We often view celebrities through the prism of the media, which leads us to think that they are somehow different, even better, than the rest of us. We all have fantasies of the lives that our favorite celebrity lives, and it’s often one that we dream of for ourselves. We sit at our desks, waiting for 5:00 to come, daydreaming about what life would be like if we were rich and famous. We could have everything we ever wanted, adored by a group of fans hanging on our every word. This idealized conception of fame makes us even more perplexed when they decide to leave it all behind.
Of course, celebrities are not much different than the rest of us. Sure, they have a lot more talent and better looks, but they largely have the same fears, regrets and hopes that the rest of us do. Imagine your job has made you a household name. Sure, that will come with some perks, but it will also come with a substantial amount of baggage. On top of the problems that come with a normal life, you would then have to face all of the questions that come with fortune and fame. Everyone thinks that their problems would go away if they had enough money. That’s partially true, but what happens when you get all of that money and still aren’t happy? Here are 15 celebrities that had to face this question head-on, and decided to walk away from it all.
15. Meg Ryan
Meg Ryan has acted in films for decades, including popular roles in Top Gun, When a Man Loves a Woman and When Harry Met Sally. The latter of these films garnered her a Golden Globe nomination, but Ryan has never appeared to be content with her film career. She was typecast early, and eventually took multiple breaks from Hollywood and the public eye. Ryan has quit Hollywood on three separate occasions, but has returned time after time. Her most recent hiatus took place in 2012, though it appears she will be stepping out from the shadows once again. This time, she is working behind the camera as a director in most of her work. She has done some television acting work along with her directorial ambitions, but has not been active for about a year. She may be taking another break, or she may be done for good; with Meg Ryan you can never know for sure.
14. Jonathan Taylor Thomas
Jonathan Taylor Thomas was best known for his character on Home Improvement, Randy Taylor, but also voiced the lovable lion Simba in Disney’s classic 1994 animated film, The Lion King. After Home Improvement ended, he dabbled in other TV shows but eventually quit acting to pursue his studies. Thomas graduated from high school in 2000 and went on to enroll at Harvard University, where he studied philosophy and history. While he’s been largely content with staying out of the public eye, Thomas returned to television in 2013 to reunite with his former TV father, Tim Allen in the show Last Man Standing. He has since dabbled in directing, but it’s clear that Thomas’ intentions are to live a quiet life away from the Hollywood lifestyle. He had an acting career as a child that many adults dream of, so you can’t blame him for wanting to live a normal life.
13. Sean Connery
Scottish actor Sean Connery was the James Bond of a generation, and still the go-to James Bond of many fans today. With over 60 films to his name Connery called it quits in 2006 following his American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He was 76 at the time, well over the retirement age, so you can’t blame him for wanting some time for himself. Connery did return to voice acting, lending his voice to the video game adaptation of the Bond film, From Russia with Love along with a couple other projects. When asked if he would return to acting, Connery replied that he was just having too much fun with retirement. There were some rumblings that he would make a cameo in a newer Bond film, but it was thought to be a distraction for audiences. With such a prolific career, Connery certainly deserved his retirement, and it doesn’t look like he’ll return to the silver screen in the near future.
12. Gene Hackman
Prolific actor Gene Hackman has been in over 80 movies during the course of his career. He has also been nominated for and has won multiple Oscars and Golden Globes. His career spanned decades and he is one of the most accomplished actors in history. Pretty much everyone has seen one of Hackman’s films, whether it’s The Royal Tenenbaums or Welcome to Mooseport. The latter of the two was Hackman’s final film, unfortunate as that may be. Ray Romano‘s hilarity didn’t translate to the big screen, but Hackman can hardly be blamed for that. In a Larry King interview in 2004, Hackman announced to the world that he would be retiring from acting. He later confirmed his decision in a GQ interview, and claimed that he would only come out of retirement if he could act in a film from the comfort of his own home. Hackman is a published author and is still writing, so the world is not completely devoid of his creativity.
11. Freddie Prinze Jr.
Freddie Prinze Jr. didn’t leave Hollywood in the traditional sense, but rather fell out of favor after his time in the spotlight was over. Prinze was most well known for his roles in the teen movies of the early 2000s, such as I Know What You Did Last Summer and She’s All That. He was popular for a time, but his later movies flopped and he had trouble finding work. He did some acting later in his career, such as playing Fred Jones in the live-action Scooby Doo movie. After this, he left the traditional Hollywood career path to pursue opportunities that he was personally interested in. Prinze was a fan of WWE, so he appeared in cameos and worked as a producer for them. He’s also an avid gamer, and you can catch him every now and then streaming on Twitch. He hasn’t streamed in a couple of months, but check back in if you want to see a former star hit 360-no-scopes in Call of Duty.
10. Brian Wilson
As the leader and co-founder of the Beach Boys, Brian Wilson was on top of the world in his prime. The band was releasing hit after hit, which were mostly attributed to Wilson’s involvement as the songwriter and front-man. During the band’s tour in 1964, Wilson suffered a panic attack on a flight to their next venue, prompting him to withdraw from any further live performances. He insisted that he wanted to focus on songwriting and producing, and the band hired Glen Campbell to fill in for Wilson on the road. Eventually, in the early 1970s Wilson began to withdraw from the group altogether. He became isolated, and tried his best to escape the spotlight of success. He didn’t partake in the vanity of the town, often driving around unkempt and unrecognizable. His withdrawal may have had something to do with his profound acid trip, as he admits that this experience changed his outlook on what’s really important.
