Harmonic Conversion?

By Richard N. Leiby
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 4, 1994

Why did Lisa Marie Presley and Michael Jackson get married?

Love, if you believe her press release, the one pledging to "dedicate my life to being his wife." Or, goes the speculation from Hollywood, Jackson is rehabbing his image and simultaneously consummating the ultimate entertainment empire merger.

But another possibility is circulating among the conspiracy-minded former members of the Church of Scientology. It's an astounding theory -- that the church itself helped arrange the Presley-Jackson union -- but these defectors say nothing about Scientology would astound them.

"Scientology has been known to tell people to get divorced or married for public relations purposes," says Lawrence Wollersheim, a former Scientology celebrity handler who won $2.5 million in damages from the church after he sued it for alleged brainwashing.

Lisa Marie Presley, the King's only daughter and heir, has been a Scientologist since childhood; her mother, Priscilla, is said to have joined the church about a year after Elvis's death. Lisa Marie was married to a prominent Scientologist, Danny Keough, but quickly and quietly dissolved that union to marry Jackson in the Dominican Republic in May.

Keough's younger brother, Thomas -- also a Scientologist -- was an official witness of the Jackson-Presley nuptials. The Church of Scientology International issued a statement this week wishing the newlyweds "the very best for a joyful future."

So what does this add up to? The hot theory among former Scientologists is that the church previously selected Jackson for recruitment and, in the words of Wollersheim, used Lisa Marie as "the bait."

"Stars are heavily recruited, and you can be sure that Michael Jackson was targeted," says one ex-Scientologist who worked at Celebrity Centre, the church's social hub for its glamour members in Los Angeles.

"Why would she marry him? The only answer is Scientology," speculates another church defector who worked as a liaison with the entertainment community.

"A complete fabrication," responds Karin Pouw, an L.A. spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology, which was incorporated by pulp science-fiction writer Lafayette Ronald Hubbard 40 years ago and has waged war against detractors in the press, the government and the medical establishment ever since. In a faxed statement, Pouw added: "There is no factual substance to the rumor that there is a project to 'recruit' celebrities. Any such reports by 'former members' or in past media articles are false."

It's true that the church has long treasured celebrities for the seeming legitimacy and publicity they bring. Scientology Celebrity Centres -- there are 13 around the globe -- "offer a distraction-free environment which is free of drugs and the other harmful influences that often plague celebrity lifestyles," according to Pouw.

And, of course, stars also bring with them lots of cash and might be magnets to prospective members. "One of my jobs was to get celebrities active, to convince them to hustle and promote Scientology," recalls Robert Vaughn Young, who spent 20 years in the church, much of the time as a publicity officer.

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© 1994 The Washington Post Company