“Nobody finds God on prom night,” Dennis Miller once joked — an insightful gag about the tendency of celebrities and other public figures to turn religious once their lives and careers are in a freefall, rendered doubly poignant by Miller’s subsequent turn from an equal-opportunity offender to a right-wing water carrier when the gigs dried up during the Bush years, but I digress. Point is, we’re big on ‘80s and ‘90s nostalgia around here, but as we look into the current whereabouts of celebs we remember from those years, we’re often surprised to find how many went and found God when the phone stopped ringing (or just before, which may or may not be a coincidence). After the jump, a brief selection of folks we remember from before they hit the Bible.
The most famous case of an ‘80s icon turned preacherman is, of course, the former Mike Seaver, who transformed from atheist to True Believer at the height of his Growing Pains fame and insisted the show’s storylines jibe up with his dogma. He’d also like America to do the same; he’s spent the years since Growing Pains and Like Father Like Son making “evangelical thrillers” and conservative documentaries, while speaking out against the evils of gay marriage, Darwinism, and atheism, which he tells us is unequivocally disproven by bananas.
When I was a teenager, the Baldwins were easily separated: Alec was the great actor, William was the heartthrob, Daniel was the one on TV, and Stephen was the cool one. He was in Posse and Threesome and The Usual Suspects, and if he did the occasional Pauly Shore movie, well, all was forgiven. But the projects started getting sketchier — he was the JV Rick Moranis in the long-forgotten Flinstones sequel, for example — and after 9/11, Baldwin made a very loud switch to Christianity. He wrote a book about it, The Unusual Suspect; he co-founded Breakthrough Ministry, whose AsSalt tour merges ministry with extreme sports (and they said it couldn’t be done); and he’s a regular on the talk show circuit, going out there every day and doing God’s work of driving his brother Alec crazy.
It seems like all of the guys we watched operating submachine guns and punching people out in the ‘80s turned out to be Republicans (no bigs, whatever floats your boat), but nobody went full-on wingnut quite like Mr. Norris, who championed the cause of evangelical Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, has spoken at the T.D. Jakes Ministry, pleaded with his fellow evangelicals last year to vote out President Obama (to avoid that whole “thousand years of darkness” thing), and even offers a Christian Resource Page on his website, offering “spirit filled audios, videos, articles & downloadable books to aid you in your daily Christian walk.” No word on what to use for your daily Christian roundhouse kicks.
Willie was the likable sidekick of Scott Baio (who’s become rather a colorful figure himself these days) in Zapped and on Charles in Charge, but when that show folded in 1990, “Buddy” was lost. Luckily, the Bible was waiting for him — Bibleman, that is. Bibleman was an “evangelical superhero,” whom Mr. Aames played in videos and live shows for several years. Actor Robert T. Schlipp took over the role in 2003.
Nobody in pop music was raunchier or steamier than Prince, who made plenty of coin off of tunes like “Darling Nikki” and “Gett Off.” But the hits dried up in the late ‘90s, and by the early years of the 21st century, stories were getting around that His Purpleness had retreated into his Jehovah’s Witness faith. In 2002, on his DVD An Evening with Kevin Smith, the filmmaker told the story of a bizarre trip to Prince’s compound in order to make a never-completed documentary testament to his faith. Then, the following year, a story broke that he was going door-to-door with Watchtowers in his hometown of Minneapolis — specifically, trying to convert a Jewish family just before Yom Kippour. He still does so occasionally, and reportedly cleans up his dirtier lyrics when performing them in concerts.
Vanity was one of the many lovely ladies who were mentored, and occasionally squired (that’s the classy way to put it, right?), by Prince during the ‘80s; as lead singer of his Vanity 6, she had a big R&B hit in 1982 with “Nasty Girl.” She had a few more hits and a few more high-profile paramours (including Billy Idol, Adam Ant, and Nikki Sixx) in the ‘80s, but mostly disappeared into drugs. In 1994, she renounced her name and her past, and became a born-again Christian. “When I came to the Lord Jesus Christ,” she explains, “I threw out about 1,000 tapes of mine — every interview, every tape, every video. Everything.” Which was kinda mean, because we’re betting there were some pretty good Prince bootlegs in there…
Cheryl “Salt” James
Like Prince, James — half (or, to hear Spinderalla tell it, one-third) of Salt-N-Pepa — had some pretty saucy hits back in the day, which she alters just a smidge when she performs these days. It had only been a couple of years since Salt-N-Pepa’s last big hit (“Whatta Man,” if you’re keeping track) when James left the group, announced she was born again, and took up a career in “gospel rap,” which is apparently a thing. Her biggest hit was the first, “Stomp,” which she performed with Kirk Franklin and God’s Property; she reunited with Pepa in 2007 for — what else — a VH1 reality show.
Chabert nearly gave her Party of Five co-star Jennifer Love Hewitt a run for her money in the racy-photo-shoot department, but (early on at least, in a web chat to promote that terrible Lost in Space movie) she proclaimed “Yes, I am a Christian. Jesus is the center of my life and I give God the glory for everything, for all my success.” After Mean Girls, though, God apparently decided she’d been given enough glory — but she does keep up a busy schedule of voice work, TV movies, and praying for Lindsay Lohan.
You may remember her as California Dreams bassist Tiffani Smith, or as little Susan Fisher on The Wonder Years, or from her eight-year run on Baywatch. Here’s what you might not remember about Kelly Packard: she converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as a teenager, and when she and her fella got hitched in ’97, they were not only married, but sealed, which is apparently a practice that goes back to the church’s more, um, controversial beginnings.
As an early member of Metallica and co-founder of Megadeth, guitarist Mustaine was a seminal figure in hair metal. Come to find out, though (sit down, you may not be prepared for this), he also had a substance abuse problem (enough of one to get him kicked out of Metallica — think on that for a second) and even dabbled in witchcraft. He hit bottom, so you know what comes next. “Looking up at that cross,” he would later say of his “born again” experience, “I said six simple words — ‘What have I got to lose?’ And my whole life has changed.” In true evangelical fashion, Mustaine is against marriage equality; in true nutjob fashion, he’s also a birther.
Additional research by Chloe Pantazi.