Celebrities who are (or were) JWs – Part 2

June 14th, 2009

For most of our readers who are fairly up to date on the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses, our last list of celebrities held no real surprises. Rock celebrities like Michael Jackson and Prince had well publicized relationships with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. George Benson and Jill Scott have maintained lower profiles and have kept whatever connections they have to the JWs more or less to themselves and have let their talents define them.

Mickey Spillane was our odd man out last time. Younger generations may not even know of him or his rough and tumble Mike Hammer crime novels. Those of us who were raised in the 1940s and 1950s remember him well.

This time we introduce five more celebrities (actually more than five, as you will see) that are, or have been, Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their names and reputations will be well known to most everyone, but their association with the Jehovah’s Witnesses less so.

Here is our second list of celebrity Jehovah’s Witnesses:

  • Venus and Serena Williams (athletes)
  • Wayans Brothers (actors, comedians)
  • Teresa Graves (actress)
  • Eve Arden (actress)
  • Ja Rule (rap singer)

  1. Venus Williams (1980 – ), Melbourne Australian Open 2010 Venus and Serena Chat [posted to Wikimedia Commons. Photographer Emmett Anderson]is a former #1 American tennis player and was ranked #3 in the world in 2009. She has won the Wimbledon singles title the last two years and is the reigning Wimbledon and Australian Open doubles champion. She is the older sister to Serena Williams (1981 – ), also an American professional tennis player. Ranked #1 in the world four times and was ranked #2 in 2009. She is the reigning US Open and Australian Open singles champion and has won 20 Grand Slam titles. She has won two Olympic gold medals in women’s doubles. Serena is the most recent player, male or female, to hold all four Grand Slam singles titles simultaneously. Both Venus and Serena received some questionable press coverage when during the Olympics they both proudly carried the American flag in front of an international audience,and Venus stood at attention and sang the national anthem. They claim to attend Kingdom Hall meetings, but their participation in field service has not been confirmed. [Status: Active]
  2. Wayans Brothers (and sisters): Damon Wayans, Dwayne Wayans, Keenan Ivory Wayans, Kim Wayans, Nadia Wayans, Marlon Wayans, and Shawn Wayans. Well known comedians, actors, filmmakers. Keenan was the originator of the break through Fox Television comedy show that was dominated by mostly African-American performers that included David Allen Grier, Jamie Foxx, and most of the Wayans family members – but also was the major force behind the breakout career of white comic actor Jim Carrey. Keenan, Damon, Marlon and Shawn have all gone on to productive movie careers as actors and producers. Most of the Wayans were born in New York City, offspring of Elvira and Howell Wayans, in a family deeply involved in the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion. [Status: Most Remain Active]
  3. Teresa Graves (1948 – 2002 ) was an American actress and singer. As the star of “Get Christie Love!” (1974), Graves is credited as being the first African-American woman to star in her own hour long drama television series. Graves began her career singing with The Doodletown Pipers, but soon turned to acting, becoming a regular on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Graves appeared in number of minor films before she got her role as the title character in the 1974 television movie “Get Christie Love!” She reprised that role in a short-lived TV series of the same name, but because she became a Jehovah’s Witness, she gave the producer a list of what she would no longer do as the character Christie Love, including killing bad guys or sexually enticing men. Her producer said that “Christie Love is a super-hip policewoman. But she doesn’t want to shoot or kill anyone? She won’t a have relationship with anybody, or be involved in any violence? You can’t do a police show based on that.” Producers tried to accommodate her, but the series was dropped after just one season. In 1983, she dropped out of show business completely to devote her full time as a Jehovah’s Witness. She lived the rest of her life in Southern California, taking care of her mother. In 2002, Graves died during a fire in her home. [Status: Deceased]
  4. Eve Arden (1908 – 1990) An American movie and television actress. Her career crossed most media frontiers with all kinds of supporting and leading roles. She is best remembered for playing the sarcastic title character, a high school teacher, in the classic “Our Miss Brooks” on both radio and television. Later she co-starred as the principal of Rydell High School in the films “Grease” and “Grease 2.” Arden published her biography, The Three Phases of Eve, notable for its discretion in regard to Arden’s many co-stars, and her loyalty to the Hollywood studio system that nurtured her career. She received an Academy Award nomination and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard. She was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1995. She was known to be a Jehovah’s Witness most of her life, but her funeral was was officiated by a Church of Religious Science minister. [Editor’s Note: Miss Arden’s son, Douglas West, disputes the information contained in this article segment. He writes, “My mother was Eve Arden, and I can assure you that she was never, at any time in her life, a Jehovah’s Witness.” Read Mr. West’s full comment along with my reply below. Status: Deceased – JW membership disputed by family member.]
  5. Ja Rule (Jeffrey Atkins), (1976 – ), an American rapper and actor. A native of Hollis, New York, Ja Rule is best-known for major hits such as “Holla, Holla”, “Thug Lovin'”, “Put It On Me”, “Between Me And You”, “I’m Real”, “Livin’ It Up”, “Always On Time”, “Mesmerize”, “The Pledge Remix”, “Clap Back”, “I Cry”, “The Reign”, “Caught Up”, “Wonderful” and “New York.” Born in Queens, New York, he was raised as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses by his mother, health care worker Debra Atkins, and his grandparents. At the age of five, his sister died from breathing complications, leaving him as an only child. Atkins began his rap career in 1994 with Cash Money Click. He says he took on his stage name “Ja Rule” because a friend called him by that name; other friends call him simply “Ja”. In 2003, he allegedly punched a man in Toronto, who later sued, but they settled out of court. In 2004, police investigated whether a feud led to fatal shooting outside a nightclub party hosted by Ja Rule. In July 2007, Ja Rule was arrested for gun and drug possession charges along with Lil Wayne. Ja Rule founded the L.I.F.E Foundation, which provides services to underprivileged children with various programs such as art, music, poetry and sports. [Status:Undetermined]

