While the A-list lifestyle certainly looks enviable, there’s no denying that the limelight is a high-pressure place. It’s uncommon, however, for a celebrity to give it all up after they’ve worked hard for years to assure their success.
In some rare and noteworthy instances, the stress and complications outweigh the perks, and a well-loved celeb will decide to leave the world of stardom behind. Sometimes this move is motivated simply by a waning interest in working in their chosen field. Some celebrities have decided to call it quits for altruistic or personal reasons. Some went off into the sunset never to be heard from again, while others decided to attempt career comebacks years after lengthy early retirements.
A few comebacks proved to be extremely successful, while others were unmitigated flops. That’s the thing about voluntarily leaving the A-list on a whim – there’s no guarantee they’ll let you back. Have a look at the varied fates of these fifteen stars who once chose to exit stage left.
15. Dave Chappelle
Dave Chappelle threw in the towel just as his career was really taking off. His comedy sketch show, Chappelle’s Show, lasted just two seasons, but its unquestionable popularity meant it could have much better innings had the star stuck around.
After Chappelle left and his show ended in a very public and very messy way, it became a cult hit. He shied away from the public eye and decided to do charity work in Africa. He has since returned to the spotlight working on his original love, stand up comedy, but there is no question that he is not as famous as he used to be.
14. Rick Moranis
Canadian comedy actor Moranis left Hollywood at the top of his game. He was a huge comedy star appearing in films like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and The Flintstones. In the late 90s, some six years after his wife died of cancer, he decided to quit acting so he could focus on being a single parent and raising his children; certainly a noble reason to leave the glitz and glam of Hollywood.
Moranis has since recorded a country album, did some voice work in the Disney film Brother Bear and served as an advisor for the comedy program at Humber College in Toronto, but that’s about all he’s done since he quit his career in the late 1990s. Moranis even refused to reprise his famous role to do voiceovers for the Ghostbusters video game. He has since told USA Today that after making the decision to leave acting, ‘I really didn’t miss it.’
13. Harper Lee
After the recognition and praise Harper Lee received for writing the book To Kill a Mockingbird everyone expected that she would have a huge career ahead of her as a celebrity author.
However, she decided to leave the public eye and retire after writing this single novel, having been awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Despite her success, she has led a very private life. Lee helped Truman Capote write his book In Cold Blood, but she has never published another book since To Kill a Mockingbird.
Lee started to write some more books, but she scrapped them after she became unsatisfied with the writing.
12. Michael Schoeffling
80s’ star Michael Schoeffling chose to retire from acting and leave Hollywood behind, reportedly because his career trajectory and the roles made available to him weren’t satisfactory.
His breakout role came in the John Hughes’ classic Sixteen Candles, playing Jake Ryan. Ryan was the object of Molly Ringwald’s affection in the popular teen movie. After that role, however, Schoeffling’s acting career went into a slump. After starring in eight more films he decided to call it quits when none of his later roles proved as successful as his role in Sixteen Candles. Schoeffling gave up acting in favour of woodworking and became a successful maker of handcrafted furniture.
11. Taylor Momsen
Taylor Momsen, who starred in movies like Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas and TV shows like Gossip Girl, decided to quit acting to focus on her music. Her last film was the children’s film Spy School in 2008, and she completed her run in Gossip Girl in 2012.
Momsen narrowly lost out on the role of Hannah Montana which, of course, went to Miley Cyrus. Momsen’s decision to leave acting behind has proven to be a wise one, as her music career has skyrocketed in recent years. Momsen says that touring and singing is all she wants to do, so a return to film or TV seems somewhat unlikely.
10. Josh Hartnett
Josh Hartnett was a Hollywood heartthrob and a rising star when he decided to take a partial break from acting. In the early 2000s, he was starring in films like Pearl Harbor, and it seemed like he was on the cusp of achieving A-list status. However, he grew weary of the Hollywood game and decided to throw in the towel before fully realising his star potential. Hartnett has since spoken out against fame, telling the Evening Chronicle that “I think trying to stay at the top is a shortcut to unhappiness.”
It was this attitude that motivated his decision to take his career in another direction. Hartnett now sticks to low-key, edgier movie and TV roles, avoiding the blockbuster trajectory he was once on.
9. Sean Connery
After starring in a string of box office bombs, the great Sean Connery decided it was time to retire. He had a legendary career thanks to playing James Bond, so he felt the time was right to relax and play golf.
