People change careers all the time. But when a famous actor does it, it can be a bit surprising. Who would give up the fame and all the money that goes with it? Especially if it’s at a young age?
To compile a list of actors who retired way earlier than everyone expected, 24/7 Tempo reviewed information on career paths on IMDb, an online movie and TV database owned by Amazon, and other film business-oriented sites. Many actors have retired and then resumed their careers, but with one exception, this list includes only those performers who have definitively retired and moved on to other occupations or pursuits – though some have teased possible returns to the screen.
Amanda Bynes and Gwyneth Paltrow, for instance, said that they may revive their former careers. (Will they join the ranks of movie stars who came out of retirement to act again?)
Actors turn their backs on show business for varied reasons. Some, like child actor Mara Wilson, grew weary of the constant attention and preferred a quieter life away from the limelight. For others, it was the pull of family. Cinema icon Cary Grant gave it all up to raise his only daughter. Lisa Bonet did the same in choosing family over career. Others went into something completely different. Child star Shirley Temple made an improbable switch – into politics – as did Dolores Hart, who became a Roman Catholic nun.
Then there are those who go out on top. Daniel Day-Lewis retired at age 60 after winning his third Academy Award, for playing Abraham Lincoln. But he left behind a memorable film catalog, and still ranks as one of the biggest Oscar winners of all time.
> Retired in: 1941 at age 35
> Notable movies or TV series: “Ninotchka,” “Grand Hotel,” “Anna Christie”
Swedish-born Greta Garbo shone brightly during the Golden Age of Hollywood in the 1920s and 1930s. Known for her beauty as much as for her talent, she garnered Academy Award nominations for “Anna Christie,” “Romance,” and “Ninotchka.” Yet the spotlight proved too much for the reclusive star, whose retirement from Hollywood echoed one of her most famous lines from the 1932 movie “Grand Hotel”: “I want to be alone.”
> Retired in: 1950 at age 22
> Notable movies or TV series: “Stand Up and Cheer!” “Heidi,” “The Little Colonel”
With her trademark ringlets, Shirley Temple was the biggest child star of the 1930s. When she reached her teens, she tried more adult roles in films like 1947’s “The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer” – but her popularity had already begun to wane and she made her last feature film, “A Kiss for Corliss,” in 1949. After her screen career ended, she became active in Republican politics, serving as a delegate to the UN General Assembly in 1969 and ’70 and chief of protocol for President Gerald Ford in 1976 and ’77.
> Retired in: 1956 at age 27
> Notable movies or TV series: “High Society,” “Rear Window,” “Dial M for Murder”
Why be the queen of Hollywood when you can be a real-life princess? In the 1950s, no one was more popular and beautiful than Grace Kelly, winning an Oscar for her role in “The Country Girl” in 1954, and starring in a string of hits for Alfred Hitchcock. But when she married Prince Rainier III of Monaco, she had to give it all up to serve as the tiny country’s princess. She never made another movie.
> Retired in: 1966 at age 62
> Notable movies or TV series: “North by Northwest,” “The Philadelphia Story,” “His Girl Friday,” “Notorious”
At the relatively young age of 62, Cary Grant bid farewell to the silver screen with his final appearance in 1966’s “Walk, Don’t Run.” Grant said he ran away from Hollywood after the birth of his only child, Jennifer, in 1966. His focus shifted to raising her, saying, “I discovered more important things in life.”
> Retired in: 1971 at age 14
> Notable movies or TV series: “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”
After playing Charlie Bucket in the original “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” Peter Ostrum declined a three-film contract and left acting at age 13. Until 1990, he refused to talk about his experiences on the film. Instead of stardom, Ostrum became a veterinarian.
> Retired in: 1991 at age 31
> Notable movies or TV series: “Sixteen Candles,” “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken,” “Vision Quest”
Young women swooned over Michael Schoeffling when he played Jake in “Sixteen Candles” and Joe in “Mermaids.” By 1991, he left the business at age 31 and now hand-crafts furniture in Pennsylvania.
> Retired in: 1994 at age 31
> Notable movies or TV series: “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Gremlins,” “Drop Dead Fred”
A 1980s pop icon due to a memorable scene in 1982’s “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” Cates called it quits after “Princess Caraboo” in 1994. She later acted in “The Anniversary Party” as a favor for Jennifer Jason Leigh, who directed the picture. Since 1989, she’s been happily married to actor Kevin Kline.
