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Celebrities who are Buddhists

...with an assessment of the degree Buddhism is a part of each of their careers.

by Tom Armstrong, posted Mar 8, 2005
Google Web
Google News
Celebrity Buddhist Web Hits with Bud % w/Bud News Hits with Bud % w/Bud
Adam Yauch
MCA, Beastie
- "AY"&MCA
     Total *


Richard Gere 573,000   17,700   3.1%   833   16   1.9%  
Steven Seagal 235,000   4,880   2.1%   36   1   2.8%  
Laurie Anderson 223,000   3,530   1.6%   37   1   2.7%  
Leonard Cohen 773,000   11,600   1.5%   77   4   5.2%  
Keanu Reeves 914,000   8,830   1.0%   760   3   0.4%  
Kate Bosworth 262,000   2,600   1.0%   521   2   0.4%  
Michael Stipe 174,000   1,500   0.9%   45   0   0.0%  
Mark Wahlberg 316,000   2,480   0.8%   188   2   1.1%  
Uma Thurman 699,000   5,630   0.8%   627   2   0.3%  
Tina Turner 1,070,000   5,340   0.5%   288   1   0.3%  
Orlando Bloom 2,160,000   6,270   0.3%   604   2   0.3%  
Jennifer Lopez 4,290,000   10,100   0.2%   1,860   2   0.1%  
Patti Smith 484,000   900   0.2%   73   2   2.7%  
with Bud: Means the number of hits when the search is for the celebrity's name (as a phrase) plus EITHER the word Buddhism OR Buddhist.
% w/Bud: Percentage of hits "with Bud" of total hits for celebrity's name.
* Adam Yauch was complicated to assess because he is known as both Adam Yauch and as MCA of the Beasties. To get to the data we wanted, we assessed 'Adam Yauch' and 'MCA, Beasties' separately, and then subtracted the overlap. Whew.
** Note while the numbers in this chart are fixed, the google result behind each count is in flux. You can see what the counts are right now by double-clicking each linked number.

Buddhism is often tarred with the charge that it attracts a great many celebrities -- the idea being that Hollywoodland is full of glamour pusses whose attraction is a shallow interest in the latest chichi fad. So, the logic goes, Buddhism is itself wildly weird, a concoction made of packaging peanuts and whipped cream with a topping of sprinkles.

The contrast this past year can seem to prove the charge. The quite serious Catholic, Mel Gibson, makes a bloody serious film -- so serious it is even in Aramaic! -- that shows the TRUE, previously-unrepresented-in-celluloid last days of Chist's life, in all its gory, passionate and antisemitic glory. Meantime, Buddhadom kicks up "I Heart Huckabees," with a goofy icon substituted for the word Heart, Lily Tomlin upsidedown in a dumpster, and a lot of self-indulgent weirdness and with a peevish sense of irony/humor. If you don't laugh heartily enough at Jude Law screwing up his face, or Mark Wahlberg bopping Jason Schwartzman with a red rubber bat on the picnic-table bench, people might guess that you just don't get it -- that you aren't sophisticated enough to see that the Emperor is wearing new clothes, and not no clothes. [Actually, I liked "Huckabees" -- a lot -- but it was still a jokey mess that reflected badly on Buddhism and New Age madness and whatever else got splattered in this slipshod film.]

Let us then look at the Tinseltown moths that flitter around the white light of Buddhism. From a googling of websites that come up on a search of "Buddhist, celebrities," we found lists enabling us to amass the thirteen prime Buddhist celebrities on the chart at right. Some are cited as Buddhist leaders: Richard Gere is often in the company of the Dalai Lama and has a foundation in his name to aid Tibet and other most worthy causes; Tina Turner, if you believe Tricycle writer Jeff Wilson, has helped to bring the dharma to the South; Keanu Reeves is now working with Gere on a project to make a film in India about the Buddha's life.

Using The Science of Google, we have tried to separate out those more-serious Buddhist celebs from the mere lay Bud glitterati. We think the division comes when a Buddhist celebrity has more than 1.25% of the thousands of webpages that mention his/her name also use either the word Buddhism or Buddhist. These more-serious Buddhists have comfortably mixed their spiritual life with the craft that first brought them fame. The others, with a less than 1.25% bud index, separate their spiritual/personal life from their career.

We think our chart measures something meaningful, though admittedly, once having run our numbers, we may be rationalizing the data, somewhat. But the data does seem to make a kind of sense:

Adam Yauch organized a concert for Tibet and for someone in his profession (a rapper) his religion is deliciously interesting. Gere, Seagal, Anderson, and Cohen each allow Buddhism to be a big part of their persona.

Keanu Reeves is increasingly becoming known for being Buddhist. Kate Bosworth has taken an interest in Buddhism, but probably has a rather high %withBud because she is Orlando Bloom's girlfriend. Stipe is known to be Buddhist, but (to my knowledge) it's not visibly a part of his music nor does he involve himself frequently in Buddhist-organization fundraisers.

Mark Wahlberg very recently became Buddhist, a result of his involvement with "I Heart Huckabees." Uma Thurman certainly is Buddhist. (She's Robert Thurman's daughter, for crying out loud.) But her celebrity seems very apart from her Buddhism activities. She has taken many parts in very bloody films; she's no softy, that's for sure.

Tina Turner is strangely, oddly cited as a Buddhist leader -- but, in fact, this is pretty much solely because of the film of her life, "What's Love Got to Do with It?," and, perhaps, telling something of the specifics of her practice during a segment of "60 Minutes." The core of her celebrity -- her music -- and her religious life are not closely intertwined. And news reports to the contrary, she is not a Buddhist leader, though many may have converted to Buddhism after seeing the popular film of her life, starring Angela Bassett.

Orlando Bloom is enormously popular, but not for being Buddhist. Jennifer Lopez is spectacularly popular, but only recently took up an interest in Buddhism after starring in a movie recently with Richard Gere. Patti Smith is someone who doesn't tie Buddhism in with her career.

To sum up: Some celebrities have gotten so caught up with Buddhism, it vividly colors what they do in their career. Others are open about about their Buddhism, but their career is significantly 'a life apart.'