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10 Celebrities That Have Cult Followings
Having a cult following as a celebrity doesn’t always imply Charles Manson and Jim Jones. Sometimes it just means that you have a loyal group of fans who love to see everything you’re in. Why? Because you’re quirky, good at what you do (unless you’re Tommy Wiseau), probably have something to do with science fiction or horror films, and are otherwise an interesting person. Heck, you don’t even have to be alive to have a cult following. All your fans need at that point is a complete set of your work and a TV or computer.
Now, some celebrities are more cultish than others in terms of their fanbase—and that’s not always a good thing (fanfiction is…a rabbit hole)—but the ones on this list are more of the mainstream kind. The cult following is there, but they aren’t entirely relegated to indie and B-list films.
With that, here are ten celebrities who have cult followings.
10 Zoe Lund
One look at Zoe Lund, and yes, that’s a cult film actor. Her unique appearance and style, which fits the description of 1990s hipster perfectly, makes her the perfect fit for cult and indie films. Though she doesn’t have an extensive resume—unfortunately, she died due to a cocaine-induced heart attack at the age of 37—two cult film classics stand out: Ms. 45 and Bad Lieutenant. Because of her popularity in the movies, she is directly associated with director Abel Ferrara’s work.
9 Bela Lugosi
The horror movie icon, best known for playing Count Dracula in 1931’s Dracula still reigns supreme after all these years. His depictions of classic horror characters have terrified, entranced, and charmed audiences for decades. Unfortunately, he was always seconded and given minor roles because of his thick Hungarian accent. Still, it’s Bela Lugosi who Bauhaus sings about, not Boris Karloff, and it’s this Dracula who audiences watch old-timey monster movies for.
Harris Milstead, better known as the actor, singer, and drag queen Divine, should be numbers 1 through 10 on this list, but this isn’t a top 10 Divine facts list. Divine was one of John Waters’ favorite actors, and for a good reason. (S)he could fearlessly do what the script required, no questions asked. For those familiar with Pink Flamingos, you know the scene to which I’m referring. To those unfamiliar, look up Divine “dog poop.”
Divine’s life was filled with the excitement of drag, disco, and drugs. But the actor suffered from depression as his disco career ended, and he found it harder to land acting jobs. Shortly after the release of Hairspray, he died of a heart attack related to an enlarged heart.
The legacy Divine left behind was a counterculture icon, the inspiration behind Ursula’s look from The Little Mermaid, and a fan base with strong stomachs and undying dedication.
7 Nathan Fillion
I say “Nathan Fillion,” you say “Firefly.” That’s just how it goes. I don’t know what else he’s been in other than that—who am I kidding! Yes, I do: Modern Family, Santa Clarita Diet, Gravity Falls, Con Man…the list is pretty long, so why is his following cultish?
Because his fans loyally follow him wherever he goes. Between Josh Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, Fillion amassed a niche audience who didn’t even know they liked vampires or space westerns. This could just be the result of good writing on Whedon’s front, but there’s no denying that Fillion went along for the ride.
6 Dennis Hopper
You can spot a Dennis Hopper film from a mile away, a true enfant terrible—watching his work is like taking acid, cocaine, and a punch to the face simultaneously. And his followers can’t get enough of it.
Hopper’s passing in 2010 from prostate cancer reminded everyone, not just his niche following, just how larger than life he was. He was a painter, photographer, and modern art collector. He was also a well-known drug and alcohol abuser at the beginning of his career. He’s acted alongside James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause and Giant and really made his mark in the cult/indie film world with Easy Rider. Dennis Hopper is so indie that he starred in Neil Young’s mostly unknown movie Human Highway as a cook.
After a successful stint in rehab, he focused on directing some of the 1990s’ best and worst (looking at you, Super Mario Bros.), films including Speed, Waterworld, and True Romance.
5 Peter Weller
Peter Weller, why does that name sound familiar? Because he was Robocop. Robocop was a cult hit, and by relation, Peter Weller ended up a cult hit too. The science-fiction actor has left his mark in the world of futuristic 1980s television and beyond, and those who appreciate the genre know how significant he is. But his appeal is two-fold.
First, there’s a camp to the roles he plays, the kind of forgivable camp that was seemingly required for all ’80s science fiction actors (the furrowed brow, hard stares, and futuristic moods). But his camp was better than others; it didn’t feel as put on. As a result, he maintained appeal as an actor, fitting into more diverse roles on shows and movies like Sons of Anarchy, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Mighty Aphrodite.
Second, Weller is, well, good-looking. Yes, he’s old now, but you don’t understand.
