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How YouTube and the Internet Killed Tom Cruise, America's Last Movie Star

How YouTube and the Internet Killed Tom Cruise, America's Last Movie Star
The infamous couch jump.

It was Jason Tugman's first day of work. Almost a decade later, he still remembers the screams.

A former circus fire-eater, he'd taken a job as a lighting technician for The Oprah Winfrey Show after burning off a chunk of his tongue. The pay was $32 an hour and he didn't want to screw it up. But as Tugman carefully hung black curtains in Studio B, directly behind the orange set where Oprah taped, those screams wouldn't stop. The crowd sounded as if it might tear the building down.

"I could just hear the audience going absolutely apeshit," Tugman says. "Just the absolute losing of minds." He glanced at a monitor that transmitted a silent live feed. Tom Cruise was on a couch.

You can probably picture it in your head: Cruise, dressed in head-to-toe black, looming over a cowering Oprah as he jumps like a toddler throwing a tantrum. Cruise bouncing on that couch is one of the touchstones of the last decade, the punch line every time someone writes about his career.

There's just one catch: It never happened.

In May 2005, the same month Cruise went on Oprah, the world of celebrity changed. Perez Hilton and the Huffington Post launched, with TMZ right behind them, and the rise of the gossip sites pressured the print tabloids into joining them in a 24-hour Internet frenzy. Camera phones finally outsold brick phones, turning civilians into paparazzi. YouTube was a week old, and for the first time, a video could go viral overnight.

The Internet finally had the tools to feed us an endless buffet of fluff, chopping real events into flashy and sometimes false moments that warped our cultural memory. The first star to stumble in front of the knives was the biggest actor in the world, and the one who'd tried the hardest not to trip.

Tom Cruise had always been edgy around the press. When Risky Business turned him — a 21-year-old kid with three bit parts and one flop on his résumé — into an overnight sensation, he disappeared. "I'm not personally ready to do this," he told the film's publicity team. Instead of giving interviews and swanning around Hollywood with best friends Sean Penn and Emilio Estevez, Cruise ditched the flashbulbs and escaped to London, where he hid out for two years while filming Ridley Scott's ill-fated Legend.

By the time Cruise flew back to America, he was half-forgotten, a breakout talent who'd been shortlisted as one of 1983's "Hottest Faces" by the Los Angeles Times, only to vanish. Meanwhile, his buddies had been christened "the Brat Pack" and Penn was marrying Madonna, exactly the kind of splashy spectacle Cruise wanted to avoid.

To promote Top Gun, Cruise finally agreed to his first round of major interviews in 1986. He wanted to make one thing clear. "I want no part of that or this Brat Pack," he insisted to Playboy. "Putting me in there is absolutely absurd, and it pisses me off, because I work hard."

He didn't want to be a trend. He wanted to be a legend. That meant controlling his public image: no drunken nights, no false moves. The attention had to be on his work. After Top Gun became the no. 1 box office hit of 1986, Paramount offered to quintuple his salary if he'd rush into Top Gun 2.

Instead ,he agreed to play second fiddle to Paul Newman in Martin Scorsese's The Color of Money. Money versus Money, swagger versus respect. It's the most telling choice in Cruise's career. He seized the chance to learn from, and link himself to, the old-fashioned, closemouthed, actor he wanted to become. Forget the new Brat Pack — he'd be the last classic movie star.

"When I get to be Newman's age, I'm looking to still be playing the great characters he plays," Cruise said in his first cover story, for Interview (written by Cameron Crowe, his future Jerry Maguire director).

After The Color of Money, Cruise turned down more leading-man offers to take second billing to Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. Like Newman the year before, Hoffman won a Best Actor Oscar for the film.

Those awards might not exist without Cruise's selfless supporting performances. Cruise was proving he had the talent to work with the best and demonstrating his box office clout. His name on the poster not only got an oddball movie about autism funded; it made it the top-grossing hit of the year. Cruise was the rare star who used his power to make good movies that matter: He could both rescue Born on the Fourth of July from 11 years of development hell and turn in a barnstorming, heartbreaking performance that earned him an Oscar nomination.

But what he didn't do is equally striking: Cruise didn't make an action movie for the first 15 years of his career. Even in Top Gun, he never throws a punch.

"I'd been offered a lot of different kinds of action movies, but nothing really interested me," he explained to Boxoffice magazine in 1996. "I thought I'd seen it before." When he finally did launch an action franchise, that year's Mission: Impossible, he produced it and hired auteur Brian De Palma.

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70 comments
sc1946355
sc1946355

How are we to celebrate our "over-top" emotions? For example, do we turn the TV station when football player "spike a football in end zone or a basketball player "rocks" the basketball net or one of the golfer "fist pumps" as blood rush to their brain, etc? Do we really take time to "shame" them until they behave. Tom Cruise is one of our greatest actors and he is entitled to his emotions. 

victoriamcf
victoriamcf

@bimadew Very interesting, thank you. I've always enjoyed Tom Cruise the movie star

cliffsofmoher11
cliffsofmoher11

A.  Tom Cruise DID jump on the couch.  Twice.  Anyone can watch this on YouTube.  So this article lies. 


B.  Tom Cruise is seriously NOT the "Last Movie Star."  Robert Downey Jr. is a true Movie Star and has been far more popular than Cruise around the world for years now.  What about Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Jennifer Lawrence, any number of real stars that everyone recognizes and loves.

Tommy
Tommy

Think what you like. But Cruise is filthy rich. Who the idiot now 

venkatesh.tumu
venkatesh.tumu

Tom cruise is still a ROCKSTAR in India, inspite of the negativity surrounding Scientology and his movies continue to do well at INTERNATIONAL  Boxoffice. Just cool it of guys .......

Rest of the world Loves TOM CRUISE period.


Barry Braxton
Barry Braxton

He is the third wheel in the unholy trinity of bad actors who never should have acted: Warren Beatty, Richard Gere, and Tom Cruise. Keanu Reeves is like Sir Lawrence Olivier compared to these talentless buffoons.

Ebony Cereja
Ebony Cereja

The only I filmed I enjoyed him in was Eyes Wide Shut.

Maggie Joyce-Ruppert
Maggie Joyce-Ruppert

Unfortunately Tom Cruise is not and never was a good actor! His stick is smile or not smile, that's it! Add to that his overall oddness AND that is why people say what they say!

Timothy Akers
Timothy Akers

Village Voice, I'm unliking you! Tom Cruise ruined his own career and this acting did it. The only crappy PR is your own!

Isaac Sinn
Isaac Sinn

And how he killed last american sweet heartS.

Aaron Sharpe
Aaron Sharpe

I came across this same article a week or two ago and also disagreed with the premise. I've always thought that the disdain some folks seem to have toward Cruise is off base. He's a fine actor, and generally chooses good roles rather than just going for one action movie payday after another. His supporting role in Magnolia is, I think, his best work. And his hilarious turn in Tropic Thunder proved he can be funny as hell too. Of course, there is the Scientology weirdness ...

Dori Vasquez-Santarsiere
Dori Vasquez-Santarsiere

Seriously?!! I'm pretty sure he did that himself. His attacks on religions other than his own scientology as well as the field of psychology (including very personal attacks on the choices of other stars such as Brooke Shields) did it for many of us. I didn't see those online, I saw those from his own mouth on tv interviews and nobody made him say it. America's last movie star? This might call for an unlike.

Steve Renko
Steve Renko

His acting skills ruined the "Mission Impossible," movies. If he is no longer relevant as an actor, good. He was too self important and too cute in his movies. He didn't know how to get out of the way. In my own slanted opinion, he was not a great actor. He lost himself in his movies. No loss. The movies are better without him.

Bonne Kelly
Bonne Kelly

Tom Cruise is America's last movie star? He was tolerable in The Color of Money,Rainman,Jerry Mcguire because of the writers & script..Please don't ruin any more families..little boy ):

Dan Grossman
Dan Grossman

America's last movie star? Really. News to me. Brad Pitt is a movie star and he can actually act.

Isaac Sinn
Isaac Sinn

and how he killed Nicole, the world's last sweet heart.

Ted Cantu
Ted Cantu

I lost interest in this guy after this...... but it was building up for quite a while

Debby GreenDee
Debby GreenDee

This bs article again? What ruined him (as it should) is the fact that he is high up in and profits of a cult that has ruined countless' people's life's and is still ruining lives every day. I'll never watch a film with him ever again. He's partly responsibly for all that pain and sadness. Good on Katie Holmes to escape with her daughter before it was too late.

Lee Lorenz
Lee Lorenz

Tom Cruise is still making movies and is still the richest movie star. And he's not the last.

Hellskitchen
Hellskitchen

Since the article starts off with Tugman, I kept thinking it would get back to Tugman. When it did, it was a brief mention that he saw Cruise jump on a couch. Or not. Meanwhile, there's a lot of cutting and pasting, secondary interviews with people like Perez Hilton and speculation about how the Internet "killed" Cruise as a movie star. Except that the author several times mentions that he remains a huge box office draw whose name can open a movie. 


