It had to happen. The man whom I called a hero for the average joe has gone croc s**t. Nuts. Looney tunes. Off his rocker. Insane. That’s right, Tom Cruise has lost his mind and we have front row seats to the show.

It seemed to start as a creepy publicity stunt. He and Katie Holmes were suddenly an Item. The Scientologist and the Catholic. Then it got stranger. He acted the fool on Oprah’s talk show, jumping on a couch and declaring his love for a girl who looked like she was just getting pubic hair. (Who doesn’t love those girls, though?) Then he went on the defensive when interviewers questioned his religious beliefs. Convinced the world was against him, Cruise attacked the very symbol of all that is holy on this planet: Brooke Shields. Shields fought back, though, as did a couple of pranksters who sprayed him with water during a junket. Then Cruise appeared on “Today” and engaged in a war of the wills with Matt Lauer, going so far as to call him “glib” and telling him to do his “research” on psychiatric medicines. (According to one article I’ve read, Cruise is actually the one who should be doing the research.) He claims he’s gotten hundreds of people off drugs. He claims he loves Holmes. He claims he knows more than doctors … even the TV ones! What next? He can fly?

I’ll admit that I’ve taken some joy in watching this actor slowly deteriorate on my television screen. Like Martin Lawrence and Margot Kidder, Cruise was always going to go. It was just a matter of when. Anyone who appears to be so safe and sane has got to explode at some point … and this was some blow up.

Watching the verbal sparring between Cruise and Lauer, who has got to be even more easy-going than Larry King, was like watching an outtake from “Rain Man” where Cruise starts to beat Hoffman with a belt for his “insane mutterings.” It was painful to see, and I got the sincere feeling Cruise was going to walk off the set into the waiting, pubescent arms of Holmes, who was watching this duel in the wings. The Hubbard disciple was pissed, and it showed. Unfortunately, he went after an easy target, something he seems comfortable doing. (Who’s next after Shields and Lauer? Bea Arthur?)

I’ve heard people blame Scientology for Cruise’s behavior (some even saying he has to do this to make it to the next level). The truth is, Scientology is no stranger than Christianity or any of the other religions/cults that are out there. It’s just newer and seems to cater to rich people. It’s the Sharper Image of religions, so people have to be skeptical. I actually blame his meltdown on the pressures of being Tom Cruise twenty-four seven. That kind of stress will bring out the worst in anyone, Cruise included.

With all of this media scrutiny, which I am now a part of, the question needs to be answered: Will Cruise and bride-to-be Holmes leave Hollywood and go into seclusion like mad hermits who save their urine in jars and investigate the relationship between numerology and terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies? Cruise can afford it, and Holmes has said she’d like to give up acting (I didn’t know she had started), so an early retirement may be in the works. Maybe they’ll move out to Montana and live on a ranch or something. Maybe Cruise has a secret underwater lair inspired by an episode of “The Simpsons.” I don’t know, but I do know that if Holmes wants to keep any shred of dignity, she’ll advise her old man (and I mean that literally) to shut the hell up (or in her youth slang, “take a chill pill”), walk straight, and act like a normal human being instead of the wounded dog he’s been role playing as these past few weeks. It’s good advice, and he’d be wise to listen.

Cruise’s future with his child-bride and anti-everything-that-medicine-has-brought-us ways is probably going to be secure no matter what he does. I really believe that Cruise could be caught making love to the Pope’s corpse and people would still say, “But he’s really charming.” I just hope the media doesn’t let up on him and excuse his behavior as “nutty Scientology.” I want them to hammer the questions home until the actor grabs that shovel and heads for the Vatican.

Like Bill, this is me at my most sadistic. I want to see a total breakdown, and I want to see it covered on “Today.” That would really start my morning off right.

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