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Hollywood Stars Who Left Fame Behind

Some never looked back and others made career defining comebacks. But all of these superstars have one thing in common: they once said to take this astronomically high paying job and shove it!
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There’s no business like show business, but it’s definitely not a business for everybody. Whether they lit up the silver screen for decades or took their final bow immediately after claiming fame, the stars on this list all decided they had no business staying in the spotlight. Whether or not they permanently retired from acting remains another story for many. So stay tuned.

From the “It Girls” who made shocking career changes to the leading men who’ve “retired” more than once, here are some of the biggest Hollywood stars who left fame behind.

Freddie Prinze Jr.

Freddie Prinze Jr Sarah Michelle Gellar
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Freddie Prinze Jr. catapulted to fame in the late 90s and early 2000s. He quickly became one of the biggest stars of his generation. From teen slashers to warm and fuzzy rom-coms, the world couldn’t get enough of the handsome Hollywood sweetie. Then suddenly, the She’s All That star vanished from the spotlight at the height of his career. But upon reflection, the signs of the popular actor’s looming departure were there.

First, he took a break from movies and gave television a try. After some small guest roles, Prinze landed his own television show, titled Freddie. But it didn’t last long. After his show was canceled, he took a full break from being in front of the camera. However, he didn’t leave show business behind just yet. The lifelong wrestling enthusiast worked with the WWE creative team before focusing on his podcast, his writing, and at the end of the day, his family.

Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's
Paramount Pictures

Name a bigger style icon than Audrey Hepburn. I’ll wait. Famously Givenchy’s muse and a forever “It Girl,” her timeless appeal continues to make the Breakfast at Tiffany’s star one of the most celebrated actresses in all of Hollywood history. Perhaps that’s why it’s so easy to forget that Hepburn retired a few short years after her career peak.

After appearing in a mere 16 films, Audrey began turning down roles and spending more time with her family. The EGOT-winning actress soon bid Hollywood farewell to do devote her life to charity work. She became a UNICEF Goodwill ambassador in 1989. 

Gene Hackman

Gene Hackman at 60th annual Golden Globes
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Once upon a time, Gene Hackman was one of those names synonymous with Hollywood. With films like Bonnie and Clyde, Mississippi Burning, Superman: The Movie, and Enemy of the State, under his belt, he showed no signs of slowing down. But alas, career priorities can change for even the mega-rich and famous.

2004’s Welcome to Mooseport would end up being Hackman’s last role. After that, he quit acting completely. But he didn’t retire from the narrative arts. Instead, he took on the role of novelist, penning works of historical fiction and turning down tons of major roles. These days, acting is no longer his main career but remains a hobby he turns to when he’s got some extra time on his hands.

Phoebe Cates

Phoebe Cates pool scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Universal Pictures/Refugee Films

Thanks to her unforgettable role in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Phoebe Cates became just about everyone’s crush in a flash. Following the ’80s classic, she’d go on star in the Gremlins films. From there, the sky looked to be the limit. But a high-profile Hollywood romance was about to flip the script.

In 1989, Phoebe said “I do” to actor Kevin Kline. The Hollywood sweethearts went on to have two children and came to an agreement about work. Kline told Playboy magazine, “we agreed to alternate so that we’re never working at the same time … [but] whenever it’s been her slot to work, Phoebe has chosen to stay with the children.” Her last role came to be 1994’s Princess Caraboo. She had some small appearances after that, but she chose family over fame and later opened the Blue Tree boutique in New York City.

Rick Moranis

Rick Moranis in Ghost Busters
Columbia Pictures/Delphi Films/Black Rhino Productions

Rick Moranis will always be remembered for his comedic roles in iconic movies like Ghostbusters, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and Little Shop of Horrors. But following the death of his wife in 1991, the actor began to slowly remove himself from show business. Soon after taking on life as a single father, his priorities fully shifted, and he retired from acting.

“I’m a single parent, and I just found that it was too difficult to manage raising my kids and doing the traveling involved in making movies,” he revealed to USA Today. “So I took a little bit of a break. And the little bit of a break turned into a longer break, and then I found that I really didn’t miss it.”

