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How YouTube and Internet Journalism Destroyed Tom Cruise, Our Last Real Movie Star | LA Weekly

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I enjoyed the grantland piece from this book too

that was a great article!

Tom Cruise never jumped on the couch?!

When Cruise finally stands and grabs her shoulders — the moment that was remixed into "Tom Cruise Kills Oprah" — it's while jokingly begging if they can talk about his new movie, War of the Worlds.

It's a performance reminiscent of his Oscar-nominated role six years earlier as Magnolia's Frank T.J. Mackey. In that film, Mackey gets into a showdown with a pushy interviewer and deflects questions by showboating. When Mackey gets antsy, he does a backflip in his underwear. When Cruise doesn't want to say if he's marrying Holmes, he distracts attention by falling to one knee — a crowd-pleasing move Mackey stole from Elvis.

Neither he nor Oprah thought they were about to tape something that would have a life that stretched far, far beyond the people who watched her show on May 23. The crew didn't, either. After the interview, they didn't gossip about Cruise — they went to the season wrap party, where Oprah gave everyone a trip to Hawaii.

"There really was no water cooler talk," Tugman says. It wasn't until after the show aired that Tugman realized he'd been a witness to pop culture history: Tom Cruise scaring Oprah by jumping on a couch. Says Tugman, "I heard about it as more of an Internet thing and was like, 'Oh my God, I was there for that.' "

Except Cruise never jumps on a couch.

It is Oprah who seeds the idea that he should stand on it. She thanks Cruise for attending her recent Legends Ball, where she honored Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King. "I turned and looked at one point and you were standing in the chair going, 'Yes! Yes!' " she gushes to Cruise. "I loved that enthusiasm." Minutes later, he stands on the couch for a second, and after she and the audience cheer that, he does it again. When she continues pressing about if he wants to marry Holmes, he exhales, "I'm standing on your couch!" as if that's the answer he thought was enough. All told, Cruise on the couch — the key image of what the gossip blogs deemed his meltdown — is less than three seconds of airtime.

The distinction between standing and jumping is small but significant. We imagine Cruise bouncing on the couch — we can even picture it — because the Internet convinced us it happened. The echoing blogosphere screaming "Kills!" and "Jumps!" rewrote over what little of the actual episode people saw.

For two decades, Cruise had tried to keep the spotlight on his work. Now, it was fixated on him. Even the old guard — after years of chafing under his publicity restrictions, and finally freed from the need to appease the powerful Pat Kingsley — happily spun everything to fit the new narrative: Cruise was crazy.

Guided by his sister's inexperienced hand, Cruise could only oblige, proposing to Katie Holmes and then debating the use of antidepressants (which Scientology opposes), specifically by a postpartum Brooke Shields, on The Today Show with Matt Lauer.

Kingsley never would have let the Today footage air. But, of course, Kingsley wasn't there. "Afterward, I remember the PR people coming in and saying, 'Well, none of that stuff on Scientology and Brooke Shields, that's not going to be on the air,' " says Jim Bell, then executive producer of Today. "I started laughing and I said, 'That's probably going to be on a promo in about 30 minutes. It's going to be airing in a loop to get people to watch tomorrow morning.'"

Breathless for more clicks, the media questioned whether Cruise's wave of bad publicity would hurt the box office for War of the Worlds. Restless reporters analyzed everything down to the decision to leave Cruise off the poster (which had been designed months before, in January). When War of the Worlds opened to $64.9 million — Cruise's biggest opening ever — and went on to be his most successful film of all time, the story stubbornly refused to change. In op-eds across the web, the "fact" was that Tom Cruise had killed his career.

"I was a little upset — not at Tom but at the press, for making such a big deal out of a kind of small thing," War of the Worlds director Steven Spielberg told Newsweek.

Cruise kept quiet and focused on filming his next movie, Mission: Impossible III. Over the next year, he married Holmes and had a baby. Even with his near-total media silence, his personal life kept his name in the gossip columns. A year after his Oprah appearance, Mission: Impossible IIIset a record as Cruise's hugest non-holiday debut — but the media deemed it a failure. After all, they'd predicted it would open to more than $60 million domestically, which only War of the Worlds had ever done. (Mission: Impossible III remains Cruise's third-biggest opening weekend.)

Cruise hadn't hurt his career. But Hollywood was convinced he was poison, a religious fanatic, and possibly unhinged. Three months later, Paramount boss Sumner Redstone, who had partnered with Cruise's production company for 14 years, succumbed to the bad publicity and ended their professional relationship.

"His recent conduct has not been acceptable to Paramount," Redstone told the press. "It's nothing to do with his acting ability — he's a terrific actor. But we don't think that someone who effectuates creative suicide and costs the company revenue should be on the lot." In the six years before, Cruise's movies had made 32 percent of Paramount's revenue.

The Internet told us Tom Cruise killed Oprah. The truth is the Internet tried to kill him.

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