The Tragic Real-Life Story Of Leah Remini

Actress and activist Leah Remini is probably best known for her role in the popular sitcom "King of Queens" in the late 90s and early 2000s. Since leaving the Church of Scientology in 2013, Remini has also become an outspoken critic of the church. The actress herself has experienced tragedy, both while growing up in the church and since leaving it.

As described by The Washington Post, Remini first started learning about the alleged abuses in Scientology when she was still in the church. While the church tried to keep members isolated from this information, Remini looked up the allegations and found countless reports of abuse. "Nobody in my family wanted to leave. Nobody wanted it to be true," Remini recalled. "I didn't want to find that what I had done my whole life was a lie."

After her very public exit from the church, Remini's experiences inspired her to become a fierce advocate for those who had suffered similar abuses in Scientology. In 2016, she started the hit A&E docuseries, "Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath," in which former members revealed their terrible experiences in Scientology. Over the years, Remini has often talked publicly about her experiences, too. This is the tragic real-life story of Leah Remini.

If you or someone you know is dealing with spiritual abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

She wasn't allowed to be a kid

According to Scientology doctrine, there are no children, only adults in smaller bodies (via Rolling Stone). As Leah Remini told ABC News, when she was only 7 years old, her mother was drawn into Scientology and brought her two daughters — Leah and Nicole — with her.

Remini dropped out of school in 8th grade, as Scientology had other expectations about how she and the other children in the church would use their time. In an interview with People, Leah explained, "We were being used as laborers." Children like Remini — who were members of the Sea Org, a group of Scientology employees that function like a nautical-themed priesthood — were expected to work. That often included hard physical labor. As described in "Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape," children in Scientology are expected to do difficult physical work like completing construction projects, cleaning, and moving debris for 12 hours a day.

"If you join the Sea Org as a child, your parents give you over to Scientology," Remini said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "Children are treated as crew. They are assets."

She lived in an awful motel

Leah Remini and her sister Nicole moved into a Scientology dorm for children. Remini told People magazine this was a motel that had a roach infestation. Remini and the other children were often responsible for cleaning the motel in 12-hour shifts (Remini was 13 years old at the time).

Remini's sister Nicole described the living conditions in an interview with journalist Tony Ortega's The Underground Bunker. The sisters shared their dorm (which only had a single bathroom) with more than 10 other girls. They weren't allowed to see their family, and if they overslept or were late for mealtimes by even a few minutes, they weren't given food. Nicole recalled in the interview that her sister once had to "scrounge crumbs from a toaster" to eat.

Nicole was eventually recruited by Scientology to act as a spy and ordered to report any misbehavior among the children to the church's authorities. Ultimately, however, it would be Remini and Nicole who were accused of breaking the rules.

Leah Remini was attacked by her boss

Leah Remini and her sister were both members of the Sea Org, having signed a contract that swore they would continue to serve Scientology for a billion years, which includes the reincarnations Scientologists believe in (per The Underground Bunker). While they were forced to work, the teenage Remini didn't take the abuse quietly. As stated by a friend in a report from ABC News, she most often got in trouble for "her mouth" by voicing her anger about the horrendous living conditions, food, and hard labor that was required of her and the other young Sea Org members.

In her book "Troublemaker" (quoted via Glamour), Remini described how she was once shouted at by a Sea Org leader for sitting down in a public place where other people could see her. As he shouted at her, she refused to respond with "yes, sir," as was expected. In retaliation, he allegedly took Remini out on a boat and threw her over the side. "He picked me up, and before I even realized what was happening, he threw me overboard," Remini wrote. "The shock of the moment and the freezing water took my breath away, and for an instant, I thought I was going to drown."

The family had to flee due to rumors

In Scientology, having sex before marriage is referred to as being "out-2D," and it's a punishable offense. Both Leah Remini and Nicole were accused.

Remini's sister Nicole had a boyfriend, and one of her friends accused her of having sex with him. Nicole explained in an interview with Tony Ortega that she and her boyfriend weren't sleeping together, but it didn't matter. "I told them I wasn't going to be punished for something I didn't do," she said. "They interrogated me, yelling at my face like it was something on TV. 'You know you had sex! Just come clean!'"

