Child actors who grow up in the spotlight aren’t like normal kids. For starters, they embark on lucrative careers long before they’re adults. On top of that, they’re adored all over the planet. But as many of them learn, the pressure to stay forever young is part of the Hollywood package.
As they age, fame is not always all it’s cracked up to be. Having your name up in countless lights as a kid often means missing out on some of the best parts of childhood. Many former child stars say that’s the ultimate reason they left mega fame behind in pursuit of something else.
Here are 11 of the most famous child actors in history who traded their pursuit of stardom for everyday jobs.
There are few family movies more classic than 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. In turn, few child actors are were as recognizable as its star, Peter Ostrum, best known to the masses as Charlie Bucket.
Ostrum’s unforgettable role was not only his golden ticket into Hollywood’s elite, it was his one and only role. Immediately following mega fame, he returned to a more regular life. These days, Ostrum works as a dairy veterinarian in Lowville, New York.
From her roles in Mrs. Doubtfire to Miracle on 34th Street, Mara Wilson was a bright, shining star from the start. The six-year-old had her pick of major roles but stayed choosy. She didn’t return to the silver screen until 1996’s Matilda. The film’s reception and eternal popularity would later prove she chose wisely.
After being nominated for a smorgasbord of highly coveted awards (and winning many of them), she left it all behind soon after. “I was very depressed, I was very anxious, I can barely even remember Matilda coming out. I only have vague memories of the premiere, and it was really hard for me. So I think that I definitely became kind of disenchanted with acting, with Hollywood, while, at the same time, it was a crutch for me,” Wilson once said.
Wilson has also said that with puberty came rejection. As with many child stars, her “cute phase” was widely considered her signature. “There wasn’t like one big moment where I knew I was done. … The rejection hurt because it had been just such a prominent part of my life for so long,” Wilson revealed.
Six-year-old Ross Bagley began his acting career as Buckwheat in the 1994 reboot of The Little Rascals. Two years later, he signed on for a recurring role alongside Will Smith in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and went on to appear in the blockbuster Independence Day. While Bagley continued to take on small roles throughout the 90s, the adorable child actor slowly left fame behind.
During an episode of the Hip Hop Uncensored Podcast, Bagley said that while he loved acting, he preferred to live his life out of the public eye and without the pressure to build his career. So when he grew up, he became a realtor.
Lori Beth Denberg
Nothing says Nickelodeon 90s nostalgia quite like All That. The kid sketch comedy series wound up launching lasting careers for comedic stars like Kenan Thompson and Amanda Bynes. But some of its biggest names seemingly vanished from the spotlight following their stint on the show.
Lori Beth Denberg made her mark as the Loud Librarian and the often-yelling anchor of “Vital Information for Your Everyday Life.” As a child, her news segment was one of my favorites. I lived for the intentionally awful advice she dispensed.
While discussing her time on All That with Vice, Denberg said she wanted to try her hand at other skills as she got older. For instance, she officiates weddings. But she never lost her sense of fun. As noted by her website, she’s available for “personalized, quirky weddings, vow renewals, and commitment ceremonies for couples looking for something a little different, a little less sterile, and a little more fun.”
Josh Saviano started acting when he was 12-years-old. His first role was as Kid Belz in 1988’s The Wrong Guys. But his biggest break came later that year. After he was cast as Paul Pfeiffer in the TV classic The Wonder Years, he ascended to superstar status.
The beloved series about suburban kids-turned-teens in the 1960s had an insanely popular five-year run. And while most of its stars continued to build their acting portfolio, Saviano retired from show business soon after.
Sure, he had a few guest appearances on Law and Order. But aside from that, he kept to himself and stayed away from the spotlight’s glare. Following mega fame, Saviano went to Yale Law school. Today, he’s putting his acting experience to good use, helping budding artists, actors, and influencers build their careers through his firm, Spotlight Advisory Group.
From the age of seven, Lisa Jakub worked nonstop. From 1985 to 2000, the talented actress was everywhere, signing on for projects like The Care Bears, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, and Friday the 13th: The Series, to name a few. But her most memorable role came in 1993 when she was cast as Lydia in Mrs. Doubtfire.
In 1996, Jakub appeared in Independence Day and the sky looked to be the limit from there. However, she decided to leave acting behind. On her blog, she shared some of the key reasons, writing, “I decided I should leave before I became one of those alcoholic/eating disorder ravaged/drug-addicted train wrecks of a former child actor. I had no desire to be a cautionary tale.”
Today, writing and yoga instruction fulfill her personal and professional passions.
Taran Noah Smith
For those growing up in the 90s, Home Improvement was a fixture in the TGIF rotation for eight seasons, lasting from 1991 to 1999. Tim Allen starred as Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, but his three fictional sons soon became just as recognizable. Taryn Noah Smith played Mark, the youngest and most sensitive of those sons.
When the series ended, Smith retired from acting. At 17, he began a very public dispute with his parents regarding how his Home Improvement money should be handled. While this might’ve led to why he left Hollywood, he’s also said that after spending his childhood onscreen, he was just ready to move on and try new things. Since then, the former child star has helped with typhoon relief efforts in the Philippines and built multiple art installations. He also started the vegan restaurant business Playfood. As of 2019, Smith was schooling others on how to pilot submarines.
Alien made Carrie Henn out-of-this-world level famous. She was just 10 at the time. While her career path was immediately paved in box office gold, Henn decided she’d rather pursue life as “a normal kid.” So that’s what she did.
As an adult, Henn became a teacher, fulfilling what she later revealed was another big childhood dream. And in 2020, she gave acting another go with a role in Triborn and Thunder Island.
Ross Malinger is one of the most recognizable childhood stars of the 1990s. Starting out on the small screen, he appeared on shows like Beverly Hills 90210, Who’s the Boss, Roseanne, Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman, and Seinfeld. However, the talented child actor’s most career-defining roles were in two major movies: Kindergarten Cop and Sleepless in Seattle.
Without warning, Malinger’s last guest appearance came in 2006 on Without A Trace. Then, he wiped his hands clean of show business, going on to work in automotive sales in Los Angeles and enjoying a low-key life.
Julianna Rose Mauriello
Julianna Rose Mauriello got her start at the age of six with Sesame Street: Fiesta! She later signed on as the voice of Ruby in the popular animated series, Max and Ruby. Still, her most celebrated role proved to be Stephanie on the breakout Nickelodeon series LazyTown. But her final acting credit was in The Doc Files.
She’s stayed out of the spotlight since 2013. It’s not clear exactly why Mauriello left, but she’s working as a pediatric occupational therapist. After attending Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, she began her new career and never looked back.
Who could forget Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel The Shining? Danny Lloyd has since said he has only fond memories of making the horror film. Like most child actors who get out of show biz early, he was just overworked and ready to move on.
He told The Guardian, “As I got a little bit older, it got kind of boring” and his parents fully approved. “They were never stage parents. They made sure I had a normal upbringing,” Lloyd said. Flash forward to the present, he works as a biology professor at a Kentucky community college and never doubts the decision he made. “I don’t regret trying acting. When I decided to stop, I don’t regret that either.”