The Book of Mormon is the famous musical that has everyone talking. It’s the award-winning show now weaving its way around the UK with high anticipation. The stage satire from the geniuses of South Park and Avenue Q has filtered Mormonism in popular culture, witnessing a new wave of crowds filling theatres.
Albeit, not everyone’s there for educational purposes. But the show’s clever creators manage to spin a tale that unexpectedly rinses a positive outlook on Mormonism.
In fact, the Church of Latter Day Saints praise the show for helping to ‘spread the word’. This actually mirrors the plot of The Book of Mormon. Its central characters Elder Price and Elder Cunningham are sent on a mission to diffuse Mormonism in a remote village in Uganda. But far from what they expect, the pair instead face warlords, famine and disease.
The Book of Mormon isn’t the only entry by Mormonism into mainstream media. Dexter and HBO’s Big Love also feature characters or episodes that bring the religion into the limelight. However, they haven’t done so with quite the same flair as the musical.
Surprisingly, there are also many famous people within pop culture and the media that consider themselves Mormons. But not everyone knows. In fact even more celebrities were raised Mormons, but don’t necessarily follow the faith today. Ryan Gosling anyone? With such big names linked to the religion, Mormonism has been prolific in the media before the likes of Book of Mormon and other outlets, we just didn’t know it.
So we’ve listed the ten of the most famous celebrities who have practiced Mormonism below.
One of the most well-known of the list, Katherine Heigl is best remembered for her roles in Grey’s Anatomy, Knocked Up, Killers and The Ugly Truth. The actress was born in Washington but currently resides in the state of Mormonism; Utah.
Speaking about her faith In past interviews, Heigl has credited the religion for her values and helping her family cope with the tragic death of her brother. She claims to only have a little bit of Mormon left in her, but enough that she wanted to keep her marriage to singer Josh Kelley sacred by not living with him until after the ceremony. Heigl also stated that it gave her structure and discipline, and ‘a childhood that was a childhood’.
The Golden Globe-winner and six-time Oscar-nominee starred in a range of films. Her eclectic range of films include comedies (American Hustle), children’s films (Enchanted) and superhero movies (Man of Steel). The actress is Italian-born but began living in the US from the age of eight. Originally wanting to be a ballerina, she believed she was more suited to acting. If her accolades and starring roles are anything to go by, we agree!
Adams was raised as a Mormon up until her parents’ divorce. Similarly to Heigl, she claims the religion has given her a strong value system that she keeps to this day. From the basics such as treating others how you want to be treated, Adams still relies on Mormon teaching. She believes it shows how you can bring joy to people through being positive.
The American singer-songwriter has been under the limelight since 16 years old. He competed in a series of talent shows on TV, but most notably on American Idol in 2008. Despite just losing out to winner David Cook, Archuleta has a number of awards and a successful music career to date.
Moving at age six to Utah, the famous Mormon town, Archuleta grew up with the faith. Much of his music stems from the religion, in addition to his memoir Chords of Strength. He also served a full-time mission in Santiago, Chile, which he describes as a turning point in his life. In the aftermath of American Idol, he was a lost soul, but the mission helped him find himself again.
One of soul’s most legendary singers, Gladys Knight is the seven-time Grammy Award-winner with the unforgettable voice. Together with her band The Pips, Knight is an inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She’s also had chart-topping success with her R&B albums. Without a doubt, she’s among the greatest singers of all time. But as everyone knows the lyrics to ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’, not everyone knows the famous soul singer is Mormon.
Knight was originally a Baptist. But, after being introduced to the Church of LDS by her son Jimmy, Knight converted to the faith. She states that she faced lots of questions about entering Mormonism as an African American. Due to historical beliefs about black people as descendants of Ham, it was only in 1978 that African-Americans were allowed to become priesthood holders. Despite this, Knight claims she feels very accepted by the Mormon community. She continues to do outreach work with other African-Americans today.
The Hollywood actor has starred opposite Julia Roberts, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston and Christian Bale. Some of his films have been box office sensations, and Eckhart is firmly one of the hottest stars around. But his career has also had a rocky relationship with his Mormon upbringing.
Starring in playwright and ‘disfellowed’ Neil LaBute’s movies (In the Company of Men), Eckhart has been critiqued for his roles. Some show Mormon characters behaving outside of the church’s teachings, which is perhaps why he doesn’t claim to be a ‘practising Mormon’. He does note his religious roots are in his blood and bones. He believes in right and wrong and a higher power, but to Eckhart, spirituality transcends an organisation.
The late actor is best known for the Fast and the Furious franchise. Reprising the role of ‘Brian O’Conner’, Walker appeared in a number of the films opposite Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez. Sadly, Walker passed away after a car crash in November 2013. He’s remembered as a Hollywood great, but also as a charitable man.
