Leah Remini rose to fame as Carrie Heffernan, the tough-talking wife from Queens on CBS’s The King Of Queens, whom she played for nine seasons. Off-camera, Remini was a member of The Church of Scientology, and when her affiliation with the organization came up in interviews, she was quick to dismiss any criticism. When speaking with CNN in 2001, for example,the TV star challenged the religion’s detractors to "know what you’re against" before they start making judgments. "If somebody is going to get turned off about something because of what they read or heard, then that person’s not smart enough to even enter a church," she said.
A little over a decade after that chat with CNN happened, Remini’s life changed drastically: As Page Six reported in 2013, she parted ways with Scientology because, as a source told the outlet, she wanted to sever ties from "a regime she thinks is corrupt." After she left the organization, the truth about Remini’s life within the religion that she’d been a part of since childhood came out. Scientology is at the root of much of the pain Remini has suffered, but it’s not the sole cause of all of her strife. Let’s take a look at the tragic life of Leah Remini.
Leah Remini was estranged from her father
Upon leaving Scientology in 2013, Leah Remini was on a TLC reality show with her family called It’s All Relative. For two seasons, she starred alongside her husband, Angelo Pagan and their daughter, as well as members of her extended family, including her mother, stepfather, and one of her sisters.
Missing from the show George Anthony Remini, Leah’s biological father. George split up with Leah’s mother, Vicki Marshall, when Leah was young, and he was estranged from the family ever since. "It’s funny; somehow my father, the guy who left his kids and never paid child support, was excluded from my resentment and I grew up resenting my mother for not being home to make food, like all my friends’ moms were," the actor told BuzzFeed in 2014.
He was never a member of the church, but in 2017, George and his wife Dana bashed Leah in an interview with the Church of Scientology International. One of the most serious allegations he made against his daughter was that she never paid his cancer testing fees that she promised to cover. He claimed he couldn’t get the biopsy until a year after he asked for her help, and alleged that her failure to come through with the money is part of the reason he got sick. "Now I don’t have a daughter."
Leah Remini learned of her father’s death after the fact
George Remini wasn’t a member of Scientology, but Leah Remini believes the organization fueled their estrangement. In September 2019, Leah shared on Instagram that she learned about her father’s death a month after his passing. She wrote, "I received a message from my sister Nicole, who had been contacted by a stranger passing on his condolences for the passing of our father, George Anthony Remini." Leah added that they "had no idea that he had died a month ago." She acknowledged their estrangement but wanted a chance to heal. "He was not able to redeem himself, to ask for forgiveness for his failures and hurts, to become a better man to those of us who couldn’t help but love him," she said.
Leah wrote that she "hoped to one day have some closure" but "the last chapter in our relationship was dictated by Scientology." She alleged the church used her father "as a pawn" and "got him on board not with their beliefs but with their smear campaign." The actor said she "would have forgiven him" if given the opportunity, even though "after taking the offer from Scientology to betray me, he wouldn’t have thought that he could ever come back from that in our relationship."
"The little girls inside of my sisters and me will never forgive Scientology for taking away our last chance to have the one thing we always wanted from our father," she wrote.
Leah Remini lost a sister to cancer
In December 2013, Leah Remini’s sister, Nicole Remini tweeted, "Today we lost our 35 year old sister to cancer. Please consider donating on her behalf," sharing a link to donate to Stand Up 2 Cancer. She was referring to Leah’s half-sister Stephanie Remini, who was initially diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2012 before doctors discovered growths in one of her lungs, her left hip bone, and her spine, per Radar Online. In 2016, Leah posted a tribute to her late sister on Instagram for National Siblings Day. "A little throw back action and love to all of my sisters," she wrote, under a collage of her siblings, tagging them an including the hashtag "RIPStephanie."
Leah’s stepmother, Dana Connaughton, claimed in a 2017 video posted by the Church of Scientology that the sisters may have been estranged, too. "Leah did not assist Stephanie Remini with money when Stephanie had cancer," Connaughton alleged. "She said, ‘Get charity care.’" In the aforementioned video, to Leah’s father, George Remini, claimed, "She never liked Stephanie … ’cause she saw herself in Stephanie." No matter what the state of Stephanie and Leah’s relationship, it is a tragedy when cancer takes a life too soon.
Leah Remini’s life in Florida wasn’t exactly sunny
When Leah Remini was in elementary school, her mother, Vicki Marshall, joined Scientology. Remini followed suit, and their family eventually moved to the church’s compound in Clearwater, Florida, where, as Remini recalled to BuzzFeed, they "were working from morning until night with barely any schooling." In 1983, then 13-year-old Remini relocated from Florida to Los Angeles because of the conditions at the compound. "We went from a middle-class lifestyle [in Brooklyn, New York] to living in a roach-infested motel with six other girls off a freeway in Clearwater," Remini told BuzzFeed of initially moving to Florida. "We were separated from our mother. We had to sign billion-year contracts we didn’t understand. And we kept saying, ‘Why are you doing this to us? Why are we here?’"
