different section for people who are wealthy or famous. So you go through a separate entrance and the place in the Celebrity Centre is called the president’s office and you walk in and there’s like a buffet, and the people who have been working there have been working there — it’s like the same two people in that office like my whole life. And then there’s a stairway and your auditor can come down to the waiting room that like you’re sitting there watching a movie or you’re eating and you go upstairs and there are specific auditing rooms for friends and family of famous people, so they don’t have to be bothered by the general public. And when I was doing processing there, I was doing a certain step on the Bridge — I wasn’t Clear yet. And that was such a huge part of my experience in the church. Like, I was nannied by women who, like, worked there at times my dad would be in session and I was a kid like coloring in the president’s office.
On being inside a bubble:
I knew that we were Scientologists, but I didn’t know how small the following actually was, or didn’t actually realize what it meant to be a Scientologist.
On the time commitment of being a Scientologist:
I spent a lot of time there. I’d say I went there at least six days a week after school, and I was going to very competitive private schools so there were points where I was I have too much work and I can’t come, and they were like, just do your homework here. And, it was like five hours of homework and then three and a half hours of coursework. So, L. Ron Hubbard wrote a lot of books. So I started when I was eight, and you read the chapter and then you fill out worksheets, and it’s 50 dollars per course. But at the pace I was going, I would do like two courses a week. Like a hundred dollars a week, but then on top of that I would do seminars, like on the weekend, where you hear a lecture and then do a course on that in like one night. Or like I did the Purification Rundown, I also was having auditing on top of my coursework, like once or twice a week. And the auditing is really expensive.
On what it cost her family:
My mom told me that there was a certain amount of money that they put on account when I was a kid, and it was $250,000 — for my mother and I, but she didn’t do as much as I did.
On the Purif:
I did the Purification Rundown. So, they encourage it for every Scientologist to do to become Clear. But it’s also used for people who have been on drugs or like people who have been exposed to chemicals. So for the Purification Rundown you sit in a sauna for like a certain amount of hours and it become like, five hours a day in a sauna. (Without a break?) No, you get breaks, but you take like the vitamins that you’re supposed to take, and then you run for 20 minutes on a treadmill to start sweating so that the niacin will start working in your system…It makes you have a crazy skin reaction. Like, you basically get a sunburn and you sit in the sauna and then, and you get as many breaks as you like, but you start at like a low amount of niacin, a low amount of hours and then it gets more and more as you hit certain markers or whatever on your rundown. So you write every day your experiences and then you come to your final ‘end phenomena.’ And that’s when you stop experiencing the sunburn from the niacin, and you’ve stopped getting headaches. I had terrible migraines, and so they told me to just take more and more potassium. And I was sleeping a ton. And I think it was a month in the end. (How old were you?) I was twelve. So, if you don’t hit the end phenomenon, you have to keep going. And it costs more and more. So, I was also going on course at that time and basically spending all of my time at the center. And that’s with all, everything you do with Scientology, you have to hit this end phenomenon. (And what is it?) They tell you what it is before you do it. So you can say, I hit this end phenomenon, now I don’t have to do this thing anymore.
On presenting a happy face:
If you meet a Scientologist they’re happy, their whole thing is they’re thriving and prospering and it’s really hard if you’re not doing well, because then you’re seen as somebody who should be ostracized.
On what the Sea Org is:
You sign a billion-year contract, and while you’re in the Sea Org, you get all free processing, and if you choose to leave you have to pay off that processing. So, you’re working like all day and then doing your processing.
On becoming disaffected:
I wasn’t doing well. I needed support, and I didn’t have any friends in the church. I never had any peers in the church. And my friends outside of the church had talked about like the South Park episode, or like what they had online like people will ask me what my beliefs were and I didn’t know how to describe what I believed. (Did you know the story of Xenu?) No. People said ‘aliens’ and I said no, don’t talk to me about that. And that’s not true, I’ve never heard that before. And most Scientologists have never heard of that story before. Because youre told that if you read about it or hear about it then you won’t be able to progress on your Bridge, and when you’ve put so much money into it, it’s really hard to say OK, I’m going to do something that could risk all the work I’ve done.
I was told that — so ‘Black PR’ is what they call what people say about the church in the media. So I was told that those were rumors made up by a morbidly obese and sick man who really wanted attention. And I hadn’t seen anything on the Internet because I was afraid to even Google search my own religion, right? So, eventually it was almost like there was an intervention with my school, where I needed help and I got the help that I needed and (“Is this mental health help?”) Yeah. (“They’re anti-psychiatry.”) Yeah. I didn’t see a psychiatrist. I was not allowed to even say that word. But I got the help that I had been asking for. And I felt like I had to separate myself from my family to a certain extent.
So my family, since they are well off, they’re protected from this idea of ‘disconnection.’ If my family was following what Scientology actually says, they would not be allowed to talk to me.
On how she’s doing out of Scientology:
I’m doing really well and I’ve made strides to make my life the way I want it to be. But it’s definitely difficult. You know I thought OK, like I’m over it, I have moved on and it doesn’t bother me anymore. But like there’s fear instilled in me still. So I think the main thing that has come out of it that had been negative is that I still, like, it wasn’t until two years after I left that I even Googled the church for fear that they would, like, track my Internet usage or my computer history. Other than that I think my family’s really, I’m so lucky because my family is supportive of me even though I’m not in the church. So, I’ve grown away from it.
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Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts
Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ
Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield