Scientology Deathwatch: Kenickie Edition


Sad news this morning that Jeff Conaway has been in a deep coma for several days and is not expected to live.

Those familiar with Conaway’s eternal problems with substance abuse will perhaps not be surprised to hear that an overdose of painkillers has him at death’s door. Reporters are asking his representatives if the fatal dose was a suicide attempt, but really, that’s a pointless question if you know addicts well. Conaway’s life was one long suicide attempt, as became clear in his disturbing appearances in Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.

Conaway’s career problems are equally well known. The guy just never seemed to get the break he was angling for. When the television series Taxi started, Conaway’s character was its star, but he soon faded to the background as Judd Hirsch took over the central role. In Grease, Conaway’s Kenickie was a good pal to John Travolta’s Danny Zuko, but Conaway himself never got the right chance to shine in a good film.

Travolta, however, brought Conaway into Scientology and its overhyped “purification” methods of treating addiction, as Conaway revealed a few years ago. Well, good for Travolta for trying to help his old co-star, but apparently nothing was going to stop the 60-year-old actor from doing himself in.

Hearing about Kenickie’s imminent demise, we couldn’t help wondering just how close Scientology itself is to going on life support. With assassination attempts in Tel Aviv, top former executives leaking damaging documents stateside, and ever-shrinking numbers of actual active members, David Miscavige’s wacky cabal sure seems like it could use some oxygen and an IV drip.

Update: Dr. Drew Pinsky tonight tweeted that rumors of Conaway’s demise are greatly exaggerated! “Just visited Jeff Conaway.He is stable & looks like he will recover from his pneumonia.Not an OD like press is alleging & certainly not dead,” he wrote.

Well that’s a relief.


Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he’s been writing about Scientology at several publications. Among his other stories about L. Ron Hubbard’s organization:

The Larry Wollersheim Saga — Scientology Finally Pays For Its Fraud
The Tory Bezazian (Christman) Story — How the Internet Saved A Scientologist From Herself
The Jason Beghe Defection — A Scientology Celebrity Goes Rogue
The Paul Haggis Ultimatum — The ‘Crash’ Director Tells Scientology to Shove It
The Marc Headley Escape — ‘Tom Cruise Told Me to Talk to a Bottle’
The Jefferson Hawkins Stipulation — Scientology’s former PR genius comes clean
The Daniel Montalvo Double-Cross — Scientology lures a young defector into a trap
A Church Myth Debunked — Scientology and Proposition 8
Daniel Montalvo Strikes Back — Scientology Hit with Stunning Child-Labor Lawsuits
When Scientologists Attack — The Marty Rathbun Intimidation
A Scientologist Excommunicated — The Michael Fairman SP Declaration
The Richard Leiby Operation — Investigating a reporter’s divorce to shut him up