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The Scientology-Ireland connection that propelled Cathriona White to Hollywood


[The Helnweins. L to R: Cyril, Renate, Wolfgang Amadeus, Ali Elvis (sitting), Gottfried, and Mercedes. Photo for the New York Times by Kenneth O Halloran.]

In 2009, Cathriona White emigrated from Ireland to Los Angeles. We’ve reported that once she was there, a group of young Scientologists welcomed her into the fold and encouraged her to begin courses at the Hollywood Celebrity Centre.

But from the beginning, our sources were telling us that it wasn’t an accident that Cat fell in with the Hollywood group. Something had happened in Ireland that convinced her to go, and helped her gain entrée to the California clique.

We should have known the reason sooner, because we’ve written about Austrian artist Gottfried Helnwein and his family in the past. But this week, a couple of our readers reminded us that the Helnweins own a castle in County Tipperary, where Cat herself was from. And photographs and online writings by Cat and the Helnweins make it clear: It was the Helnweins, in particular Gottfried’s son Cyril Helnwein, who form the connection between Ireland, Cathriona White, Hollywood, and Scientology.

Last December, the New York Times fashion magazine, T, ran a feature about Gottfried and his clan, calling them the “real-life Addams family” because they’re morbid and weird (but adorable, at least to the Times). There was no mention of Scientology in the article. But in 2011, we provided a different look at the Helnweins in a story for The Village Voice, and it wasn’t so heartwarming.


In 1997, Gottfried moved to Ireland after spending some years in Germany. He was originally from Austria, where he’d got his start as an internationally successful artist, known for his hyper-realistic portraits and disturbing subjects. His portrait of John F. Kennedy showed up on the cover of Time magazine in 1983, and he’s gained notoriety for portraits that have ended up as album art.


[Album covers featuring art by Gottfried Helnwein]

He’s also been a Scientologist since about 1972, but that’s something he doesn’t want well known. In the 1990s in Germany, he sued a woman, a former Scientologist, who had publicized Gottfried’s involvement in the church. Six years after he first filed suit, in 2000, he dropped the matter.

But not only was Gottfried a longtime member of Scientology, his son Cyril had spent time in the Sea Org in England, and in 1996 when he was about 18, Cyril told his father that he wanted to marry a 16-year-old Sea Org worker named Melissa Paris.

As Melissa told us for our Voice story

Melissa says she was given an ultimatum: Marry Cyril Helnwein, or get kicked out of the Sea Org. “I was told that the only way I would be able to stay would be if I married him. I’d actually broken up with him right before that and…a high level executive told me that I needed to get back together with him ASAP. I was threatened with being dropped off in the middle of East Grinstead (England)….The guy’s father was pretty famous, and he wanted to marry me.”

Feeling that she had no choice, Melissa agreed to marry Cyril, but then got a concession out of him: She asked him to use some of his father’s wealth to fly them to the Caribbean for a honeymoon aboard Scientology’s private cruise ship the Freewinds. She knew that her older sister, Valeska Paris, was working on the ship and was being held there as a virtual prisoner. (Valeska believes it was because her mother had sued Scientology, and church leader David Miscavige wanted to keep the girl away from her mom. Valeska says she was kept on the ship for 11 years, unable to go ashore without an escort, before she finally was transferred to Australia and later left the Sea Org. She and Melissa didn’t see each other again after that 1996 honeymoon until they were reunited in 2009.)

Melissa’s marriage to Cyril lasted only a couple of years, and her involvement in the Sea Org also ended in 1998. But she told us that during the entire time she was in the Sea Org — from 1994 to 1998, working long hours in menial labor, she was paid a total of about $40, another reason she had little choice when she was forced into marrying.

Cyril’s own involvement in the Sea Org was reportedly a short one, and instead of sticking to the billion-year contract he’d signed, he followed in his father’s footsteps to become an artist, just like his other siblings Wolfgang Amadeus, Ali Elvis, and Mercedes.

According to the Times profile, it’s Cyril and his own family (he has three children) who today live in the County Tipperary castle that the entire family once called home. The Gurteen Castle, built in 1866, lies across the River Suir from the Tipperary town of Kilsheelan. About an hour away to the northwest, in the village of Cappawhite, is where Cathriona White grew up. She’s returning to Cappawhite this Saturday, when she’ll be laid to rest next to her father, Pat, who died from brain cancer in 2012.

As we’ve tried to learn more about Cathriona and her life, we’ve been poring over the traces she left on social media, and we’ve received help from numerous readers. And they helped us find that Cathriona’s friendship with Cyril Helnwein might have begun through the castle’s pets.

