20 Stars Who Dropped Acting to Find Surprising Work

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Reaching celebrity status can be a life-changing experience, but it’s only positive sometimes. While many actors enjoy the perks and recognition of stardom, others seek a different life after experiencing fame.

Some celebrities choose to step away from the spotlight and pursue other interests. It can be surprising to see where these individuals end up. Let’s look at 20 famous people who walked away from the glitz and glamour, and found happiness in a totally different place.

1. Freddie Prinze Jr.

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This Gen X heartthrob rose to fame in the late 1990s with hits like I Know What You Did Last Summer and Scooby-Doo. Fans love Freddie Prinze Jr. for his devilish good looks and ability to perform both comedic and dramatic roles.

Prinze shocked fans when he left the big screen in 2008 to work with Vince McMahon in the wrestling world. He worked as part of World Wrestling Entertainment from 2008 to 2009 on the creative team and again from 2010 to 2012 as one of the show’s directors.

2. Frankie Muniz

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Although many will always know Frankie Muniz as Malcolm from Malcolm in the Middle, the series is just a tiny part of the actor’s life. After spending his childhood as the lead star of one of the most successful TV shows of the early 2000s, Muniz decided to see what else he could accomplish.

He left acting to pursue professional race car driving. Muniz ended up on the Atlantic Championship Formula Race circuit. He never won a race, but consistently landed among the top 10 performers.

3. Kal Penn

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After headlining the most iconic stoner film of the early 2000s, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, Kal Penn decided to take on a more serious career path. In 2009, Penn began working in politics.

Penn quickly rose through the political food chain and eventually landed the role of Associate Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement. This position is responsible for forming a bridge between elected officials and the people they represent.

4. Audrey Hepburn

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This silver-screen actress has appeared in some of the most iconic films ever. Audrey Hepburn is remembered for her performances in films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Roman Holiday.

After dominating the media world, Hepburn spent her later life giving back to others by working for UNICEF. Until she died in 1993, she traveled the world helping those in need and discussing the importance of charity.

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5. Mara Wilson

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Children still love the 1996 film Matilda almost 30 years after its release. But the film’s star, Mara Wilson, surprised fans when she decided to leave acting at the height of her fame. At age 13, Wilson decided that acting wasn’t fun and began a new path.

She has since become a famed author. Wilson primarily works in nonfiction and gained notoriety for her autobiography, which depicts her life as a child star.

6. Ariana Richards

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Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park is one of the most successful film franchises ever. So, it was surprising that the movie didn’t catapult a young Ariana Richards into stardom. After the film, Richards found it challenging to find roles, so she decided to follow her passion for art.

She has since become an award-winning impressionist painter. From 2001 to 2013, the artist won seven awards for her paintings, including the coveted Art of the West Award of Excellence. Richards now enjoys a peaceful life creating paintings that can sell for over $1,000 apiece.

7. Cameron Diaz

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After performing in films like Shrek and Gangs of New York, Cameron Diaz became the it girl of the early 2000s. She enjoyed success in the film industry until her retirement in 2014. Then, she launched into creating self-help books.

Diaz’s books focus on the science behind aging and female empowerment. Readers loved her titles, The Body Book and The Longevity Book, which became best sellers.

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8. Amanda Bynes

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Childhood acting can have a devastating impact on those involved. Amanda Bynes found herself in the center of the public eye after her success in She’s the Man and What a Girl Wants. Public opinion of Bynes changed after she experienced a mental health crisis in 2013.

This incident spurred Bynes to explore a new path in fashion. In 2019, Bynes graduated from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising and has already trademarked her new brand name, Vintage, by Amanda Bynes.  

9. Danny Lloyd

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After his iconic role as Danny Torrance in The Shining, Danny Lloyd performed once more in Will: The Autobiography of G. Gordan Liddy before leaving the acting world. Despite his talent and prominence in the public eye, Lloyd found it challenging to find roles and decided to pursue other options at 13.

Lloyd removed himself from the public eye and pursued a career in academia. He now works as a biology professor at a community college in Kentucky. Lloyd did return to acting briefly in a cameo role for The Shining sequel Doctor Sleep.  

