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Ron Miscavige, who renounced Scientology, the church his son leads, dies at 85

After leaving Scientology in 2012, he spoke out “so other people wouldn’t have to go through what we’ve gone through,” said his wife, Becky Miscavige.
JAMES BORCHUCK   | [Times (2016)]
Ron Miscavige practices trumpet in the living room of his suburban Milwaukee home Tuesday, August 2, 2016.
JAMES BORCHUCK | [Times (2016)] Ron Miscavige practices trumpet in the living room of his suburban Milwaukee home Tuesday, August 2, 2016. [ BORCHUCK, JAMES | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Jun. 28
Updated Jun. 30

In 1969, Ron Miscavige brought his 9-year-old son to his first Scientology counseling session in an attempt to rid the boy of frightening bouts of asthma.

The ailment disappeared. The suburban New Jersey family became instant believers.

That boy, David Miscavige, grew up to assume control of Scientology when founder L. Ron Hubbard died in 1986, at first a point of pride for his father. But over time, Ron Miscavige wrote in his 2016 memoir, power of the multibillion dollar organization corrupted his son, as he turned Scientology into something that is “manipulative, coercive and, in my mind, evil.”

Ron Miscavige, who became one of the most prominent Scientology defectors by declaring the leader of the church, his son, a tyrant defrauding followers and breaking apart families, died on Monday, after five years of health issues, including cancer, according to his wife, Becky Miscavige. He was 85.

“His real purpose was to raise awareness so other people wouldn’t have to go through what we’ve gone through, losing your whole family and your family turning against you,” said Becky Miscavige, who is David Miscavige’s stepmother.

Scientology spokesman Ben Shaw did not respond to a request for comment from David Miscavige regarding his father’s death.

But the release of Ron Miscavige’s 2016 memoir, Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige and Me, broke open a public, bitter feud between father and son, a twist given the church’s promotion that Scientology strengthens family bonds. Church officials published a website attacking Ron Miscavige as a shameless abuser, who was “seeking to make money on the name of his famous son.”

At the time of his death, Ron Miscavige was in contact with only one of his four children, the only one not involved in the church.

“When Scientology destroyed his family, perhaps the most important thing in the world to him, they created a formidable foe who devoted his life to exposing and undoing the evils of Scientology, especially the destructive practice of disconnection,” said Mike Rinder, a former Scientology executive, referring to the church’s practice of forced estrangement.

Ron Miscavige is seated on couch with his first wife, Loretta in 1988. David Miscavige is right behind him in blue shirt.  [photo courtesy of Ron Miscavige]
Ron Miscavige is seated on couch with his first wife, Loretta in 1988. David Miscavige is right behind him in blue shirt. [photo courtesy of Ron Miscavige] [ JAMES BORCHUCK | Ron Miscavige ]

Ron Miscavige grew up in a Pennsylvania mining town. Too poor to afford a football, he would stuff rags into a sock so he could play with friends under the streetlights, he wrote in his memoir. He served a stint in the Marines after graduating from high school. He honed his trumpet skills in the Quantico Marine band and studied music theory and harmony at the Naval School of Music.

He married his first wife, Loretta, in 1957, and they had four children. The couple raised their family in Willingboro, New Jersey, where Ron Miscavige sold cookware door to door.

On the promise of huge profits, he became involved in Holiday Magic, a multi-level cosmetics marketing scheme. At a meeting in 1969 where Mr. Miscavige and his partners tried to recruit distributors, an attendee brought up his involvement in Scientology.

Soon Mr. Miscavige was attending weekly Scientology discussion groups at a local café. It was at these meetings where he got a referral to a Scientology auditor, or spiritual counselor, to treat his son, David, for asthma.

Amazed by the disappearance of their son’s attacks, Ron and Loretta began receiving auditing for help with their tumultuous marriage. In his memoir, Ron Miscavige admitted to striking his wife during arguments, a confession that church officials later detailed in their website.

Deepening their commitment to the church, the family made two year-long trips to England to study with Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Then when David Miscavige was 16, he dropped out of high school to join the Sea Org, the church’s full-time workforce.

Ron Miscavige’s marriage continued to fall apart. In 1985, while living in Pennsylvania separately from his wife, Miscavige was arrested on charges of attempted rape and indecent assault.

A woman working in an apartment complex told police a man attacked her while she was showing him a unit. Ron Miscavige adamantly denied the allegations and called his son David for help, who by then was a high ranking Sea Org member working closely alongside Hubbard.

David Miscavige sent cash and attorneys to help with his father’s case. But the charges were later dropped when the victim could not confirm in court Ron Miscavige was her assailant. Ron Miscavige was so grateful, he decided to join the Sea Org.

“I guess you could say that I felt obligated,” Ron Miscavige wrote in his memoir.

With his musical background, Ron Miscavige worked for years in Scientology’s Golden Era Productions in Los Angeles, which produces the church’s marketing materials and films. In 1990, he married his second wife, Becky, who worked in the marketing department at the base.

Ron Miscavige, left, and his wife Becky Miscavige, right, taken on Nov. 22, 2011. [Courtesy of Ron Miscavige]
Ron Miscavige, left, and his wife Becky Miscavige, right, taken on Nov. 22, 2011. [Courtesy of Ron Miscavige] [ JAMES BORCHUCK | Ron Miscavige ]

He initially enjoyed his work composing music for church albums and promotional materials, he wrote. But he said most of his 27 years in the Sea Org were dehumanizing, as he lived among razor wire, guards, surveillance cameras and the wrath of David Miscavige, who consistently berated his work.

In 2012, Under the guise of leaving the base for a trip to a nearby music studio, the couple drove away with all of their belongings to family in Wisconsin.

Over the next decade, Miscavige became an outspoken critic of abuses in what he called “a cult, pure and simple.”

He stunned even longtime Scientology watchers with his revelation that private investigators hired by attorneys for the church had been surveilling him for 18 months beginning in 2012, including planting a GPS tracker on his car.The two private investigators confessed after being arrested by police in Wisconsin.

In recent years, Ron Miscavige continued to perform music and enjoyed a quiet life with his wife and beloved rescue cats.

“He just had this passion for life and he also had a passion for justice and when he woke up from what Scientology was ... then he was on a quest for justice and helping others out,” said friend Richard Shaw.