Being famous can be an wonderful thing. There’s the fame, the money, the access to anything and everything. It’s no wonder that so many people dream of being on the big screen or playing in arenas full of people. At the same time though, life in the public eye can be taxing.
Hollywood has crushed plenty of dreams and fame has derailed more than its fair share of careers. That’s why some people walk away. Here are 30 stars who made it big… but then they made the difficult choice to give it all up.
1. Known for his role as the reviled King Joffrey on Game of Thrones, actor Jack Gleeson grew to dislike the business side of acting and left to finish his education.
2. A few years after her well-publicized meltdown, former Nickelodeon star Amanda Bynes announced that she was leaving show business altogether to pursue education and career in fashion.
3. Kenan and Kel star Kel Mitchell left Hollywood after falling out with his former co-star and instead chose to focus on raising his family and helping out with his church.
4. In 2003, after his role in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, former James Bond star Sean Connery announced his retirement from acting.
5. After he and his siblings dissolved their band, “The Jonas Brothers,” Kevin Jonas got married and started his own contracting company.
6. Veteran actor Gene Hackman retired from show business after the 2004 film Welcome To Mooseport. Since his retirement, Hackman has authored a number of novels.
7. At age 36, and at the height of her fame, three time Academy Award nominated actress Greta Garbo left Hollywood after being labelled “box-office poison” following her film Two-Faced Woman.
8. Jonathan Taylor Thomas rose to fame playing Tim Allen’s son on the prime-time hit Home Improvement. After the series wrapped he pursued an education at Harvard and then Columbia.
9. Phoebe Cates rose to stardom after her performance in Fast Times At Ridgemont High. She later married actor Kevin Kline and left Hollywood to focus on her family.
10. Comic actor Rick Moranis was well-known for his appearances in films like Ghostbusters and Little Shop of Horrors, but after his wife died in 1991 he left acting to raise his children.
11. As a child, Shirley Temple was the the biggest box-office draw in the country during the Great Depression. Her star power didn’t last though, and after a making a few flops as an adult actress, Temple retired from show business for good.
12. Stand-up comic and actor Dave Chappelle had a massive success with Chappelle’s Show but he walked away from it after feeling he and his work were being misunderstood. Lately he’s begun doing stand-up again, but he hasn’t returned to the screen.
13. Saved By the Bell actress Lark Voorhies more or less disappeared after the end of the show. After more than a decade out of the spotlight, mostly spent painting, she has recently started appearing at various premieres and red-carpet events.
14. Karyn Parsons is best known for her role as Hillary on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air but she hasn’t done film or television work for nearly 10 years. Instead she devotes her time to her charity Sweet Blackberry, geared toward teaching children about important unsung heroes in black history.
15. Geena Davis was once a huge box-office draw starring in films like A League of Their Own and Thelma and Louise. Recently, she has focused her energy on social activism for gender equality in media rather than acting, though she still takes the occasional role.
16. Mara Wilson rose to fame in movies like Mrs. Doubtfire and Matilda but she quit acting in 2000 due to frustration with the film-making process and to have a more normal childhood.
17. By age 12 Macaulay Culkin was the most successful child actor of all time. The Home Alone star won emancipation from his parents at 13 and mostly retired from acting at 14. He has occasionally appeared in films since, but mostly stays out of the spotlight.
18. Renée Zellweger was Hollywood royalty after movies like Bridget Jones’ Diary and Chicago, but the actress hasn’t appeared in a film since 2010. The rumor is that there will be a third Bridget Jones movie, so we may see more of her yet.
19. Ariana Richards is best known for playing Lex Murphy in Jurassic Park. She appeared on various television programs throughout the 90s, then left Hollywood for an acclaimed career as a painter.
20. Robert Blake began acting as a child in 1939 and enjoyed a long career in Hollywood until 2001 when he quit the business after being accused of murdering his wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley.
21. Freddie Prinze Jr. was a teen star and appeared alongside his wife Sarah Michelle Gellar in the successful Scooby-Doo movies, but retired from acting in 2009 after becoming disillusioned by the business.
22. Known for her roles in the Austin Powers series and the film Bedazzled, actress and model Elizabeth Hurley left show business and moved to the English countryside to raise her son.
23. Twin actors Dylan and Cole Sprouse were hugely successful Disney Channel stars, but when the network shot down a series they pitched, the two decided to call it a day and attend NYU instead.
24. Meg Ryan was one of the most successful actresses of the 1990s with hits like When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, but after a messy divorce from Dennis Quaid soured her on life in the public eye, the actress chose to leave Hollywood behind.
25. Cary Grant had a celebrated career and starred in classic films like Bringing Up Baby and North by Northwest, but he chose to retire in the mid-60s following the birth of his daughter.
26. Few people leave Hollywood for as interesting a reason as Grace Kelly did. At the peak of her hugely successful career, she married royalty and retired from acting to pursue her duties as Princess Grace of Monaco.
27. One of the 1980s most critically and commercially successful actresses, Debra Winger left Hollywood in 1996 to focus on her family and to return to theater acting.
28. Josh Saviano played Paul Pfeiffer on the hit show The Wonder Years in the 90s, but disappeared after the series ended. There was rumor circulating that he grew up to be Marilyn Manson, but in fact Saviano went to school and became a lawyer.
29. Taylor Momsen shot to fame in her role as Jenny Humphrey on Gossip Girl, but after leaving the show, Momsen gave up acting to front her rock band “The Pretty Reckless.”
30. Craig Kilborn preceded Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show and anchored The Late Late Show before leaving in 2004. Since then he’s maintained a low profile, popping up occasionally for bit parts in friends’ film and television projects.
Wow… it takes guts to leave fame behind like that. I suppose people switch careers all the time, but something about Hollywood stars doing it seems more surprising!