Portia de Rossi

Portia de Rossi on red carpet
Shutterstock

Portia de Rossi had majorly successful acting stints on shows like Ally McBeal, Arrested Development, and Scandal. But all good things must come to an end. On the eve of her 45th birthday, she decided to leave the industry and try something new.

“I was approaching 45 and I just kind of … was wondering is there something that I could tackle now that I’ve never done before that would be really challenging and different,” de Rossi told her wife, Ellen DeGeneres, on Ellen’s talk show. “I kind of knew what acting would look like for me for the next 10, 20 years, so I decided to quit.”

Terrence Howard

Terrence Howard at the premiere of Fox's new TV series "Empire" at the Cinerama Dome, Hollywood.
Shutterstock

Back in 2019, the Empire actor told the world he was “done” with acting and “done pretending.” Regarding his future plans, Howard told Extra, I’m just focusing on bringing truth to the world.” But not every retirement plan sticks.

In 2021, Terrence announced he’d be making his Hollywood comeback with a starring role in the British sci-fi/thriller film Beneath. Then in 2022, the Oscar nominee was cast in the horror flick Skeletons in the Closet. It’s not over ’til it’s over, as they say.

Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief
Paramount Pictures

In the ’50s, Grace Kelly had a remarkable Hollywood run. The Academy Award-winning actress starred in classics like High NoonThe Country Girl, and three Alfred Hitchcock mega hits: Rear WindowDial M for Murder, and To Catch a Thief. Audiences all over the world were in love with her. And they weren’t the only ones.

During the 1955 Cannes Film Festival, Grace met Monaco’s Prince Rainier III. Naturally, he fell in love with her as well. One year later, the 26-year-old superstar retired from acting, married her prince, and took on her new full-time role as the Princess of Monaco.

Michael Schoeffling

Michael Schoeffling in Mermaids
Orion Pictures

In 1984, Michael Schoeffling rose from an up-and-coming actor to national heartthrob after being cast in the role of Jake Ryan. Starring opposite Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles, the John Hughes’ teen classic proved only the beginning. Michael went on to appear in nine more films, including Vision Quest and Mermaids (opposite Winona Ryder).

By the ’90s, this leading man’s acting career was still going steady. But after he starred in Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken, he soon broke the hearts of oh-so-many. Schoeffling left Hollywood completely, uprooting his family and returning to his native Pennsylvania. From there, he opened a woodworking shop and continues to keep a low profile. However, star quality runs in the family, it seems. His daughter has become a successful model.

Nikki Blonsky

Nikki Blonsky at 13th Annual Critics' Choice Awards
Shutterstock

After the Hairspray revival debuted,  Nikki Blonsky was instantly a name on all of Hollywood’s lips. The musical star would soon land the lead role on ABC Family’s Huge. Sadly, it was canceled after just one season. This monkeywrench in her show biz plans led Blonsky to reassess her long-term goals.

Blonsky obtained a cosmetology license and put education in the spotlight to good use. She took a gig with Superstar Hairstylists. However, she let it be known the career change was more about financial stability and her heart remained in acting. So any day now, we may see her name back up in lights.

Kevin Jonas

Kevin Jonas at Teen Nick HALO Awards
Shutterstock

Ever since the Jonas Brothers took a break from music, it’s been an emotionally bumpy ride for their fans. You never know what this band of brothers might do next! Just when we thought it was over for good, the trio returned to the spotlight following their six-year hiatus. Then Nick and Joe took on solo projects, but Kevin Jonas had other plans.

Following Kevin’s short-lived reality TV stint, the oldest Jonas bro moved on from fame once and for all. Or at least, for now. He founded the real estate development company, JonasWerner. He’s also the co-CEO of The Blu Market company, working with social media influencers.

Cameron Diaz

Cameron Diaz smiling as she arrives at premiere of Bad Teacher
Shutterstock

For the better part of two decades, Cameron Diaz remained a Hollywood fixture. Globally adored, the four-time Golden Globe nominee appeared in over 50 films and built the kind of career that most only dream of. But in 2018, Diaz announced she was retiring. The actress said she hadn’t necessarily lost her passion for performing, but feared she was missing out on other important aspects of her life.