Though Walker’s childhood household was Mormon. he not an active Mormon as an adult. He stated that he was still a Christian, and couldn’t understand atheism. This stems from his belief that all the nature around him couldn’t just be an accident. Though moving away from the Mormon faith shortly before he died, many attributed the famous actor’s generosity to his upbringing.
The Killers’ lead singer is perhaps one of the most surprising of our list of famous Mormons. With pulsating anthems we all scream along, The Killers are one of the famous rock bands of this century. After bursting on to the scene in 2001, their debut single ‘Mr Brightside’ is now the longest-charting of all time. From Las Vegas to Glastonbury, the Nevada band have played festivals and arenas across the globe.
Speaking about Mormonism, Flowers believes there’s a lot of misunderstanding around it. He states that this is because the faith was founded much more recently than Christianity. Joseph Smith was around in the 1800’s, which makes his revelations much easier to home in on for him. When it comes to being famous, Flowers draws on being a Mormon in Las Vegas as preparing him for the lion’s den. He further asserts that he would likely have fallen into the chaos of rock’n’roll lifestyles had it not been for the church.
Ever heard of a little old movie called The Blair Witch Project? We thought so! The cult horror film is one with the trend-setting, documentary-style, shaky-camera footage. Kevin Foxe is the executive producer behind the independent film and its sequel. He’s also the writer and director of fellow spooky flick The Ghost Experiment 3D. Although achieving success in the movie business, Foxe has remained close to his faith. He also actively promotes discussions about Mormonism.
Donny & Marie Osmond
Are these the most famous Mormons of all? The Osmond siblings are arguably the two most popular performers from their family. Their careers span decades, including everything from talk show hosts to Broadway musicals. Donny famously played ‘Joseph’ in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s renowned musical, while Marie garnered success as a country singer. Working side by side, they also had their own show – surprisingly called the ‘Donnie and Marie’ show.
Though the pair have consistently been surrounded by fame, they have never veered from their Mormon faith. In fact, Donny did not serve his mission so as to stay in the public eye. He chose to promote the faith by leading an exemplary life. Marie’s religious beliefs made headlines after her daughter announced she was a lesbian. However, Marie embraced her daughter’s decisions – which some argue goes against traditional LDS teaching.
Gaining fame in as ‘Faith’ in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Eliza Dushku became part of the fantasy drama Tru Calling. She also appeared in Bring It On and True Lies and various other comedies or horror flicks. She’s often cast as the ‘bad girl’ but her activism and work with survivors of war show her ‘tru calling’ as the good girl.
Dushku was raised in the Mormon faith, but doesn’t practice today. Reflecting on her time at church, she claims she had a crush on her local bishop – Mitt Romney (US Senator). Today, Dushku believes that while she knew him to be a nice person, she doesn’t find what he stands for to be tolerant or just. Continuing, Dushku asserts that one of her main problem with Mormonism is their stance on homosexuality and ‘other things’.
The actor has starred in some of TV’s most well-loved shows. His guest appearances include Grey’s Anatomy, Friends and CSI, and regular roles landed him in Mad Men, Judging Amy and Desperate Housewives. The Texas-born star has one of those faces you don’t forget, but little know much about his ties to Mormonism.
As one half of a gay couple in Desperate Housewives, Rahm’s character ‘Lee’ even jokes to ‘Suzan’ that he and his boyfriend are gay Mormons. But in real life, Rahm actually did practise the faith for a long time. As a teenager, he endeavoured to be a good Mormon, but didn’t feel completely satisfied. However, he reportedly refers to his LDS mission in France and Switzerland as ‘the best two years of his life’.
There’s hardly any need to introduce this pop princess, as nearly everyone has heard her unbelievable vocal range in songs like ‘Beautiful’ and ‘Lady Marmalade’. But often shocking to even her biggest fans, the ‘Dirrty’ singer was actually raised in a Mormon household.
Aguilera’s parents met at Brigham Young University, which is owned by the Church of LDS. They were devout Mormons, and married at the LDS temple in Washington DC. After their divorce, Christina’s mother was reportedly still receiving home teachings two years on. However, the singer does not claim to have been baptised in the church and formerly identified as a Roman Catholic.
From being the youngest cast member in Donny Osmond’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, to High School Musical to competing in ballroom dancing, Murillo is an all-round entertainer. Hailing from Hawaii, he’s also the youngest professional to compete on Strictly Come Dancing and part of boyband V Factory. Throughout his career, Murillo’s love life has been a focal point – linked to stars like former Coronation Street actress, Tina O’Brien and HSM’s Ashley Tisdale.
