Many people dream of becoming celebrities and superstars, but fame isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. According to some of Hollywood’s most well know individuals, normal careers are much better. This article features a variety of former actors, actresses, musicians and more who left stardom to work regular jobs. From child actors and actresses falling out of love with the industry, to veterans of the big and small screens who wanted more normal lives, celebrities leave the limelight for multiple reasons.
For some of these people, exiting Hollywood was a choice, but others weren’t able to maintain the demands of their very difficult careers. A lot of child actors can transition into grown up stars, but some find the insanity of the lifestyle too much to handle, and pursue careers in education. Many celebrities do it for so long they forgot what it was like to lead regular lives, and would rather take a chance in the public sector. Read on for a crazy nostalgic trip down memory lane with some shocking revelations along the way…
Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer
These ’90s rap staples left the business and ended up doing things fans probably wouldn’t have expected when they were at the height of their popularity. Vanilla Ice, or Robert Van Winkle, became famous with the release of his hit “Ice, Ice Baby,” and aside from an appearance and song in the second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, wasn’t able to maintain star status. He ended going into construction, real estate, and flipping houses.
MC Hammer, or Stanley Kirk Burrell, had a string of hits like “U Can’t Touch This” and “2 Legit 2 Quit” that made him a worldwide sensation. His iconic dance moves and Hammer Pants helped to generate diamond status sales, which is when an album or single sells more than 10 million units. Unfortunately, his fame fizzled out and he became a preacher. This was surprising considering how dirty his style got towards the end of his rap career.
Mara Wilson was one of the most iconic child stars in Hollywood history, appearing in Mrs. Doubtfire with Robin Williams, the Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street, and the Roald Dahl adaptation Matilda. She eventually retired from acting after her mother passed away from breast cancer during the filming of Matilda. While she managed to finish the movie, it was only a matter of time before she took a serious step away from the industry.
She first decided to dedicate the rest of her youth to education, graduating from Idyllwild School of Music & Arts and going on to attend and complete her studies at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She then chose to focus on her career as a writer, while occasionally doing voice-over acting up until 2016. Mara has also become a part of Project UROK, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to aid teens with mental illness, as well as an outspoken supporter of LGBT rights.
Gene Hackman is one of the greatest actors of all time. After starring in classics like The French Connection, Unforgiven, Bonnie and Clyde, Superman and The Royal Tenenbaums among many others, he retired from Hollywood. During his acting career he raced cars, but after he left the film industry he became a writer/novelist. Since the late ’90s he’s written a series of historical fiction novels, a Depression-era tale, a Civil War love and revenge story and a police thriller.
Rick Moranis left a giant hole in the Hollywood landscape when he exited the movie business in the late ’90s. He starred in such hits as Strange Brew, Ghostbusters, Little Shop of Horrors, Spaceballs, and the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids films. While he continued to do voice-over work for the next decade or so, the death of his wife from breast cancer led him to retire so he could raise his daughters as a stay-at-home dad.
Another 20th century icon was John Hughes, the writer and director behind Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pretty in Pink, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Uncle Buck and the first two Home Alone movies. When he stepped away from Hollywood he decided to move back to Chicago, where many of his films were set, and live a quiet life up until his death of a heart attack in 2009.
Frankie Muniz starred as Malcolm in Malcom in the Middle, as well as Big Fat Liar and the Agent Cody Banks movies. But as he got older he distanced himself more and more from Hollywood and acting, instead choosing to first pursue an open wheel racing career. He has also dabbled in the music industry as a drummer, producer and manager.
Phoebe Cates became an instant teen heartthrob with her role in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. She retired from acting in 1994 in order to raise her children and has since gone on to work in charity fundraising. In 2005 she even opened her own boutique, called Blue Tree, on Madison Avenue in New York City.
Peter Ostrum is arguably the most recognizable actor who has only starred in one movie. His role in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was followed by an offer for a three-picture contract that he turned down. He instead decided to become a veterinarian in New York after receiving his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University.