> Retired in: 1963 at age 24
> Notable movies or TV series: “Loving You,” “Where the Boys Are,” “Come Fly With Me”
Hart made her film debut co-starring with Elvis Presley in “Loving You” in 1957, and for several years was a glamorous leading lady. After several roles playing religious women – including Saint Clare in “St. Francis of Assisi” (1961), she found a vocation and decided to leave Hollywood behind to become a Roman Catholic nun. While in New York on a promotional tour for her last film, “Come Fly With Me,” she took a cab to the Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis in Connecticut, where she took her vows.
> Retired in: 1997 at age 44
> Notable movies or TV series: “Ghostbusters,” “Honey I Shrunk the Kids,” “Parenthood”
Nobody did dorky comedy better than Rick Moranis. His starring roles in “Ghostbusters,” “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” “Spaceballs,” and “Parenthood” shot him to the top of the movie charts. Yet in 1997, the Canadian alum of “SCTV” decided that he preferred a home life with his children. Besides voice over work in “Brother Bear” in 2003, he shunned the limelight – though he’s making at least a one-film comeback with “Shrunk,” a sequel to “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” currently in pre-production.
> Retired in: 2000 at age 13
> Notable movies or TV series: “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Matilda”
Adorable Mara Wilson rose to child stardom in “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Matilda.” But she soon grew weary of the constant scrutiny the press places on child actors and she quit at age 13. However, she had done one-woman shows, some episodic TV series, and voice-over work since retiring.
> Retired in: 2006 at age 34
> Notable movies or TV series: “Shakespeare in Love,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Se7ven”
After a highly successful film career that saw her win an Oscar for “Shakespeare in Love,” Paltrow has concentrated on Goop, her lifestyle website and company. She has opened up the possibility of returning to acting if her husband, producer Brad Falchuk, is involved in the project.
> Retired in: 2010 at age 24
> Notable movies or TV series: “All That,” “The Amanda Show,” “Hairspray,” “What A Girl Wants”
Amanda Bynes shot to fame in the late 1990s and early 2000s with a string of hits. She even headlined her own sketch comedy show, “The Amanda Show.” But it all fell apart due to substance abuse struggles, as she related to People in 2018. But in the same article, she said she was on a better path and hoped to get back into acting.
Erik von Detten
> Retired in: 2010 at age 28
> Notable movies or TV series: “Escape to Witch Mountain,” “Toy Story,” “Brink!,” “The Princess Diaries”
Known as a “Disney Dreamboat,” Erik von Detten left movies for a job in finance and the life of a family man. In a 2021 interview with Eonline, von Detten said he would consider a role that doesn’t require an “arduous audition” process, but sounded lukewarm on a return to the screen. Acting, he said, is “just not a consistent career.”
> Retired in: 2011 at age 18
> Notable movies or TV series: “Gossip Girl” “We Were Soldiers,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”
Taylor Momsen gave up acting after starring in “Gossip Girl.” But she hasn’t given up the limelight completely. She hopes to hit it big in the music industry.
Angus T. Jones
> Retired in: 2012 at age 19
> Notable movies or TV series: “Two and a Half Men”
You could say Angus T. Jones left acting for a higher calling. In a 2014 interview with People, Jones disparaged the hit show, “Two and a Half Men,” saying it conflicted with his religious beliefs. At the time, he said he was involved with the World Harvest Outreach Church and was a follower of the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
> Retired in: 2012 at age 21
> Notable movies or TV series: “Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3: Viva la Fiesta!” “Fame,” “Phil of the Future,” “Summerland”
Like Peter Ostrum, Kay Panabaker had a love for animals that overtook her acting ambitions. After leaving acting to study zoology at UCLA in 2012, she now works at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida.
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
> Retired in: 2012 at age 26
> Notable movies or TV series: “Full House,” “It Takes Two”
Twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen played the adorable Michelle Tanner on “Full House.” After the show ended in 1994, they continued acting in movies (“The Adventures of Mary-Kate and Ashley”) and a short-lived TV series. But by the mid-2000s, the twins opted for college and careers in fashion instead.