But behind Disney and Strictly, Murillo is also a devout Mormon. Much of his career stemmed out of Utah and Salt Lake City. His parents are also owners of Center Stage Performing Arts in Orem, Utah, which launched Julianne Hough, Derek Hough and Chelsie Hightower.
He’s the breakout star from Napoleon Dynamite and the voice of characters in Monster House, Surf’s Up and Pinocchio. Born and raised in the Mormon capital, the American actor and producer used the success of the infamous comedy to promote Utah’s State Fair. He also attended the LDS-owned Brigham Young University where he met his wife.
When it comes to his career, Heder believes his faith plays a role in his picking of acting parts. ‘It’s just who I am’, Heder expresses, as he claims his values, beliefs and decision-making are automatically intertwined with his LDS values.
It’s no surprise that much Hough’s acting roles involve a whole lot of dancing. The actress is a two-time champion of ABC’s ‘Dancing with the Stars’, and she’s also an Emmy Award winner for her choreography. Hough’s top acting roles include Footloose, Rock of Ages and Burlesque, but she also took non-dancing parts like the lead in Safe Haven.
Hough is another Utar-born star. Growing up in the region, her roots are firmly influenced by Mormonism. Though she doesn’t belong to the Church of LDS anymore, she – similarly to those who grew up with the faith – credits the religion for prompting her moral code.
Do we even need to introduce this man? The Notebook, La La Land, Drive, Crazy Stupid Love…Ryan Gosling has starred in many of the best films of this century, from romantic comedies to edgy indie flicks. He’s also one of the famous faces to have come out of Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club, alongside Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears, but not too many people know about Gosling’s link to the Mormon faith.
Before all the big blockbusters and the thousands of screaming female fans, Gosling was performing on a slightly smaller stage. He participated in talent shows at his LDS chapel, with a video surfacing recently showing Gosling and his sister singing ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’. He claims his Mormon childhood helped socialise him at a young age, such as public praying, public speaking and singing in church. This remains part of him today.
The violinist has popularised classical music on You Tube, with her video ‘Crystallize’ being in the top ten of most-watched videos on the platform in 2012. She’s also the winner of the You Tube Music Award for her covers of ‘Radioactive’ with Pentatonix. Stirling is a commercial classical success, topping charts with her albums and continuing to grow her booming You Tube fan base.
After attending Brigham Young University, Stirling served her missionary in New York. You can read about her experience in her compilation Do Not Attempt in Heels: Mission Stories and Advice from Sisters Who’ve Been There. She openly promotes her faith, participating in campaigns and TV shows. Stirling also claims that her beliefs were what helped her overcome struggles with anorexia in her school years.
There’d be no Bella and Edward without the creative genius of Stephenie Meyer. The author of the infamous Twilight series has sold over 100 million copies of the young adult fantasy book. The novelist’s work was also made even more prominent with the film adaptations starring a lusty Robert Pattinson, a moody Kristen Stewart and a buff Taylor Lautner.
Some recognise Meyer’s Mormon faith within the vampire (or warewolf depending who’s team you’re on) romance novels. Some references might be described as a little far-reaching – such as Bella warning her dad to cut back on steak as a Mormon teaching to eat meat sparingly. But others are a little stronger.
The Mormon faith believes that humans become divine, which is seemingly mirrored in the Cullen family becoming immortal. Additionally, a famous Mormon belief is that Moroni, a prophet who visited founder Joseph Smith, was ‘radiating light’ and ‘glorious beyond description’. Hellooo – have you seen Edward’s stunning and pale skin glitter in the sunlight?
Arguably less visible than the likes of The Book of Mormon, but Meyer’s Twilight series are another platform thrusting Mormonism into the limelight.
Dustin Lance Black
The American screenwriter and director has a great catalogue of work and an Academy Award to his name. Black won ‘Best Original Screenplay’ for Milk in 2008, and has remained a prolific writer since. He is also recognised as Olympic Diver, Tom Daley’s, other half, and they are both LGBT rights activists.
Black’s politics and passion have merged in the likes of Pedro, which profiles the life of AIDS activist Pedro Zamora. He has also used his Mormon upbringing to help write – specifically for the famous HBO series Big Love. The TV show follows a polygamous, fundamentalist Mormon family starring Bill Paxman and Ginnifer Goodwin.
Black recounts his difficult upbringing in his memoir Mama’s Boy. He depicts the difficulty of being a Mormon, part of a military family, and being gay. He insists he was devout to his faith as a child, but no longer follows the faith.
Curious to see more Mormonism in pop culture? Then why not get tickets to the record-breaking, award-winning Book of Mormon?