Being famous can be a wonderful thing, and with all the perks and wealth that comes with it, it’s no wonder that so many dream of being on the big screen or playing arenas full of people. But at the same time, life in the public eye can really take a toll.
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 20 stars who hit it big — and then made the difficult choice to give it all up.
1. Jack Gleeson: Known as the reviled King Joffrey on Game of Thrones, actor Jack Gleeson grew to dislike the business side of acting and retired in order to finish his education. Gleeson currently owns his own theater company, whose debut puppet show premiered at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2014.
2. Amanda Bynes: A few years after her well-publicized meltdown, former Nickelodeon star Amanda Bynes announced that she was leaving show business altogether to pursue a career in fashion. In 2018 interview with Paper Magazine, however, Bynes announced her intention to return to acting.
3. Sean Connery: Following his appearance in 2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, it was rumored that the legendary Scottish actor would be leaving the business for good. Connery confirmed his retirement in 2006 after receiving the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award, though he’s lent his voice to a number of projects since then.
4. Kevin Jonas: While brothers Joe and Nick have remained a constant in Hollywood, the eldest of the Jonas Brothers has mostly stepped out of the spotlight. Jonas has since gotten married, had two daughters, and established both his own real-estate and construction company, JonasWerner, and the social media firm The Blu Market.
5. Gene Hackman: After a career spanning five decades, storied actor Gene Hackman retired from show business following his 2004 film Welcome To Mooseport. Since then, Hackman has authored a handful of historical fiction novels, though the 88 year old hasn’t ruled out a return to the big screen.
6. Grace Kelly: Few people have left Hollywood for as interesting a reason as Grace Kelly. In 1956, at the peak of her hugely successful career, Kelly married Prince Rainier III and retired from acting to assume her duties as Princess Grace of Monaco.
7. Rick Moranis: Comic actor Rick Moranis was well-known for his appearances in films like Ghostbusters and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, but after his wife passed away in 1991, he left acting to raise his children. Recently, however, Moranis reprised his role as Dark Helmet from Spaceballs in a 2018 episode of The Goldbergs.
8. Taylor Momsen: Known for her roles as Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Jenny Humphrey on Gossip Girl, Momsen quit acting in 2011 in order to focus on her music career. She’s since served as the frontwoman of The Pretty Reckless, who are currently recording their fourth album.
9. Randy Quaid: After landing consistent roles from 1971 onward, Quaid was unable to find work for nearly a decade following a series of arrests between 2006 and 2015. He returned to acting in 2018 in the weight-loss comedy Weight, for which he received a supporting actor nomination at the Northeast Film Festival.
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10. Shirley Temple: During the Great Depression, child star Shirley Temple was the the biggest box-office draw in the country. Her star power didn’t last, though, and after a making a few flops as an adult, Temple retired from show business and actually went on to become a U.S. ambassador.
11. Macaulay Culkin: By age 12, Macaulay Culkin was the most successful child actor of all time, but a series of legal and personal issues derailed his promising career. Culkin has since returned to acting after a brief stint as a musician, starring in Seth Green’s upcoming film Changeland.
12. Cary Grant: Considered one of the greatest leading men of Hollywood’s “Golden Age”, the roles were in no short supply for Grant when he decided to retire from film in 1966. According to the storied actor, he had become disillusioned with the business and wanted to focus his time and energy on raising his daughter, Jennifer.
13. Meg Ryan: After finding her stride in rom-coms like When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, Ryan’s affair with Russell Crowe and subsequent divorce from Dennis Quaid in 2001 marked the first of many setbacks that would ultimately end her career. Her latest attempt at a comeback was in 2015’s Ithaca, which was a box-office failure.
14. Emilio Estevez: A core member of the 1980’s “Brat Pack,” Estevez enjoyed massive success in coming-of-age films like The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire before years of hit-and-miss roles caused him to fade from the public eye. In 2018, Estevez returned to film in the moderately successful The Public.
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15. Dave Chappelle: Comedian and actor Dave Chappelle had a hit on his hands with Chappelle’s Show, but he walked away from it all after feeling he and his work were being misunderstood. Chapelle recently returned to stand-up, putting out a number of Netflix specials for which he received high praise.
16. Geena Davis: The Massachusetts native was once a huge box-office draw, starring in films like A League of Their Own and Thelma and Louise. She’s more or less dropped out of the public eye to focus her energy on social activism, but she does continue to make appearances in media from time to time.
17. Freddie Prinze Jr.: Once a household name, Prinze Jr.’s time in the spotlight came to an end in the mid 2000s after starring in a number of box-office flops. He continues to lend his voice to animated films and has appeared in small television roles over the years, but Prinze Jr.’s star status has all but faded.
18. Renée Zellweger: Though films like Bridget Jones’ Diary and Chicago made her an instant star, a slew of critically panned projects in the late 2000s caused Zellweger to take an indefinite hiatus from acting. She returned to the big screen in 2016, however, and will play Judy Garland in the upcoming biopic Judy.
19. Jonathan Taylor Thomas: After rising to fame as Tim Allen’s son on Home Improvement, Thomas left Hollywood to pursue degrees from both Harvard and Columbia. He’s since returned to acting in a number of small TV roles, including appearances on Allen’s newest sitcom, Last Man Standing.
20. Elizabeth Hurley: Following her performances in the Austin Powers series and in the film Bedazzled, Hurley took a hiatus from acting from 2004 to 2010 in order to raise her son. Though she’s returned with starring roles in shows like Gossip Girl and The Royals, Hurley has more or less remained under the radar.