According to an interview with People, someone saw Remini's boyfriend touching her chest, and she was also accused of being out-2D. Scientology authorities searched both of the sisters' rooms and found lacy underwear, which they took as proof. They were both ordered to go to RPF, or Rehabilitation Project Force, which University of Alberta's Stephen A. Kent describes as "confinement programs and camps that Scientology operates as supposedly rehabilitative facilities for 'deviant' members'," including "harsh physical punishment, forced self-confessions, social isolation, hard labour, and intense doctrinal study."

Remini's mother took both sisters to Los Angeles to protect them, but unfortunately, the family did not yet leave Scientology completely.

She lost millions

After Leah Remini and her family moved to Los Angeles, she was cast as a main character in the sitcom "The King of Queens." Within the Church of Scientology, celebrities are coveted. Now that she was famous, the church had her spend hours in Scientology classes and auditing every day. Like many things in Scientology, this was expensive — Remini explained in an NPR interview that she lost millions of dollars. As reported by Business Insider, Remini also used her docuseries, "Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath," to touch on the issue. "There is no other religion that I know of that requires two and a half hours of your day, a quarter of a million dollars minimum, and at least 40 years of your life," she said.

All Scientologists are expected to purchase a full set of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard's books, costing around $4,000, and members are encouraged to buy multiple sets to donate to libraries. The first Scientology courses cost only $35 each, but over time, they grow more expensive, with required courses costing $650 each. Meanwhile, auditing is a mandatory pseudoscientific practice that resembles therapy but has members hooked up to a device similar to a lie detector and costs approximately $800 per hour.

Remini stated in her NPR interview that she has spent over $2 million on classes and auditing and that church officials convinced her into donating around $3 million more to Scientology.

She was afraid of losing her family

Despite the horrors that she experienced when she was young and the massive amount of money that Scientology demanded she give them, Leah Remini wasn't ready to leave yet. As she described in an interview with NPR, she was highly suspicious and was no longer convinced that the money they took from her was going to good causes. However, she knew that leaving or even questioning Scientology could cost her her family.

As described in The Guardian, Scientology has a church policy known as "disconnection." When someone criticizes Scientology, anyone in the church who knows them has to cut all contact with them. Remini's family were also in Scientology, and if she left the church or asked too many questions, they would be forbidden to talk to her. Even if she kept her suspicions to herself, it was likely that it would be revealed when she did her mandatory auditing. Remini explained to NPR that auditing is "sort of like a lie detector test. So you're hooked up to that, and you're asked a series of questions ... you're just interrogated."

Her friend Shelly Miscavige hasn't been seen publicly since 2005

While in Scientology, Leah Remini became friends with Shelly Miscavige. Shelly's husband is the infamous leader of Scientology, David Miscavige (pictured above). Shelly's disappearance would be the final straw that pushed Remini to leave the church.

As described in an interview with People magazine, Remini went to Tom Cruise's wedding to Katie Holmes in 2006. As a major celebrity, Cruise is very important to Scientology, so it was immediately suspicious to Remini that David Miscavige attended, but his wife Shelly did not. When she asked other guests where her friend was, high-ranking church officials became hostile and told her to stop asking questions about Shelly.

Remini filed a missing persons report, but in 2013, the Los Angeles Police Department closed the case, ruling it "unfounded," suggesting that Miscavige is not missing (per The Hollywood Reporter). Tony Ortega's The Underground Bunker reported that Shelly was transferred to a secret Scientology compound, which is completely shut off from the outside world. Remini has stated that she fears Shelly Miscavige is not allowed to leave and may even be being "punished." Other than a few unconfirmed sightings, no one has seen Shelly Miscavige since the summer of 2005.

Disconnection changed everything for Leah Remini

The threat of disconnection kept Leah Remini in the church because she was aware that if she left, her friends and family would be forced to cut contact with her. As described in The Washington Post, after the birth of her daughter Sofia, the idea of disconnection drove her to leave Scientology.

As Remini described in an interview with NPR, she began to ask a lot of questions, including about Shelly Miscavige, and it had led to her whole family being questioned and interrogated by church officials. Remini feared that if she raised her daughter in the church, it would eventually tear them apart. She told The Washington Post: "I didn't want [Sofia] to be raised that way. Let's say in 10 years, if I didn't want to be connected with the church anymore, my own daughter would be taught to disconnect from me."