I admit it. I don't get it. 

DM10003
DM10003

My memory of that time is that America was catching up to his evasions and began to want him to show genuine mature feelings.

In stead we get a guy who shows little genuine interest in this woman and freaks out when pressed to prove he wants a future with her. Everything seemed so arranged and emotionally disconnected, and we knew a sincere person would have SAT on a couch and professed love, but theatrics were displayed as if they were the true content and we all saw through it.

The author says nothing about his telling Matt Lauer he was "glib" which further exposed Criuse's defensive and false core.

skram08
skram08

Is the author a Scientologist, by any chance?

TBQH I feel a little sorry for Cruise- I think he's quite a good actor (although he plays a very similar type- the damaged man who is decent underneath all of his brittle defensiveness), but he's out shined by his scientology beliefs. 

I sometimes wonder if he is a true believer, or if he is so under the thumb of scientology that he doesn't dare leave or speak ill of it. Either way, scientology has not helped his career in terms of public perception, no matter what he thinks or tells others.

mrpoizun
mrpoizun

Geez, I hope we're not expected to feel sorry for Tom Cruise.  Who knows how many hapless, helpless people have been sucked into the criminal scientology cult because of him?  His acting skills count for nothing next to the horrors that have resulted because of his recruiting people into his sick cult.

unclesmrgol
unclesmrgol

No, the Internet didn't "kill" Tom Cruise.  Tom Cruise "killed" Tom Cruise.  It's not cool to be a member of a religion which imprisons its children in a cultic setting (indeed, the religion is a cult -- its rituals are secretive and one can be sued for revealing them), and which has put a rattlesnake in someone's mailbox to kill them, and which forces its members to undergo abortions.


I'm a Catholic and my Church has much to atone for in the realm of priestly abuse.  But, by fits and starts, it is doing so.  The Church of Scientology, on the other hand, has no intention of opening up to the outside world or purging the evil from its soul.  Its practicing members have closed ranks to keep secret what thousands of apostate individuals have said.


While Cruise remains a practicing Scientologist, and their celebrity spokesperson and apologist, he must live, for better or worse, with the abuses of his church firmly attached to himself.

richardwad2u1
richardwad2u1

It's a good thing that we have something called MEMORY so that we can discern how inaccurate this Cruise-obsessed article is. The truth is, his movies were bringing in less and less money PRIOR to the Oprah incident. To say that this one Oprah episode sank him is completely false. Yes, we probably made a big deal out of it because there was already a lot of Cruise-fatigue out there, but the article makes it sound like all was going peachy until the mean ol' internet over-blew the Oprah couch thing. Nonsense. Tom Cruise made a personal choice to put his cockamamy, heavy-handed religion front and center. He also made a personal choice to chase down and sue gossip-mongers, unlike any celebrity before him. The public didn't look favorably upon either of these things. He was a big-shot celebrity taking himself WAY too seriously, who began making worse and worse choices for films. The public was souring and the films were no longer bringing in enough to justify his outrageous salary demands. THEN the couch thing happened. Paramount wouldn't have ditched him if he was still the cash cow he had been. To imply, in this article that "the films were still doing fine but Hollywood just didn't like him anymore" is LUDICROUS and FALSE. 

TerryWard
TerryWard

all of us who were ~in~ war of the worlds were dismayed at the PR flops: few tv commercials except one big budget-blowing superbowl ad (while spiderman III was appearing everywhere --ads and junkfood crossover promos and crap) and then the oprah fiasco. your article is insightful in showing how the TC image paradigm shift couldn't have happened just one year earlier, how youtube and web-gossip and memes upended so much, and how switching PR people was ruinous. thanks for your history of media events we saw but did not fully understand at the time.

(from one of the Final 100 and Final Fifty super-late-night die-hard extras who got to sing 'happy birthday' to SS while TC led the singing during the war of the worlds filming.)

cruisedirector
cruisedirector

I love when "professionals" write articles/books on celebrities that aren't even so much attempts for the writers to get rich and famous themselves as to bring the writers to the attention of the adored subjects and become appreciated by said celebrities. Don't they know that if someone like Tom Cruise wants to feel respected and adored, he only needs to find the appropriate Tumblr tag?

marygannon
marygannon

I think it would have been a more interesting story about the lighting technician Jason who burned his tongue and ended up on Oprah/


This is so obviously an attempt to position Tom Cruise for a new public perception.  

jonathan.nyc
jonathan.nyc topcommenter

I wonder how crazy this looked before the editing process. 

 

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