Remini’s sister Shannon Farrara was an infant at the time, and Remini recalled what the baby endured at the compound in 2015’s Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology. She noted "some random teenage Sea Org member" was in charge of the nursery, adding, "Shannon was crying and soaked with urine in her crib….The neglect was overwhelming."
After winning an Emmy in 2017 for Leah Remini: Scientology and The Aftermath, her three-season-long A&E series that allowed former Scientologists to speak out about their experiences in the organization, Remini jokingly ribbed Marshall in her acceptance speech. "Mom, thank you. You are officially forgiven for getting us into a cult," she said, according to Deadline.
Leah Remini’s Sea Org memories are harrowing
Leah Remini’s negative experiences in Scientology were not limited to poor living conditions. As a teenager, she was a member of the church’s Sea Organization, "a religious order for the Scientology religion and is composed of the singularly most dedicated Scientologists—individuals who have committed their lives to the volunteer service of their religion," according to the official Scientology website. According to Remini, members are also allegedly subjected to physical abuse. In Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology, she claimed Sea Org leader Mike Curley threw her overboard when the group was out on the ocean in a speedboat because she did not say "yes sir." She continued, "The shock of the moment and the freezing water took my breath away, and for an instant, I thought I was going to drown."
Remini also wrote that once her acting career was off the ground, she was apparently forced to pay $40,000 to the church for "food I stole twenty years earlier." That would probably buy her a building full of hamburgers and custard, the food she admitted to stealing when she was a hungry Sea Org member in the ’80s.
In 2015, the church addressed Remini in a lengthy statement, calling her account "revisionist history."
Scientologists don’t wanna have fun
As Leah Remini shared in Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology, the psychological scars she developed from her time in the church run deep, and she’s spent the years following her departure acclimating to her post-Scientology life. She told People in 2017, "You rebuild slowly. It doesn’t happen overnight." Part of that adjustment includes going out with pals and enjoying herself.
"There’s no going to dinner with friends and having a glass of wine [in Scientology] — I never did that in my adult life," she said in a 2014 interview with BuzzFeed. "I always thought people who had a glass of wine at dinner were alcoholics." She explained to the outlet that many Scientologists don’t drink at all because "you can’t get counseling the next day at the Church if you’ve had a drink." She pointed out that being sober is not a bad thing, but the organization’s rule "prevents you from having fun because your mindset is to wake up early and go to the Church every single day. There’s a lot of work required to retain your place in the Church."
Remini also told BuzzFeed that competing on Dancing With Stars Season 17, where she and partner Tony Dovolani placed fifth, put her in touch with her fun, feminine side.
Some celebrities cut ties with Leah Remini
Scientology has prominent celebrity members, and when Leah Remini left in 2013, she lost many famous friends, including actor Kirstie Alley. On a 2013 episode of The Howard Stern Show (via HuffPost), Alley called Remini a "bigot" and asked, "If someone was out there [attacking your religion], would they be your friend? They wouldn’t be mine … It’s not selective, I just won’t have people in my life that are [bigots]."
In 2018, Alley tweeted a story that alleged Remini’s Scientology and The Aftermath co-host, Mike Rinder, assaulted his wife. (Rinder has denied the accusations.) "You have no balls on top of no integrity. You’re spreading false/defamatory info at the demand of your cult," Remini tweeted. During a Q&A session on Reddit, Remini was also very direct about how she felt about Tom Cruise when asked if he was a good person. "Just going to get straight to it, no!" she said. She also shared that "the people who are around Tom and work for Tom, not even people who are Scientologists, they will say he is diaboloical."
Regarding Remini, the church released a statement in 2015 in which they claimed she "now regurgitates the tired myths the Church has repeatedly debunked circulated by the same tiny clique of expelled former staffers bitter at having lost the positions they enjoyed before their malfeasance and unethical conduct were uncovered." The statement called these former members "deadbeats, admitted liars, self-admitted perjurers, wife beaters and worse."
Leah Remini’s husband does what?
When Leah Remini appeared on The View in 2015 (via DailyMail.com), Joy Behar addressed one of the many revealing excerpts from Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology. Behar asked about the part where Remini described herself as being "selfish and self-centered," admitted to "physically threatening people," labeled her husband "a serial cheater," and called her mother a "slut." It’s unclear whether Angelo Pagan has cheated on her or not, but Remini did share why she offered up these secrets so bluntly in her book."So I know how [members of the church] deal with people like me," she explained."They would take something out of context or in my confessions and put that on the street."