On Instagram, the producer/writer/entrepreneur later told her following “I don’t miss performing,” adding that she enjoyed having time for herself, and being a mother was in focus. The movie star also discussed her reason to quit with Kevin Hart. Per Vanity Fair, Cameron explained that when she examined her life, she realized there was a lot “I wasn’t touching and that I wasn’t managing.” So she decided to make “life manageable.”

Kal Penn

Kal Penn attends the Chanel 14th Annual Tribeca Film Festival Artists Dinner at Balthazar
Shutterstock

In 2004, we met Kal Penn through his hilarious performance in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. Flash forward to 2009, he said goodbye to the hit comedy franchise and made his way to the White House to take on a much more serious role.

Going by his real name (Kalpen Modi), Kal became the Associate Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement. He worked with the government for about two years before changing careers once again. Or rather, returning to his first love, show business.

Karyn Parsons

Karyn Parsons in Fresh Prince of Bel Air
NBC

Karyn Parsons’ role as Hilary Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is practically immortalized. After making a name for herself on the hit iconic 90s sitcom, she took on starring roles in comedies like 1995’s Major Payne and 2000’s The Ladies Man. She then starred on the ABC sitcom The Job before disappearing from Hollywood.

After Karyn got married, she had a child and began focusing her attention on writing and motherhood. She also founded Sweet Blackberry, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing little-known stories of African American achievement to children. She’s also added children’s book author to her resume, writing well-received works like How High the Moon.

Daniel Day-Lewis

Daniel Day-Lewis cradling his Screen Actors Guild award
Shutterstock

As far as recent Hollywood history goes, this is perhaps one of the most unimaginable departures on the list. After all, the revered British method actor is the only male to have snagged three Best Actor Academy Awards (for My Left FootThere Will Be Blood, and Lincoln). But all good things must come to an end.

In 2017, everything seemed in its right place. Day-Lewis received an Academy Award nomination for Phantom Thread, but soon after, he issued an earth-shattering statement. Daniel announced he was done with acting. As for the reason, he said it was a “private decision.” Fair enough.

Jack Gleeson

Jack Gleeson smiles while attending  HBO Game of Thrones final season premiere at Radion City Music Hall
Shutterstock

For stars who’ve been at it since childhood, early retirement makes sense sometimes. Case in point: Jack Gleeson. When the Game of Thrones star was killed off on the mega-hit series, the 21-year-old took the opportunity to step away from the spotlight.

Per E! Online, Gleeson admitted, “I just stopped enjoying it as much as I used to.” He went on to say, “I’m happy to sacrifice a big paycheck for my happiness, if that’s not too corny a thing to say. It’s probably more naive than mature to say that, maybe, but that’s how I feel.”

In the words of Timothy Leary, “you’re only as young as the last time you changed your mind.” Six years after early retirement, King Joffrey lives! Well, sort of. A little older and wiser, Jack returned to show biz with a role on Out of Her Mind, a six-part comedy on BBC Two.

Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple Black at 12th  Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Auditorium
Shutterstock

Speaking of child stars, there are perhaps none as famous as Shirley Temple even to this day. In the 1930s, she wasn’t just a globally worshipped child actress; she was the biggest movie star on earth. Having such large-scale success at such a young age proved detrimental to her career as she grew up. Her transition into adulthood marked the beginning of her Hollywood end. At 19, she co-starred with John Wayne in John Ford’s acclaimed hit Fort Apache, but she never reached her former level of fame.

Unhappy with being typecast and disappointed with the caliber of roles she was being offered, the 22-year-old announced she was retiring from acting. Shirley was famously quoted as saying “Any star can be devoured by human adoration, sparkle by sparkle.”

Drastically shifting gears, The Little Princess star began working with the foreign service, eventually being dubbed the US ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. Making history once again, Shirley Temple became the first woman to hold the position of Chief of Protocol of the United States, a post she held during Gerald Ford’s presidency.

Read More: How to Start Watching Classic Hollywood Movies

Meg Ryan

Meg Ryan
Shutterstock

Meg Ryan was one of the most successful actresses over the span of two decades, with roles in films like Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, and When Harry Met Sally. However, she hasn’t added much to her filmography since the mid-2010s, aside from having a role in Ithaca, which she also directed.

