Mary Lee South, the mother of Tom Cruise, has died, PEOPLE has learned exclusively.
South, 80, died peacefully in her sleep last week. South, who coped with health issues in recent years, was given a memorial service at her local Church of Scientology this weekend.
The 54-year-old star and his sisters Lee Ann DeVette, 57, Cass Mapother, 55, and Marian Henry, 52, all attended the memorial along with other family and friends.
Born Mary Lee Pfeiffer, the Louisville, Kentucky, native was a special-education teacher when she wed Cruise’s father, Thomas Cruise Mapother III, an electrical engineer. It was from her that Cruise developed a passion for acting.
“I was always interested in theater, but I never did anything with it,” she told Rolling Stone in 1986. “When I was growing up, if you went to Hollywood, that was really risqué.”
The family lived in Syracuse, New York, where Cruise was born, and Ottawa, Canada. When Cruise was young, his mother encouraged him to participate in a local theater group. “I guess I was his greatest audience,” she said. “He had it in him then.” But Cruise’s love of sports took precedence as he grew up.
Her marriage to Mapother was tumultuous. Cruise told PEOPLE in 2006 that his father was “a bully.” Mary Lee ended the marriage in 1974.
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She returned to the United States, and worked a series of jobs to keep her family out of poverty. Cruise helped with money from a paper route. He even massaged his mother’s sore feet after she came home from long days at work.
That close relationship continued when the family relocated to Glen Ridge, New Jersey, and Mary Lee wed Jack South in 1978, when Cruise was 16. “He loved my mother so much that he took us all in, all four young people,” Cruise later recalled.
After a knee injury sidelined her son’s varsity wrestling career, Mary Lee encouraged him to try out for a high school production of Guys and Dolls. After the play, Cruise surprised his mother by asking if he could have 10 years to give show business a try. She approved, and with her support, he waited tables in New York City before breaking into the movies.
The close mother-son relationship continued as he became a box-office star.
As for South, she never doubted her son would be a success. When Cruise asked her and her second husband if he could be an actor, “We both wholeheartedly agreed,” she told Rolling Stone. “Because we both felt it was a God-given talent … So to make a long story short, we gave him our blessing — and the rest is history.”