> Retired in: 2012 at age 28
> Notable movies or TV series: “So Weird,” “Boston Public”
After starring roles in “So Weird” and “Boston Public,” Cara DeLizia found her career slowing to a trickle of a few voice overs and guest appearances. Now, she works with a group that helps children in Haiti.
> Retired in: 2013 at age 34
> Notable movies or TV series: “Jurassic Park,” “Tremors,” “Timescape”
Although Ariana Richards quit acting, she’s still pursuing her art by painting. She earned a BS in Drama and Art from Skidmore College and continued on to the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. She operates an art gallery in Portland, Oregon and has studios in the U.S., South America, and Europe.
> Retired in: 2014 at age 21
> Notable movies or TV series: “Game of Thrones”
After playing the evil Joffrey Baratheon in “Game of Thrones,” Jack Gleason left the stage. Perhaps people mistaking him for the dastardly king made his decision for him. By all reports, he’s a nice guy and the opposite of his character. Here’s hoping someone so young and talented returns to acting.
> Retired in: 2014 at age 42
> Notable movies or TV series: “There’s Something About Mary,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” “Charlie’s Angels”
With a résumé that stretches from comedy and action to drama, Cameron Diaz proved she has the acting chops for any genre. Now, she writes books on aging and health instead, and founded an organic wine brand, Avaline, in 2020.
Jonathan Taylor Thomas
> Retired in: 2015 at age 21
> Notable movies or TV series: “Home Improvement” “The Bradys,” “The Lion King,” “The Adventures of Pinocchio”
Jonathan Taylor Thomas has had a notable TV and screen career. But after working since the age of 8, he decided it was time for a break to pursue other interests, such as traveling and studying. He attended Harvard, Columbia, and St. Andrew’s University in Scotland. He last appeared with former co-star Tim Allen on a guest appearance on “Last Man Standing” in 2015.
> Retired in: 2016 at age 33
> Notable movies or TV series: “Never Been Kissed,” “88 Minutes,” “Joy Ride,” “Joan of Arc’
Motherhood took center stage for LeeLee Sobieski, who announced her retirement in 2016. But she left with a comfortable nest egg of $6 million.
> Retired in: 2016 at age 49
> Notable movies or TV series: “The Cosby Show,” “Ray Donovan,” “Angel Heart”
After playing Denise Huxtable on “The Cosby Show” and its spinoff, “A Different World,” Lisa Bonet went on to star in movies (“Enemy of the State” and “High Fidelity”). After a recurring role in “Ray Donovan,” Bonet left acting to raise her children, including fellow actress Zoë Kravitz.
> Retired in: 2017 at age 25
> Notable movies or TV series: “iCarly,” “Sam & Cat”
“iCarly” star Jeannette McCurdy decided she no longer wanted to act at age 25. She said she only went into showbiz to support her family and found the roles unfulfilling.
> Retired in: 2017 at age 32
> Notable movies or TV series: “Saved!” “That’s My Boy”
The daughter of actress Susan Sarandon, Eva Amurri unfollowed her mother’s footsteps in favor of her lifestyle blog, Happily Eva After. She said she prefers dealing with online trolls than the “auditions with slimy people.”
> Retired in: 2017 at age 60
> Notable movies or TV series: “Lincoln,” “My Left Foot,” “There Will be Blood”
After winning an Oscar for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis called it quits at the relatively young age of 60. But as the only actor to win three Academy Awards, does Day-Lewis have anything else to prove?
Portia de Rossi
> Retired in: 2018 at age 45
> Notable movies or TV series: “Arrested Development,” “Sirens,” “Ally McBeal”
After turning 45, Portia de Rossi decided to leave acting after the fourth season of “Arrested Development.” As for her future beyond acting, de Rossi mentioned starting a business, but nothing more definite than that.
> Retired in: 2019 at age 58
> Notable movies or TV series: “You’ve Got Mail,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “When Harry Met Sally…”
The one-time rom-com queen left acting for a reason many can relate to – she felt burned out. Playing everything from a helicopter pilot to an alcoholic left her little time for herself, Ryan said. But good news for Meg Ryan fans: She hasn’t ruled a return to the silver screen.
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