Both Cat and Cyril made references, in their Instagram accounts, to Cathriona taking care of dogs. In this photo Cyril posted a week ago, he remembers Cat and “all the doggy-sitting”…


In 2012, when her father had died, Cat had been unable to attend his funeral because she was living in the US illegally. But on January 15, 2013, she married Mark Damian Burton, a Scientologist and cameraman she had met on the set of a web TV show, “The Online Gamer.” She didn’t tell her other friends about the marriage, but it gave her the ability to travel more freely, and in 2014 she returned to Ireland to be in her sister Lisa’s wedding. When she posted a photo from the ceremony, Cyril Helnwein asked if she’d have time to get together…


However her friendship with Cyril began, getting to know the Helnweins gave Cat access to a new world. In 2005, for example, Gottfried let Marilyn Manson and Dita Von Teese hold their wedding at Gurteen Castle. And also that year, Manson attended Cyril’s art show in Los Angeles, where the three of them — Cyril, Manson, and Gottfried — were photographed…


That show was hosted by actor Danny Masterson, and also attracted other Scientology celebrities, including Jason Lee. The My Name is Earl star is also a collector of Cyril’s photographs, along with Scientology actors Christopher and Danny Masterson, Laura Prepon, Jenna Elfman, and Michael Peña.

Cat White couldn’t help but be impressed by the sheer number of Scientology stars that Cyril knew and who supported his work.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Cyril’s sister Mercedes was also finding success as a writer and an artist, and it had helped her befriend another Scientology celebrity: musician Beck Hansen. Mercedes had appeared with Beck in the video for his 2008 song “Gamma Ray”…


In 2010, Beck had hosted a reception for an art show by Mercedes…


And at an earlier Mercedes art show, in 2004, a photographer captured Marissa Ribisi, Beck, Mercedes Helnwein, and Beth Reisgraf (Photo by J. Sciulli/WireImage)…


When Beck came to Dublin this summer for a concert, his friend Cyril Helnwein was on stage, taking dramatic photos…


Here then was the connection to Beck that our sources originally told us about. They told us that Cathriona had first heard about Scientology from Beck’s circle of friends, and it had motivated her to move to Los Angeles and make her own foray into the entertainment industry. One of the first people she got to know — and reportedly dated — was a Scientologist artist named Tiber McCormick. In 2003, McCormick and Cyril Helnwein had put on a joint art show in Los Angeles that was hosted by Christopher and Danny Masterson at Jason Lee’s loft.

Cat was on her way. She had local contacts, and they steered her not only to work in Hollywood, but also to courses at the Hollywood Celebrity Centre.

Cat also met former Sea Org worker Jenny Burpee, who told a reporter she took Cat under her wing. But even with the entrée she had managed by knowing the Helnweins back in Tipperary, Cat still struggled to find work as an actress and then as a make-up artist.

But then, in 2012, she met Jim Carrey and everything changed.

UPDATE: These photos just came in from a tipster who attended tonight’s wake for Cathriona White in the Tipperary village of Cappawhite. They capture the press photographers waiting outside White’s Funeral Home for a chance to shoot a celebrity…



Sept 30: Jim Carrey’s Scientologist girlfriend on ‘SRD’ when she killed herself: Friends
Oct 1: Cathriona White’s Scientology ‘twin’ on grueling courses was an actor named Travis Case
Oct 4: Meet the young Hollywood types who introduced Cathriona White to Scientology
Oct 6: Scientology spied on Jim Carrey to get him on the ‘Purif,’ says former exec
Oct 6: Cathriona White was married to Scientologist Mark Burton
Oct 7: A secret Scientology wake, a ‘Snow White’ link, & more odd twists emerge in the Cat White story
Oct 8: For some reason, news sites are keeping quiet about who found Cat White’s body. So here he is.


Your proprietor on Media Mayhem

It’s always a treat to be on “Media Mayhem” with Allison Hope Weiner. She asks your proprietor about Cathriona White, Leah Remini’s book, Bella Cruise’s wedding, and more…




We didn’t get a chance to include photos in our book, so we’ve posted them at a dedicated page. Reader Sookie put together a complete index and we’re hosting it here on the website. Copies of the paperback version of ‘The Unbreakable Miss Lovely’ are on sale at Amazon. The Kindle edition is also available, and shipping instantly.

Tony Ortega’s upcoming appearances (and check out the interactive map to our ongoing tour)…

Oct 23: Sydney, Giant Dwarf Theatre (with Steve Cannane and Bryan Seymour)

Oct 25: Melbourne, The Wheeler Centre, 3 pm, free but reservations recommended (with Steve Cannane)

Oct 28: Adelaide, Wheatsheaf Hotel, (with Sen. Nick Xenophon)

Oct 30: Perth, Collins Street Centre, Collins St and Shaftesbury St, South Perth, 7 pm

Past dates: Santa Barbara (5/16), Hollywood (5/17), Orange County (5/17), San Diego (5/20), San Francisco (5/22), New York (6/11), Chicago (6/20), Toronto (6/22), Clearwater (6/28), Washington DC (7/12), Hartford (7/14), Denver (7/17), Dallas (7/20), Houston (7/22), San Antonio (7/24), Austin (7/25), Paris (7/29), London (8/4), Boston (8/24), Phoenix (9/15), Cleveland (9/23), Minneapolis (9/24), Portland (9/27), Seattle (9/28), Vancouver BC (9/29)


Posted by Tony Ortega on October 9, 2015 at 07:00

E-mail your tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. Here at the Bunker we try to have a post up every morning at 7 AM Eastern (Noon GMT), and on some days we post an afternoon story at around 2 PM. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of LA 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

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
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


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