When he played Buckaroo Banzai in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, his character was supposed to be multi-talented, extremely intelligent (Weller has a Ph.D. in real life), and a handsome scientist and hero. Okay? He’s hot. Even Ali McGraw would agree with me.
So yes, Robocop is cool and all, but Peter Weller was nice to look at. Don’t judge my cult worship, people.
4 Danny Trejo
Looking for a cult celebrity who met a cult leader? Hi, Danny Trejo. Apparently, Trejo met Charles Manson in prison. Manson then hypnotized him to make him feel high. Cool.
Outside of a reputation for being one of the nicest celebrities you could meet and a jaw-dropping past, Trejo is a cult celebrity because of his involvement in cult films. Otherwise, we’re pretty sure he’d be more than cult status. He’d be regular famous. Still, Trejo “regular?” I don’t think so.
Trejo’s standard typecast is the bad guy you love to hate and love to love. He has a signature scowl and long, dripping hair, with a voice full of road grit and danger. The badass roles he has played are iconic and well-loved by followers of the Sons of Anarchy and Machete franchises, and he keeps the character going. He’s appeared in Breaking Bad, co-starred in Death Race, and is Mr. World in the third season of American Gods.
But behind the fierce facade is a man who has helped people battle drug addiction, runs a taco truck franchise (Trejo’s Tacos), and is a devoted father of three.
3 Lucy Lawless
Xena: Warrior Princess was a 1990s kick-ass, feminist-fantasy TV sensation. It blended mythology, sexy battle garb, action, and a redemption story. The battles were hard, dirty (get your mind out of the gutter, not that kind of dirty), and required the physical strength historically ascribed to male action heroes. Xena was, and always will be, a warrior first, princess second.
Because the show’s popularity coincided with the rise of the Internet, it was one of the first cult shows where people could virtually discuss it. And so Lucy Lawless, the actor behind Xena, built herself a following of first-generation Internet subcultures, whether it’s because she represented the strength of a woman or because she was the perfect fit for the role.
Today, Xena: Warrior Princess is a show people binge to get a taste of the sensation it once was. People enjoy it more for its dated aesthetic (similar to Barbarella), but the love of Lawless is strong. She’s since appeared in Battlestar Galactica, Salem, and Ash vs. Evil Dead and continues to act both in stage shows (Broadway status) and TV. Lawless even had a semi-successful singing career. Like our next celebrity on this list, she is an icon for the LGBTQA+ community.
2 Judy Garland
Judy Garland wouldn’t be considered a celebrity with a cult following in her heyday. She was simply an A-lister—everyone followed her. But as the generations grew older and the popularity of movie musicals fizzled out, her presence in the mainstream turned incredibly niche. Garland now has a massive cult following, completists knowing that there is way more to her than The Wizard of Oz.
Garland’s life was far from perfect; certainly no Mickey Rooney fairytale. She battled with substance abuse, as was somewhat expected of Hollywood women at the time, to stay thin, but she could not recover from it. Garland died of an accidental overdose from barbiturates, possibly made worse by a struggle with bulimia. Her marriage was also not a happy one.
Despite this, though, she was an absolute sensation. The Judy Garland Show on CBS was one of the biggest talent deals to hit television, and her 1961 performance at Carnegie Hall is considered one of the greatest nights in the history of show business. She also had a massive following in the gay community and still does.
Though historians can’t quite identify why Garland is a gay icon, several possible reasons include the Stonewall Inn riots coinciding with her death and funeral.
1 LeVar Burton
Take a look, inside a book; it’s Le-Var Bur-ton. LeVar Burton will forever be the actor we love as children and adults and eventually geriatrics. And yet, despite his mainstream appeal and massive success on shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation and Reading Rainbow, no one talks about him unless he is spoken about.
Though Burton has a running list of movie and TV show appearances pre-Star Trek, his success as Geordi La Forge has successfully kept him the subject of science fiction show conversations. A cult figure. Yet, Burton is everywhere.
He’s guest-hosted Jeopardy, played MLK Jr in 2001’s Ali; he’s taught a MasterClass on storytelling and cameoed as himself on Community and The Big Bang Theory. Reading Rainbow remains one of the most popular Millennial-aged cult children TV shows out there, and he’s even reached a new generation of kids by providing the voice for Doc Greene in Transformers: Rescue Bots.
But again, he will forever be, above any other character, Geordi La Forge. He is the next generation of Star Trek royalty, having played a groundbreaking character, only one of seven principal black characters in the entire franchise. He gave us hope for medical innovations to treat blindness and showed that being born differently abled doesn’t limit one’s potential.
LeVar Burton is the ultimate cult celebrity, on the Bridge, at the game show podium, and behind a book.