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  1. Douglas West

    My mother was Eve Arden, and I can assure you that she was never, at any time in her life, a Jehovah’s Witness. Most of her life, she practiced Christian Science. She became a member of the Hollywood Church of Religious Science when she met Dr. Robert Bitzer, the original minister of that church, in 1972.
    I have no idea where you got the information that she was “known to be a Jehovah’s Witness” but it is not true.
    -Douglas West

  2. Editor

    Thank you, Mr. West, for taking the time to respond to this article. Your mother’s name has been mentioned many times over the years as being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses sometime during her “Miss Brooks” period.

    I was a young JW in the 1950s living in the west Los Angeles area and our family would always watch your mother’s TV show when it was on. When my mother studied with JWs in 1952, she was told by several fellow JWs that your mother was a Witness (or possibly had been).

    This rumor has continued to be passed around for many years. Until now, as far as I am aware, no one has ever taken issue with those rumors.

    In fact, for many years your mother’s name, along with that of Mickey Spillane, was often mentioned in conversations that involved the subject of famous JWs. Many LA area JWs had stated that they had seen her or met her at an area Witness assembly. Perhaps her name came up so often that everyone just assumed it to be a fact and then embellished the story a bit.

    One specific reference to your mother being a JW can be found on page 277 of M. James Penton’s book, “Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” I know that Mr. Penton, a very credible expert on Jehovah’s Witness history, is still around and may even visit this website from time to time – so if he sees this exchange perhaps he can respond as to how and where he got his information for his book.

    I will go ahead and leave your mother’s segment of the article up for now, but I will post it as being disputed and reference your comment. Perhaps in the near future someone will step forward and clear up how and why this rumor began over sixty years ago.

    If anyone reading this exchange has more information about Miss Arden being a JW at one time, or perhaps studying or associating with the Witnesses for a short period back in the 1940s-1950s, please email me at editor@ex-jw.com.

    Thank you again, Mr. West, for giving us some “new light’ on your mother’s life and religious affiliation at the time of her passing. I’m sure that our readers will agree that whether she was ever a Jehovah’s Witness or not, she was still a most attractive and very talented lady.

  3. Tim Carroll

    Just curious … Mr. West, were you in the U.S. Army in 1971 at Fort Ord Company A-4-2? I was in that company as well and if I recall correctly, Eve Arden’s son was going through trainin with me. Thanks for your time! Tim

  4. [ are the wayans brothers jehovah's witnesses ] Best Web Pages | (NetizenOpinion)

    […] Celebrities who are – Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses OnlineJun 14, 2009 – Here is our second list of celebrity Jehovah’s Witnesses: Venus and Serena Williams (athletes); Wayans Brothers (actors, comedians); Teresa … ex-jw.com/celebrities-jws-2 […]

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