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Tom Cruise split's from his longtime publicist - Pat Kinglsey is fired after 14 years, leaving Hollywood to wonder why

The long, bitter custody battle between Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman has finally come to an end: Kidman gets PMK. Last week, the world's biggest movie star (that would be Cruise) and the world's most powerful publicist (that would be Pat Kingsley, the P in the Uberfirm's full name, PMK/HBH) ended their 14-year union when Cruise announced he was putting Lee Anne DeVette (that would be his sister and the longtime flack for his production company) in charge of all his publicity. It was the most stunning Hollywood breakup since, well, Cruise's last divorce. And almost as mysterious. What's behind these two major players' irreconcilable differences? Hollywood insiders are full of theories.

Some speculate that it's fallout from the 2001 divorce: Both Cruise and Kidman were represented by PMK before they parted ways -- and both stuck with the agency afterward. But one has since enjoyed better press. ''The split has everything to do with the fact that Kidman [still with PMK's Catherine Olim] has now become a bigger star than Cruise,'' says one non-PMK publicist. ''He's angry about how the divorce was handled.'' Others believe Cruise's relationship with PMK soured after the actor failed to earn an Oscar nomination for The Last Samurai. ''It was supposed to be his Gladiator,'' says one studio exec. ''The Oscar campaign was a disaster.'' Still others point to Cruise's religion as a source of friction between the star and PMK. ''Don't underestimate the power of Scientology on this decision,'' says an insider. ''Cruise has become increasingly ensconced in the church, and the religion has become a huge factor in every decision.''

Of course, the Scientology bashing rankles the Cruise camp. ''It's just a bigoted rumor that's absolutely outrageous,'' says DeVette. ''It gets a little old having our religion attacked in that manner. If we were Jewish or Catholic or black or gay, would somebody say something like that?''

Kingsley flatly denies that Cruise's Scientology played a role in the breakup of their partnership. No one from the Cruise camp ever expressed unhappiness with PMK's work, but she wasn't completely surprised by her former client's move. ''I just had the feeling that it wasn't going to last for a lot longer,'' she says. ''We've done some great things together and I don't have any regrets about anything. I gave him the best that I had.''

DeVette claims not to know precisely what prompted her brother's decision, but she's bullish on his post-PMK publicity prospects. ''I've never known him to ever settle for anything that isn't the best,'' she says. ''That's the way he has run his entire life and that's not going to change.''

Hollywood insiders concur. Most agree that Kingsley did an amazing job with Cruise (''No one will ever know why the relationship with Kidman ended, and that's where Pat is brilliant,'' says one). They also suggest the student may have become the master. Says DeVette, ''The person that should be most credited with the career that Tom has is Tom. Every choice has been Tom's decision.''

Originally posted Mar 26, 2004 Published in issue #757 Mar 26, 2004 Order article reprints