She recalled the story of how she met Pagan on RuPaul in 2019. "I was like ‘Damn! What time do you get off?’ she said of meeting him at a club in L.A. "Everything that you should not do as a girl is ask a guy when he gets off work, hit it real quick, and it was a lot of that." She also alluded to the rumors that their relationship began as an affair. "It’s a beautiful love story because we did have a hard time in the beginning," she said. "We didn’t meet under the best circumstances. We got counseling and it was not an easy road." No matter what the circumstances, Remini sure spills the tea on her personal life.
Leah Remini was fired from The Talk
Leah Remini was one of the original hosts of the CBS show The Talk, which began airing in 2010. Before the second season of the show, however, she and co-host Holly Robinson Peete were let go from the cast. Seven months later, she offered up the alleged reason why. "Sharon thought me and Holly were ‘ghetto’. . . we were not funny, awkward and didn’t know ourselves," Remini shared in a since-deleted tweet (via TV Guide). "She has the power that was given to her."
In a statement that went up on Facebook, Osbourne said, "Leah knows that I have never been in the position to hire or fire anyone on the show." She continued, "That being said, my only wish is that Leah would just stop all this negative, unprofessional and childish behavior. It’s been seven months. It’s time to move on. Leah is a very talented actress and I only wish her happiness and success."
On a 2015 episode of The Howard Stern Show, Remini admitted that her bluntness doesn’t make for the best daytime talk show decorum. "I am not good at interviewing celebrities…I want to hear the real sh*t." She didn’t like working around guests’ parameters for an interview and says she "absolutely" should have been fired. Remini only wishes Osbourne didn’t insinuate the was not genuine in interviews after the incident.
The part of Monica Geller almost went to Leah Remini
Here’s a little bit of Friends trivia for you. Leah Remini played a pregnant woman named Lydia on an episode that aired in 1995 called, "The One With The Birth." However, according to her book, Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology, she almost played another role on the hit sitcom: Monica Geller. She recalled walking out of the final round of network auditions with an unnamed actress, and they both figured they would find out who landed the part later on. As luck would have it, that was not quite the case. "We chatted on the way to our cars, wishing each other the best, and then we saw Courteney Cox walking toward us, then past us and right into the building. Motherf*cker! We both knew it right away: She had the part of Monica."
Losing roles is part of being a working actor, and yes, Remini eventually landed a lead role on The King Of Queens, which, like Friends, was a successful and beloved scripted comedy. That said, just barely missing a part on a show that immediately became such a cultural phenomenon has got to sting. Hey, at least she didn’t have to dance around with a turkey over her head.
Leah Remini’s rise to stardom wasn’t a fairytale
Remini told BuzzFeed that during her first audition, well-known casting director John Levey laughed at her— and not for reasons an up-and-coming actor would hope. "I went to the $5 clothing store, bought myself a miniskirt, some Skippies, and I walked into that audition being my most Brooklyn," she said. "I was being a total smart ass and John’s laughing, so I’m thinking, ‘This guy loves me and I’d be showing up on a set the next day.’" He would later admit to her that her audition was one of the worst he’d ever watched, but he liked her vibe so much that he "begged" for producers to cast her in her first role, a brief part on Head Of The Class.
"But, I do believe when it’s your turn, it’s your turn. I envision Hollywood as a race and some people simply drop off before their turn comes around. It’s all about stamina — your ability to get back up and keep going even though everything is pointing at the odds not being in your favor," she continued in BuzzFeed. She was cast on many short-run shows and failed pilots, but rather than give up, she kept moving forward. It’s an attitude that will get you far in Hollywood.
Leah Remini didn’t want The King of Queens to end
Nothing gold can stay, and the the hit CBS show The King Of Queens was no exception: In 2007, the sitcom drew to a close after nine seasons. And Leah Remini was not exactly on board with this decision. She said in a 2014 interview with BuzzFeed, "Kevin [James, her co-star] loved the show, but his film career was taking off and he didn’t want it to end up being the show that trickled off." She said that she eventually understood his logic, but that didn’t make the show’s end any easier for her. She said James "was right" about moving on, but she is "still mourning that loss." She also admitted that she does not watch King of Queens reruns because, as she put it, "I still feel that show in my bones."
Even though Remini and James reunited officially when she joined his show Kevin Can Wait as a regular in Season 2, sometimes lightning doesn’t strike twice: The show was canceled after Season 2. Remini’s recent credits include a supporting part in feature film Second Act, guest judging on The Masked Singer and Dancing with the Stars, and nabbing the titular role in the Mean Jean pilot. Alas, according to Deadline, Mean Jean never made it to air on Fox.