10. Shirley Temple

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Although her name is now synonymous with film itself, Shirley Temple had difficulty getting film roles following the success of her child star films. She tried to reclaim her stardom for several years before retiring from acting at 22.

Temple switched tracks and began working in public service in politics. She became the first female Chief of Protocol of the United States in 1977. She also served as the U.S. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia in 1989.

11. Peter Ostrum

Peter Ostrum in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
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Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory actor Peter Ostrum quickly realized that acting was not the career for him. After his performance as Charlie in the iconic film, Ostrum left work and hid his fame from people for many years.

Ostrum chose to spend his life helping animals and eventually became a veterinarian. When asked why he was reluctant to speak about his acting career, Ostrom would say, “I wanted people to judge me on who I was, not what I’d done.”

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12. Jeff Cohen

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Jeff Cohen struggled to find film roles after early success in movies like The Goonies due to puberty. Cohen believes this is because he was no longer a cute, chubby kid; his body had changed, and his role options dried up.

Cohen left acting as an adult but chose to stay in the entertainment world. He pursued his law degree and started the successful law firm Cohen & Gardner.

13. Gwyneth Paltrow

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Best known for having her head in a box, Gwyneth Paltrow has enjoyed a healthy and successful acting career. She has performed in everything from romantic comedies to Marvel films. However, the iconic actress left acting for good in 2019 following her performance in Avengers: Endgame.

Since her departure, the actress has focused on her controversial lifestyle brand, Goop. Although the company has been mired in controversy, once paying out a $145,000 penalty, Paltrow continues to enjoy a large consumer base for her products.

14. Michael Schoeffling

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After his heartthrob role in the 1984 hit Sixteen Candles, Michael Schoeffling had difficulty being typecast and getting new contracts. He earned money during his downtime between gigs by working in carpentry and construction.

Schoeffling soon found working with his hands more rewarding than acting and pursued furniture-making full-time. The actor removed himself from the public eye and started a successful furniture company.

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15. Carrie Henn

Aliens (1986)
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Carrie Henn decided to leave the world of acting after winning a Saturn Award and a Young Artist Award for her role as Newt in the film Aliens. Although she enjoyed her time in the limelight, acting was never her passion.

As a young girl, Henn decided to work with children in education. She now works as a teacher at Schaffer Elementary School in California. She looks back fondly on her iconic role and occasionally shows up at conventions to sign autographs for fans.

16. Karyn Parsons

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Following her role as Hilary Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Karyn Parsons decided that a life in the spotlight wasn’t for her. She soon decided to take a step back from her acting career and focus on things that felt important.

Parsons founded the nonprofit organization Sweet Blackberry, which focuses on teaching young children about Black history. She has also become a celebrated children’s author after finding success with books such as How High the Moon.  

17. Lucas Babin

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Actor and fashion model Lucas Babin left the entertainment world in 2003 to pursue a law degree before becoming a Texas district attorney. Babin is best known for his role as Spider in the cult classic School of Rock.

Although he found success in the public eye, at one point earning $ 7,000 a day from modeling, Babin decided to pull away from the spotlight to focus on his family and his passion for law.

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18. Jonathan Taylor Thomas

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After becoming a notional teen treasure for his performance on Home Improvement, Jonathan Taylor Thomas slowed down his acting career to go back to school. He wanted to escape the public eye and live a simpler life.

Thomas then attended Harvard and Columbia University Although he still makes the occasional acting appearance, he spends his time writing and directing.

19. Angus T. Jones

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Angus T. Jones was the highest-paid child actor on television at the height of his career. Fans most fondly remember him for performing alongside Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer on Two and a Half Men as Jake Harper.

Jones left the series to pursue a personal religious path before attending the University of Colorado Boulder. He then started a multimedia and event planning company, Tonite, with Justin Combs.

20. MC Hammer

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MC Hammer’s financial woes have become common knowledge and a constant source of parody. This is primarily because, at one point, Hammer was on top of the world and one of the biggest pop culture stars of the era.

He eventually filed for bankruptcy and left the music industry, but that doesn’t mean he left the public eye for long. Hammer then became an ordained minister and hosted MC Hammer and Friends on TBN.

 

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