WHEN his business venture One.Tel ended in spectacular fashion and completely wiped out his personal fortune, billionaire James Packer fled to the United States.
It was 2002 and the son of media magnate Kerry Packer was in the midst of a complete breakdown, due to the very public collapse of the telecommunications company.
In the new biography The Price of Fortune: The Untold Story of Being James Packer, it’s revealed that Packer went to stay with his friend, Hollywood mega star Tom Cruise.
It was the Top Gun actor who introduced the Australian to the controversial Church of Scientology and the practice of dianetics.
The practice is the organisation’s take on treating mental health and Packer and then wife, model Jodhi Meares, were fascinated.
“There are some really insightful ways to view life and handle life, and that is really what Scientology is — particularly if you are going through a difficult time,” Meares told author Damon Kitney.
“It was interesting for me to go and look at Scientology. There was some really interesting stuff there and there were some really great people. It was quite helpful.”
As Packer struggled to cope with his world falling down around him, back at home his father Kerry — a notoriously stern and often fiery figure in his life — was curious about his son’s religious pursuit.
But as the book reveals, the old man received reassurances directly from Cruise himself.
“I went away for a couple of months in 2002 to America to do Scientology courses,” Packer told Kitney.
“I spent a significant amount of time with Tom Cruise and he was incredibly kind and generous to me. And he would actually ring my father … the biggest movie star in the world … would ring up dad and say, ‘James is a good person and he’s getting better.’”
During that dark period, friends of Packer feared he was at risk of taking his life, including former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett.
“When One.Tel collapsed, I ran into James down at the Capital Golf Course. He was on his own. He was absolutely desolate. He said to me, ‘I feel like a general without an army’,” Kennett revealed.
“Those words have stuck with me. He got into an awful spot then. He was absolutely suicidal at times.”
Packer described Cruise as “as good a friend as a person could hope to have” during that tough part of his life and the pair quickly became inseparable.
When his married to Meares ended, Packer once again turned to his famous mate and Scientology.
Late in 2002, apparently furious at his son’s business failure, his father sold the family’s stake in online auction website eBay without telling anyone.
He pocketed 20 million for the deal, but the business went on to be worth billions. The younger Packer was beside himself.
Their relationship remained strained for many years, until an uncharacteristically “beautiful” call between them in 2005.
The elder Packer told his heir apparent to carve out his own path in life over the course of their one-hour conversation.
“Twenty-four hours later, his doctor rang me and said, ‘Get on a plane, he’s only got 24 hours to live’. I got home and held his hand and he passed.”
At this point, Packer was dating the model Erica Baxter and Cruise was dating actress Katie Holmes, and the two couples were extremely close.
“Most importantly, in 2002 (Cruise) put me back together. He came to dad’s funeral, came to my wedding to Erica, and Erica and I went to his wedding with Katie.”
But as Packer began to drift away from Scientology, his bond with Cruise waned. Apart from a visit in 2009, as his US casino empire fell apart in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis, Packer has distanced himself from the organisation.
He and Cruise no longer speak after an abrupt end to their once-close friendship, which Packer had described as being like brothers.
“It’s his choice that we aren’t friends any more,” he told Kitney for the book.
These days, following a highly publicised breakdown this year, Packer has once again turned to spirituality for guidance.
Packer has the maharishi spiritual guru Thom Knoles on speed dial to provide him with advice and alternative therapies to treat his depression.
“He believes in me. He tries to help me manage my emotions and find more happiness,” Packer said.
The Price of Fortune: The Untold Story of Being James Packer is on sale now.