She confirmed that she was leaving acting behind when she sat down with Gwyneth Paltrow in 2018 at her In Goop Health event in Los Angeles. Meg said, “I didn’t really aim to be an actor. I was a journalism major at school, and a curious person, and I wanted to go back out into the world and figure out who I was – am – in relationship to other things and other people and other environments.”

Meghan Markle

Meghan Markle
Shutterstock

I’ve gotten so used to Meghan Markle being the Duchess of Sussex that I forget she was an actress first. Meghan’s last and most significant role was playing Rachel Zane for seven seasons on Suits. She also had a stint as a briefcase girl on Deal or No Deal!

Of course, she officially announced her retirement from acting in 2017, when she was engaged to Prince Harry. When they married in 2018, she became known as the Duchess of Sussex. These days, she and Prince Harry have stepped back as senior members of the royal family, and they live with their two children in California.

Mary-Kate Olsen

Ashley-and-Mary-Kate-Olsen
Shutterstock

Everyone knows that Mary-Kate Olsen began her career at the ripe old age of nine months as Michelle Tanner on Full House. She shared the role with her twin sister, Ashley. From there, they founded their own production company, Dualstar Entertainment Group, and it produced tons of TV movies and direct-to-video releases featuring the twins. 2004’s New York Minute was the last time they starred in a movie together.

From there, Mary-Kate started picking up roles solo – not part of the Olsen twin team. She had a recurring role on Weeds and was in 2011’s Beastly.

In 2012, though, both Mary-Kate and her sister left the biz for good, so they could focus on their careers in the fashion industry. They co-founded the luxury fashion brand The Row together, along with brands Elizabeth and James, Olsenboye, and StyleMint.

Ashley Olsen

Ashley Olsen
Shutterstock

Ashley Olsen was the other half of Michelle Tanner on Full House, so she started her acting career at nine months old, too. And even though these two are arguably the most famous child actors in the entertainment industry, it wasn’t really for them.

2004’s New York Minute was the last time Ashley and her twin starred in a movie together, but it was also the last time Ashley had an acting role at all. She mostly retreated from the limelight to focus on their fashion brands. When the Full House spin-off was announced, Ashley turned down the role, saying “I have not been in front of a camera since I was 17, and I don’t feel comfortable acting,” according to executive producer Bob Boyett.

Frankie Muniz

Frankie Muniz
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Known for playing the title character on Malcolm in the Middle, Frankie Muniz was definitely one of the most popular child actors for a while. All of that changed when Muniz decided to put acting on hold and chase his dream of becoming a professional race car driver. He was also the drummer of indie rock band Kingsfoil from 2012 to 2014.

He did have a few cameos in shows like The Mysteries of Laura and Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23, and he also competed on and then co-hosted Dancing With the Stars. But as far as acting goes, he’s mostly retired.

Erik von Detten

Erik von Detten
Shutterstock

I know y’all remember my boo, Erik von Detten. The hair *swoon*

He got his start as a kid on Days of Our Lives, but he’s definitely most well-known for roles in movies like Escape to Witch Mountain, Brink!, and The Princess Diaries. And we can’t forget that Erik is also the voice of Sid in the Toy Story franchise!

He had a few roles through the 2000s, but he mostly retreated from Hollywood after that. He and his wife have two kids, and Wikipedia says he’s a sales manager at a commodities brokerage firm. He did step back out in the public eye in 2016 when he showed up to the premiere of Adventures in Babysitting, walking the red carpet with his niece and nephew.

Mara Wilson

Mara Wilson
Shutterstock

Mara Wilson was a very well-known child actress. You’ll recognize her from Mrs. Doubtfire, Miracle on 34th Street, and, of course, the title character from Matilda. She did a couple of projects after that, but it mostly seemed like she disappeared once she became a teen. Where did she go?

She pretty much left showbiz for good, though she did some stage acting for a while after. Mara is now mostly focused on writing–penning two books so far–and has guest-starred on the popular spooky podcast Welcome to Night Vale.