Tom Cruise is not an actor - he is a star. A star portrays characters that are variations of his personality. In this sense Cruise is the ultimate movie star. Cruise has an intensely controlled and crafted image, but for a little more than a year his image has taken a beating and is slowly losing its shine.
The lowest point for Cruise will have to be Paramount Studios cutting ties with him. The official reasons cited seem to be that it is purely business and even that Cruise was actually the one to break ties first.
But one can't help speculating that Cruise's wackiness over the past year - what with declaring his love for actress Katie Holmes by couch jumping on the Oprah show and the embarrassing interview on national TV where he gave far-fetched criticisms of psychiatry - could have added to the studio's decision.
With his less than stellar performance in 'Mission: Impossible III', even by his own admission, Cruise has been thrown in a position he has never seen before.
But even before the recent meltdown, Cruise has been smart with his choices of roles, shrewdly controlled his image and made strategic business choices.
His careful managing of his public image began with his brilliant earlier publicist Pat Kingsley. She was the first to go against PR norms and even say 'no'. She had the guts to demand cover stories from magazines in exchange for interviews. At times she went further and handpicked writers and photographers working on her clients.
Journalists had to get their questions screened by her before her clients could be interviewed. Writers and other mediapersons had to sign over the legal rights to their articles and images so that she could control the distribution. For those bold or stupid enough to go negative she would ban them from further access.
Kingsley with her revolutionary methods slowly established her modus operandi as the norm for the business. And Cruise was immensely fortunate to benefit from this.
Cruise and his publicity machine epitomised an era up to about a year ago. But the momentum could not hold and they found themselves in a playground with a whole new set of rules. Magazines and media outlets have found newer ways to circumvent the machine. The Internet has caused further complications and is more than a cog in the wheel.
We are now in an era where the media outlets instead of trying to get more from the already established stars, of which Cruise was the most noticeable, are now trying to crown their own new upcoming stars. These new stars are not managed by anyone and so are open to work on.
The media also now finds honesty and a hedonistic lifestyle more appealing than the almost prosaic and manicured presentation of the Cruise era. So a star like the Irish Colin Farrell is more sought after because he has no hassles like protecting his secrets, reveals his own sordid affairs and is not too keen on demanding his privacy.
His off-screen antics like his drinking, womanising and his rumoured trysts with Britney Spears have actually bolstered his image more than his movie performances.
The media almost goes all out to fete his wild and uninhibited ways. In 2002 the premier magazine Vanity Fair commended his honesty and said he was "a movie star not programmed by publicists."
We can now trace back the beginning of the end for Tom Cruise with his hooking up with Katie Holmes. All celebrity magazines work with one essential formula and it works because people need their appetite for celebrity dirt to be satiated, and because the stories, no matter who the celebrity, will usually follow a predictable arc.
Magazines and their readers like the stories to play out like a soap opera. First there are the rumours of flirting, then the likelihood of a love nest or hideaway. Then the two will be photographed together and then the wait begins for a build-up to an engagement and an eventual wedding after one or two cancellations.
But the 'Tomkat' affair threw out the rule book. After Cruise's couch jumping declaration of love, magazines did not fall for it. Instead they were wondering if the whole affair was a publicity stunt and why Cruise was acting like a freak. Cruise was doomed because how could the media go after a possible love story when questions were being asked whether there was any love at all?
If Cruise is going to launch any sort of a comeback or reinvent himself he will have to solve one big problem that has always beat him - he is the most famous movie star in the world but is also the least known, let alone understood.