Another recognizable child star was Chris Owen, who starred as Chuck “The Sherminator” Sherman in the American Pie films as well as October Sky and The Mist. He left the industry and for a time worked as a waiter in a sushi restaurant. Chris has also developed a love for photography.
Kirk Cameron, like MC Hammer, left fame for religion, walking away from Hollywood to become an active Evangelical Christian. He starred in many movies, but was most famous for his role in the ABC sitcom Growing Pains for which he received two Golden Globe nominations. He now writes and speaks as a minister.
Before her breakout role in Hairspray, Nikki Blonsky was an employee at a Cold Stone Creamery. After she got famous she recorded an album, but struggled to maintain her career status. She has since earned her cosmetology license and works part-time as a hairstylist and make-up artist in her hometown of Great Neck, New York.
Freddie Prinze Jr.
Another iconic heartthrob was Freddie Prinze, Jr., the son of actor-comedian Freddie Prinze. After starring in She’s All That, the live-action Scooby-Doo movies and the I Know What You Did Last Summer films, he became a cookbook author. While he still does some occasional voice acting, he spends most of his time raising the children he has with co-star Sarah Michelle Gellar.
After stealing the show as Chunk, known for the hilarious “truffle shuffle,” seen above, in The Goonies, a beloved ’80s adventure film, Jeff Cohen lost weight and left acting behind. But he didn’t leave the industry entirely. He attended UC Berkley and UCLA where he earned a law degree in order to become a Hollywood entertainment lawyer.
Like the aforementioned Peter Ostrum, also known as Charlie Bucket, Carrie Henn was only in one movie. But it was equally as special. She played Newt in the sci-fi action classic Aliens, and even won a Saturn Award for her performance. Once she left Hollywood she got a degree in liberal studies and became a teacher.
Before leaving Hollywood, Charlie Korsmo starred alongside Robin Williams in Steven Spielberg’s Hook, as well as Dick Tracy and Can’t Hardly Wait seven years later. He’s done very well for himself since then, earning a physics degree from MIT, graduating from Yale Law School and becoming a law professor.
Taran Noah Smith
Taran Noah Smith had a lead role in the popular sitcom Home Improvement between the ages of 7 and 16, so when it ended he was ready to leave the industry for good. He opened and ran a vegan restaurant and catering business with his then-wife. Continue reading to see what another one of the show’s stars is doing now…
One of the most iconic child stars in history was Shirley Temple, who started acting in movies at just three years old. She could also sing and dance, but eventually left the business and ended up serving as a UN ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia, making her transition a pretty notable one.
Josh Saviano played Paul in The Wonder Years, and as famous as that made him, it couldn’t compete with what came later. After the show ended, he became the subject of numerous rumors that he was actually Marilyn Manson. These were of course fake, but they certainly followed him into his career as a corporate lawyer.
At just five years old, Danny Lloyd starred in one of the scariest horror movies ever, The Shining. Many will remember his terrifying delivery of “Redrum, redrum.” He wasn’t the only one to walk away from acting afterwords, with Shelley Duvall also retiring following filming. Danny went on to become a biology teacher.
As one half of the iconic couple from Joanie Loves Chachi, and of course its famous predecessor Happy Days, Erin Moran was a hugely popular television star. But when acting stopped working out as well as it had before, she transitioned into a writer and did that until she passed away last year.
No character portrayed by any other actor in this article was more hated than Joffrey Baratheon, or King Joffrey, on Game of Thrones. He quit Hollywood in 2014 after, spoiler alert, his character was killed in the show. He continue to act in theatre while pursuing an academic career as a philosophy student.
Mean Girls heartthrob Jonathan Bennett was an actor and model in several television shows and movies. He ended up hosting a cooking show and was even on a season of Dancing with the Stars. But after being eliminated he left the business and taught spin classes at Flywheel in Los Angeles.
Another ’80s superstar who sadly left acting behind was Emilio Estevez, son of Martin Sheen and brother of Charlie. After The Breakfast Club he went on to a lead role in The Mighty Ducks movies, along with another former actor to be discussed later, but ended up going from in front of the camera to behind it as a writer, director, and producer.
