Mary Lee Pfeiffer was a special-education teacher born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. From her first marriage to Thomas Cruise Mapother III, an electrical engineer, Pfeiffer had four children. Though many have heard her name throughout the decades, some might be wondering just who Mary Lee Pfeiffer was.
Mary Lee Pfeiffer is most well-known for being the mother of Hollywood icon, Tom Cruise, who got his start in show business thanks to Pfeiffer’s encouragement. She died in her sleep at the age of 80 in early 2017.
Read more below about Pfeiffer’s life and how her son wound up as a Hollywood titan.
A Little Motherly Encouragement
Though Pfeiffer and Mapother ultimately divorced, she remained close to her superstar son, even after she remarried. In fact, it was Pfeiffer who inspired Tom Cruise to act, telling Rolling Stone, “I was always interested in theater, but I never did anything with it. When I was growing up, if you went to Hollywood, that was really risqué.”
Pfeiffer also recalled getting Cruise involved in the local theater when the family was residing in Syracuse, New York. She also mentioned how the youngster enjoyed creating skits at home, noting “I guess I was his greatest audience. He had it in him then.”
Despite this, the family’s home life was not always peaceful, with Cruise once describing his father as “a bully,” and noting that being around his father caused anxiety. Cruise’s father ultimately succumbed to cancer at the age of 49.
A Lifelong Bond
Despite his rocky relationship with his father, Tom Cruise did nothing but sing his mom’s praises, telling Parade magazine, “People can create their own lives. I saw how my mother created hers and so made it possible for us to survive. My mother was the one who rose to the occasion. She held three jobs. She said, ‘We’re going to get through this.’”
Despite Pfeiffer knowing how talented her son was, Cruise veered away from acting and focused on sports in high school. It was actually a knee injury that sidelined him from the wrestling team, that led the teenager to return to acting, where he auditioned for a role in the school’s production of Guys and Dolls at Pfeiffer’s behest.
From the Small Time Stage to Tinsel Town
His passion renewed, Tom Cruise approached Pfeiffer, and her second husband, John “Jack” South, and asked if they would support him pursuing a career as an actor, giving himself ten years to make it in the industry. Pfeiffer and South were happy to oblige, with Pfeiffer saying, “And we both wholeheartedly agreed, because we both felt it was a God-given talent, and he should explore that because he was so enthused about it.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Tom Cruise went on to international superstardom, becoming one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood. Pfeiffer became a seasoned veteran of the red carpet, often accompanying Cruise as his date to swanky A-list events.
You can watch Tom Cruise discuss a funny memory of his mother in the YouTube video below.
From Hollywood to Florida and an Everlasting Legacy
Despite her son being Hollywood royalty, Pfeiffer chose to live in Florida for much of her later years, residing in Marco Island for close to two decades, before ultimately relocating to Clearwater, Florida. Friends on Marco Island remember Pfeiffer fondly, with one resident saying, “You see Tom and his charisma and his big personality, and Mary Lee was 10 times that. And that huge smile of his? He got that from her. She was just an amazing, amazing person and truly larger than life”
Unfortunately, Mary Lee Pfeiffer passed away in February 2017. According to Cruise’s publicist, Pfeiffer passed away peacefully in her sleep. Cruise and his sisters attended a memorial for their late mother, hosting family and friends at a local Scientology center near Pfeiffer’s house.
Though Pfeiffer is gone, she will always be remembered, with Tom Cruise recalling his mother’s great spirit, saying, “She wasn’t necessarily a daredevil, but she had just a wonderful sense of adventure and she was someone that always the cup was half full.”