Aussie Billionaire James Packer Recalls 'Surreal' Tom Cruise Meeting

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In a rare TV interview, the gaming and former media tycoon talked about his friendship with the Hollywood star, but he fell short of publicly acknowledging an involvement with Scientology.

SYDNEY -- Australian casino king James Packer recalled his “surreal” meeting with Tom Cruise at the lowest moment of his life in 2002 and the resulting friendship he had with the actor in an emotional, rare TV interview on the Seven Network in Australia that aired Sunday night.

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Packer, however, fell short of directly acknowledging an involvement in the Church of Scientology. He reportedly joined the organization soon after meeting Cruise, but supposedly left Scientology in 2005 after the death of his father. 

The billionaire, son of the late Aussie media mogul Kerry Packer, said he had become a recluse in Sydney, in the year after he lost AUS $380 million ($365 million) of the family’s money in telco One.Tel, an ill-fated investment in which he partnered with Lachlan Murdoch, son of News Corp. chair Rupert Murdoch.

That was when Cruise, whom Packer had met just once or twice, reached out and their friendship was formed.

"I think I became depressed and I was emotionally exhausted and my marriage had broken up," Packer told interviewer Mike Willesee. "I felt isolated, I felt like a failure and it was not a great time in my life."

"Tom Cruise reached out to me and it was a surreal thing. I had met him only once or twice and he was in Australia and we got together," Packer said. "I think that he could tell that I was in pain and he invited me to his house to go skiing with him."

Thereafter Packer visited Cruise regularly at his house in Telluride and elsewhere. Cruise and then-wife Katie Holmes were guests at Packer’s second wedding, to Erica Baxter, in 2007. Packer said there were no strings attached to his friendship with Cruise.

“He never asked me for anything, never asked me for anything in his entire life, and he believed in me when other people didn't ... I’m very grateful."

 “I just think he’s a very special person," a tearful Packer said.

Packer, said to be worth $5.85 billion, sold out of his father’s media interests, including ownership of the iconic Nine television network, gradually over the past seven years. He has built up his own gaming empire through Crown Ltd, with casinos and luxury hotels in Melbourne, Perth and Macau.

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He retains a small interest in Australia’s free to air Network Ten in partnership with Lachlan Murdoch.

But Packer is no stranger to Hollywood. His father was a long-time investor in New Regency with Arnon Milchan. And in December Packer partnered with director Brett Ratner, creating new production shingle RatPac Entertainment, which plans to produce and finance independent films and aims to partner with studios to co-finance tentpole-type projects..

The Packer interview, in which he also spoke emotionally about being privileged to be his father’s son, was the third-highest-rated program of the night on Australian television Sunday, watched by 1.3 million people in the capital cities.