Remini and her family agreed to leave together, but that didn't mean that they were unaffected by disconnection. She has described how she was unable to invite any of her friends to celebrate her daughter's birthday because none of them were allowed to talk to her anymore. This included her goddaughter's mother. "I saw my goddaughter at my local coffee shop," Remini said in her NPR interview, "and I couldn't go and embrace her because her mother can't really talk to me."

She was estranged from her father

Leah Remini's parents split up before her mother moved the family to Scientology's headquarters in Clearwater, Florida. Her father, George, was never in Scientology, but that didn't stop the church from trying to use him to hurt her.

As detailed by Vice, Scientology is highly against the use of any drugs and goes to extreme lengths to demonize the use of drugs under any circumstances (even including ones prescribed by medical professionals). In her 2015 biography "Troublemaker," Remini attempted to disclose anything about her life that Scientology might reveal to discredit her so that readers would hear her side of the story. As described by reporter Tony Ortega's The Underground Bunker, Remini included some details about her father. While she didn't name him specifically, she referenced the fact that he had served time on Rikers Island for the sale of cocaine, among other things.

According to The Underground Bunker, individuals working for Scientology likely informed her father that she had talked about him in her book. They recorded an 18-minute video of George cruelly insulting his daughter. Scientology released the video shortly before Remini's special that attempted to expose some of Scientology's abuses was set to air. Remini's father because he went on to create several more videos for Scientology denouncing her, and The Underground Bunker speculates that he was paid by officials from the church.

She didn't know her father died

In September of 2019, a stranger reached out to Leah Remini's sister Nicole with condolences about their father's death. Neither of the sisters were aware their father had died. George Remini's funeral was over, and they would soon discover that he had been dead for a month, and no one had even told them that he was sick.

In an Instagram post, Remini spoke about her complicated feelings for her estranged father, saying (via People), "My father and I had a difficult relationship, but I always forgave him with a daughter's painfully endless love and hope. Regardless of his neglect and abuse, I had hoped one day to have some closure." While their bond was always difficult, she wrote that she was angry that Scientology had been able to control the end of their relationship, using her father as "a pawn" in its attempts to hurt her and making him a part of the church's "smear campaign" against her.

She still gets threats

It has been years since Leah Remini left the Church of Scientology, but she still receives threats. "I get threats," she told Us Weekly (via Newsweek). "They try to destroy our lives." The church has also released numerous statements attempting to undermine her integrity, calling Remini a liar and a "has-been" and accusing her of religious bigotry (via HuffPost). In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Remini said Scientology doctrine requires the "utter destruction" of anyone who publicly criticizes the church.

When Remini's hit docuseries about the abuses of the church was on the air, she said Scientology officials did everything they could to halt the show, including targeting its advertisers. She said that under the moniker of the "STAND league" — which claims to stand up for religious rights — they allegedly reached out to each company that ran ads during the series. According to Remini, almost 450 letters were sent. Scientology also created hate websites dedicated to discrediting Remini.

She is stalked by private investigators

Scientology is notorious for its use of private investigators, hiring them to harass former members and collect information on them (via The Daily Beast). Sometimes, Scientology hires investigators to collect information in discrete ways, such as by stealing the trash of former members. However, they also conduct what are referred to as "noisy" investigations (per The Underground Bunker). This often includes following their targets in obvious ways in an attempt to intimidate them. Although Leah Remini has been out of Scientology for years, she claims she is still regularly stalked by individuals paid by the church. During the production of her docuseries about Scientology, the production was often followed. "They weren't doing a very good job of being inconspicuous," Remini told The Underground Bunker. "I think they wanted to be seen."

In June of 2021, Tony Ortega reported for The Daily Beast that a pair of former police detectives had been paid their typical rate of $50 an hour to follow Remini in New York City. Leaked text messages from the private investigators reveal that they knew what hotel she would be staying at, who she would be with, and what they were doing. In the exchange's most disturbing message, one of the investigators told the other: "Word is they want to kill her. Or at least know what she's doing when in NYC."

In 2022, it was revealed by The Underground Bunker that one of the two investigators, Mike Greene, was unlicensed after he was accused of sexually assaulting another woman he was hired to follow.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).