Brittany Ashton Holmes
The remake of The Little Rascals made a lot of child actors famous in the ’90s. Brittany Ashton Holmes starred as Darla, but instead of continuing to pursue a Hollywood career, she retired and chose to earn a degree in political science and even played soccer in college.
Jonathan Taylor Thomas
As promised, the other actor from Home Improvement who left Hollywood was none other than Jonathan Taylor Thomas, who also starred as Simba in The Lion King. He left the industry behind to pursue his education. JTT ended up going to Harvard, Columbia and several other prestigious institutions.
The Jonas Brothers were one of the most popular young pop groups ever. After getting their start on Disney, the group blew up but eventually split. Joe and Nick continued to pursue careers in music and acting, but Kevin decided to leave fame behind and open a construction business.
This article is full of ’80s stars, and Michael Schoeffling is definitely one of them. He was a teen heartthrob who starred as love interest Jake Ryan in the aforementioned John Hughes’ movie Sixteen Candles. And similar to the previous entry, he left Hollywood behind to become a carpenter.
Another iconic teenage star was Danica McKellar, who played Winnie Cooper in The Wonder Years, alongside the previously seen Josh Saviano. While she continue to dabble in acting and voice acting after the show, she pretty much left the business to become a writer and mathematician.
Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez inspired countless kids to play baseball. And if Mike Vitar’s starring role in The Sandlot wasn’t enough, he went on to be in The Mighty Ducks movies, as well. But when he got older he left acting to work in the EMS field and eventually became a firefighter in Los Angeles.
The Adventures of Pete & Pete was a hugely beloved show on Nickelodeon. The older Pete, or Big Pete, was played by Mike Maronna. In the late ’90s he left acting behind to become an electrician. Interestingly enough, he still worked on film and television sets. Mike currently hosts a podcast with Danny Tamberelli, or Little Pete.
If the name Agnetha Fältskog doesn’t ring a bell, surely one of her band Abba’s many hits would. They sold over 380 million albums and singles worldwide. After enjoying musical superstardom in the ’60s and ’70s, she got tired of fame and became an isolated astrologist.
Even though Bobby Fischer wasn’t an actor, his story is definitely interesting enough to be included in this article. From a young age he was one of the best and most famous chess players ever, but due to issues with mental illness he left the spotlight and gave up chess to travel the world.
Taylor Momsen’s breakout role was in The Grinch, and her part in Gossip Girl made her famous. But when she turned 18 in 2011 she was sick of acting and left Hollywood to pursue a career in music. Taylor became the lead singer of the hard rock band The Pretty Reckless.
While Tommy Rettig wasn’t as famous as Lassie, his role on the show made him a teen icon in the ’50s and ’60s. He acted for a while after Lassie ended, but decided to leave Hollywood to pursue a career in computer engineering and eventually worked as a database programmer.
After achieving stardom along with his wife Kate and their rare sextuplet children on the TLC show Jon and Kate Plus 8, Jon Gosselin left the industry and currently works a variety of jobs, from a TGI Friday’s prep cook to club DJ and even a stripper.
Another iconic star from early Hollywood was Greta Garbo, one of the most famous actresses in the ’20s and ’30s. She was part of the transition from silent movies to what we now see today. But she eventually left acting and became an art collector.
As the star of Who’s The Boss?, Taxi and Angels in the Outfield, Tony Danza was one of the 20th century’s most recognizable actors. But he left acting to become a teacher in Philadelphia. He even wrote and published a cookbook with his son Marc called Don’t Fill Up on the Antipasto: Tony Danza’s Father-Son Cookbook.
Gary Coleman was one of the biggest child actors of all time. He was famous for his role as Arnold Jackson in Diff’rent Strokes, as well as several other successful shows and movies. But due to his parents and manager mishandling his money, he had to leave Hollywood and work as a security guard.
Maybe the most tragic star in this article is Amanda Bynes, who started her career as one of the more lovable child actors on Nickelodeon. She went from All That to The Amanda Show and then several successful films throughout the 2000s. But due to issues with mental illness she was unable to maintain her career and instead chose to work in fashion.