L. Ron Hubbard, the reclusive science fiction writer who founded the controversial Church of Scientology, has died of a stroke, church officials announced Monday night.
Hubbard, according to Scientology lawyer Earle Cooley, died in his sleep last Friday on a ranch outside San Luis Obispo, where only a handful of his most trusted aides knew he was living. He was 74.
Cooley told a crowd of reporters who had been summoned to Scientology's Los Angeles headquarters that Hubbard was cremated. The ashes of the man known to his followers as "The Commodore" were scattered at sea, Cooley said.
Neither Cooley nor Church of Scientology President Heber Jentzsch used the word death to describe Hubbard's passing.
No Need of Body
"He no longer had need of the encumbrance of the physical identity we have known as L. Ron Hubbard," Jentzsch said.
With Hubbard at his retreat Friday were his personal physician, Gene Denk, and his constant companions for the last several years, Pat and Anne Broeker.
Hubbard had not been seen publicly since 1980.
His followers insisted that he went into seclusion so he could continue writing science fiction and research spiritual matters.
His critics, however, contended that Hubbard went into hiding to avoid mounting legal problems, including a series of civil lawsuits against Hubbard and the church by ex-members.
At the time his death was announced, Hubbard was under criminal investigation by the Internal Revenue Service, which, among other things, had been trying to determine whether millions of dollars of church funds were diverted to his personal use.
Hubbard, a science fiction writer of moderate success in the 1940s, catapulted into the limelight in 1950 with the publication of his book "Dianetics: the Modern Science of Mental Health."
In it, Hubbard claimed that man's path to freedom had been blocked by negative experiences. Through auditing, a process by which Scientologists retrace their lives, man could free himself of those negative experiences, Hubbard contended.
In later writings, Hubbard contended that the seeds of aberrant behavior were planted in people 75 million years ago because of an evil tyrant named Xemu.
Deposited in Volcanoes
Hubbard said that Xemu trapped people in a compound of frozen alcohol and glycol and deposited them in 10 volcanoes. According to Hubbard, Xemu then dropped nuclear bombs on the volcanoes, destroying the people but freeing their spirits. He claimed that those spirits formed clusters that were then brainwashed by Xemu.
The clusters, also known as body thetans, attach themselves to people blocking their path to total freedom, Hubbard wrote. When Scientologists reach a high level in their training, a level known as "OT 3," they are taught how to identify thetans and how to purge them from their bodies.
To Scientologists, Hubbard was considered a spiritual mentor who had done it all. He had been a philosopher, an adventurer, a war hero, an expert in nuclear physics, they claimed.
But in 1984 his credentials came under attack in Los Angeles Superior Court during trial of a lawsuit brought by the church against an ex-member who had broad access to materials Hubbard had collected over the years.
Biographies issued by the Church of Scientology claimed Hubbard had excelled at George Washington University, fought in five theaters during World War II as a lieutenant and was crippled and blinded from wounds that he overcame by applying the principles of Dianetics.
The court heard evidence, however, that Hubbard never was wounded. According to U.S. Navy records introduced at the trial, Hubbard never saw combat and was removed as commander of an escort vessel for being unfit. Navy records also showed that off the coast of Oregon, Hubbard's ship engaged what it thought was a Japanese submarine. Actually, the Navy records said, the sub may have been a log. Hubbard's ship then sailed down the coast and unnecessarily fired on Mexico, according to court testimony.
In 1944, Hubbard spent nearly a year in a Navy hospital. During that time, he said, he synthesized what he had learned of Eastern philosophy, nuclear physics and his experiences among men.
"I set out to find from nuclear physics and a knowledge of the physical universe, things entirely lacking in Asian philosophy," he would write.
By 1947, the church said, he was fully recovered from his injuries.
In 1948, Hubbard wrote a shorter version of what was to become his book on Dianetics. He expanded it into book length at the request of his publisher, Hermitage House. The book was published in 1950.
The book's success led him to found the Dianetic Foundation, but he soon fought with his co-founders and split from them, moving his operations from Elizabeth, N.J., to Los Angeles and to Wichita, Kan.
In 1954, Hubbard founded the Church of Scientology and his writings and lectures took on the mantle of religion.