Film studio sacks Cruise, accusing him of 'creative suicide'

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Gone are the days when Hollywood studios could sign up film stars and threat them as their property, controlling every hour of their lives. But, as one of the industry's most successful box-office draws Tom Cruise has just discovered, there are still lines of bad - or at least very odd - behaviour that even the best talent should not cross.

And cross it he did several times in the past 12 months. There were the love-sick gymnastics on Oprah Winfrey's sofa or his contention that psychiatry is a "Nazi science".

So, the studio with which he has been happily hitched for 14 years, Paramount Pictures, has unceremoniously shown Cruise the door and the boss of Viacom, the parent company of Paramount, has made no secret of the reasons. "As much as we like him personally, we thought it was wrong to renew his deal," Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone told The Wall Street Journal in a candid interview. "His recent conduct has not been acceptable to Paramount." Mr Redstone, 81, went on: "It's nothing to do with his acting ability, he's a terrific actor. But we don't think that someone who effectuates creative suicide and costs the company revenue should be on the lot."

Cruise, 44, and his production partner Paula Wagner had been operating their company, Cruise/ Wagner Productions, from offices on the Paramount lot, a benefit for which the latter reportedly paid the pair $10m (£5.3m) a year. The first signs of trouble emerged last month, when Paramount opened negotiations to renew the contract with Cruise/Wagner with a demand that the yearly payment be slashed to $2.5m.

Talks between the two sides collapsed last week; it is not entirely clear whether they ended with Paramount firing Cruise and ejecting his company from the lot or whether he and Ms Wagner walked out. Ms Wagner, who fired back at Mr Redstone calling his remarks"offensive" and "undignified", insists it was the latter.

The way Ms Wagner tells it, she and Cruise were seeking to unhitch from Paramount. She told reporters that they already had new investors lined up, including hedge funds, to finance their next projects although she did not provide any names.

It seems unlikely that Cruise, with three Oscar nominations under his belt for the films Born on the Fourth of July, Magnolia and Jerry Maguire will vanish and sulk. His first film with Paramount, Top Gun, which came out 20 years ago, grossed $100m at the US box office, and 13 more since then have passed the same box-office milestone.

It was concern with Cruise's deteriorating public image that motivated Paramount to cut him loose. The unusual behaviour came in the run-up the release of Mission: Impossible III in May of this year. Aside from cavorting on Winfrey's sofa to underscore his love for the actress Katie Holmes, with whom he recently had a baby daughter named Suri, there has been his public boosting of Scientology and a cringing spat with a television anchor during which he lambasted the actress Brooke Shields for taking medication for post-partum depression.

The new Mission: Impossible film had a disappointing opening weekend in the US, generating a slightly anaemic $47m, even though it went on to make a respectable $393m worldwide. But according to Mr Redstone, the assorted antics of the film's star may have trimmed ticket sales by $100m to $150m. And in Hollywood, it is the numbers that count.