Connery confirmed his retirement when he received a lifetime achievement award from the American Film Institute in 2006. He has since done some voice work, but has not appeared in any live action acting work since his retirement. Many prolific actors of Connery’s stature continue to act until they’re physically unable to, but Connery wished to enjoy his retirement.
8. Shirley Temple
When Shirley Temple died in 2014, the name that had become synonymous with a curly-haired child was all over the front pages for the first time in decades. She became incredibly famous as a child star in the 1930s, but even after being the top box office draw in Hollywood for four years in a row, she decided to quit Hollywood altogether.
Temple decided it was best to leave movie-making as her popularity started to wane. She did briefly return to television in the late 1950s, but after she left Hollywood she became successful in another field; she entered politics and served in a number of high-powered positions. She was the United States ambassador to Ghana, Chief of Protocol of the United States and United States ambassador to Czechoslovakia.
7. Howard Hughes
Howard Hughes got his start in Hollywood directing films with amazing spectacles of aerial warfare. His work was praised and soon he became a central character in Hollywood. He dated many Hollywood starlets including Katharine Hepburn. His true passion was aviation, and he is responsible for some of the most important breakthroughs in the aviation world.
However, he also suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder and was deeply afraid of germs. At one point his disorder stopped him from making films and working on aviation projects. His retreat happened around the same time as there was pressure from the government to sell his stake in Trans World Airlines. In 1947, he spent much of his time in his private screening room and became a recluse.
6. Amanda Bynes
After she starred on two extremely successful Nickelodeon TV shows (the Amanda Show and All That) it seemed like Amanda Bynes was destined for greatness. She appeared in successful movies like Hairspray and Easy A, but soon she saw her Hollywood career fizzle as she started exhibiting stranger and stranger behavior.
Today she is far from being considered a rising Hollywood star. Instead, she’s known to be one of the most bizarre and unstable celebrities around.
5. Jonathan Taylor Thomas
Jonathan Taylor Thomas was the teen heartthrob of the nineties, who rose to fame on Home Improvement. He was noticeably absent in the final seasons of Home Improvement, however, after he left the show in 1998. He later told People magazine ‘I wanted to go to school, to travel and have a bit of a break’.
After he called it a day on his successful sitcom run, Thomas excelled academically and attended Harvard and Columbia universities. He remained absent from Hollywood for the most part. He did guest star on a few other TV shows such as 8 Simple Rules and Veronica Mars. Most recently he guest starred on another Tim Allen sitcom, Last Man Standing.
4. John Hughes
John Hughes was undoubtedly a genius and responsible for numerous incredibly well-received comedy films. The director of such classic films as the Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Planes, Trains and Automobiles decided to retire to the city that played such a pivotal role in many of his films: Chicago.
Hughes left Hollywood because he was afraid of the way it would affect his sons. He wanted them to have a normal life and he was also disillusioned after what happened to his close friend, comedian John Candy: Hughes said Hollywood killed Candy by making him work too hard.
3. Craig Kilborn
In 2004, aged just 41, Craig Kilborn decided it was time to quit the talk show business, so he left the Late Late Show and went into retirement. He had hosted The Daily Show between 1996 and 1999 and went on to host The Late Late Show for five years.
About his departure from the latter show, he said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times: “I didn’t leave to do anything else, I left to leave. I achieved my career goals and it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.”
It may have been a mistake, because his 2010 attempt to revive his career and star in a syndicated talk show didn’t go so well: 2010’s The Kilborn File only lasted six weeks.
2. Brian Wilson
When his father died in 1973, Beach Boys co-founding member Brian Wilson left the rock group, and the limelight, altogether. During the next two years he became a recluse and holed himself up in the chauffeur’s quarters of his mansion. He reportedly fell into a deep depression and began abusing drugs and alcohol.
Wilson had suffered from mental health issues for years, but after getting therapeutic help he eventually began to write and record music again. Wilson even rejoined the Beach Boys for a short reunion tour in 2012.
1. Greta Garbo
Swedish actress Greta Garbo became one of the most adored starlets during the golden age of Hollywood. Garbo was best known for starring in films like Anna Christie and Anna Karenina.
After starring in 28 films, she decided to take an early retirement at just 35 years of age. Part of the reason for her leaving was that she didn’t, in fact, like acting. Hollywood producers and directors showed much interest in having her return to Hollywood, but Garbo refused every role she was offered. She instead chose to lead a private life and stayed away from Hollywood. She spent her later years collecting art and gardening.