9. Howard Hughes
Howard Hughes, for those who don’t know, was an eccentric millionaire who was made popular by his directing and producing work. Hughes was behind hits such as The Racket, Hell’s Angels and the original Scarface. His directing and producing work often pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable in the 1930s, as witnessed by Scarface’s criticism for excessive violence. His private life was no different. Hughes was an eccentric, and was often in the public eye for reasons outside of film, such as for breaking the world record for a flight around the world (91 hours). Towards the end of his life, Hughes became a recluse, some citing mental disorders for his isolated lifestyle. He lived in the top floor of multiple hotels, eventually buying a hotel and casino in Las Vegas. Hughes lived the rest of his life with the blinds drawn (quite literally) and remained in isolation until his death in 1976.
8. Mara Wilson
Mara Wilson may not be the name you’d first think of when seeing her picture. The 1996 film Matilda brought child star Mara Wilson into the mainstream, but Wilson had a long list of acting credits by this time, including commercials, Miracle on 34th Street and Mrs. Doubtfire. This was, unfortunately, the peak for Mara Wilson as an actress. After a few more roles and failed auditions, Wilson retired from acting at a young age. She had the chance to audition for Donnie Darko, but declined. In 2012, Wilson stated that she didn’t have much fun in front of the camera, and is now perusing other outlets of creativity. She writes articles and novels, as well as records multiple podcasts of different niches.
7. John Hughes
John Hughes (left) may not be a name that rings a bell, but he was a director, screenwriter and producer for some of the biggest films of the 1980s and 1990s. His credits include The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pretty in Pink, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and Home Alone. His greatest success came with the two latter films, but Hughes retired from the spotlight shortly after. In 1994, Hughes retreated back to Chicago and away from Hollywood. He was a good friend of John Candy‘s and Candy’s sudden heart attack death was very jarring for Hughes. He decided to focus on family instead of pursuing further film opportunities. He declined any interviews, and was largely left alone for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, Hughes died of a heart attack in 2009. His work lives on, however, as many television shows and films made reference to Hughes’ work following his untimely death at the age of 59.
6. Lauryn Hill
Lauryn Hill is known best for her time in the rap group The Fugees, where she cemented herself as one of the best rappers – male or female – to ever pick up a mic. She inspired millions with her music and her personality, but wasn’t fulfilled with the life of a celebrity. She began to feel trapped, and didn’t like the falsehood that so much of Hollywood subscribes to. In short, she didn’t like being famous. She even turned down roles in some films including The Matrix Reloaded, The Mexican and The Bourne Identity. Hill left the spotlight around the year 2000, deciding to focus on her family and spiritual maturity. During this time, Hill was relatively isolated, and studied the bible rigorously. More recently, Hill has emerged from exile and done some sporadic concerts for her fans. She has released some music, but seems to be content to finish her career as a more obscure musician rather than a household name.
5. JD Salinger
Author JD Salinger is perhaps best known for a book that we all had to read in high school: Catcher in the Rye. The novel had initial success upon release, but even more success years after it was published. It was banned from schools because of the language, which made it even more intriguing to young readers. This novel was seemingly the voice of adolescence that was missing at the time, and Salinger became a household name because of it. He eventually moved to New Hampshire, where he made a community out of the local high school students whom he would meet with regularly. This was the case until 1953, when a student wrote an article about Salinger for the school news paper. He then ended his meetings with the students, and withdrew into near isolation, hardly ever leaving his home and only meeting with close friends on occasion. The success of his novel was something that Salinger didn’t seem to expect or know how to handle. He released sporadic writings, and seemed content to live out the rest of his life away from the public eye.
4. Rick Moranis
Rick Moranis is a comedian and actor who is most known for his roles in Ghostbusters, Little Shop of Horrors and the Honey, I shrunk the Kids franchise. He was always the lovable dork on screen, but decided to call it quits in 1997. The decision was mainly motivated by the death of his wife earlier that year. Moranis found it difficult to balance being a single parent and the traveling required for regular acting gigs. He devoted himself to family life and found that he didn’t miss the life he left behind in Hollywood. Moranis famously turned down a cameo in the recent Ghostbusters reboot, but took this time to reiterate that he wasn’t officially retired from acting; he’s just being picky. Looks like we may see Rick Moranis again before it’s all said and done, but it would probably have to be one hell of a script to get him away from his kids.
3. Harper Lee
Writer Harper Lee is known for her famous novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, which has been read by countless high school students over the years. Like many books that stirred the pot, there was a brief time when the book was banned in certain schools, but it was still a great success in its time. For all of the book’s success, Harper lived a reclusive life. She hardly did any interviews or public appearances, and was happy to spend her time alone or with friends rather than on a public stage. She worked on multiple books following the success of To Kill a Mockingbird, but never finished any of her projects. Because she was so isolated, many people speculated on a release of her new book, which never came. In 2015, a manuscript of hers was discovered called Go Set a Watchman, which was intended to be the third book in a trilogy, the first of which was Mockingbird.
2. Agnetha Fältskog
Agnetha Fältskog was made an international figure during her stint with the pop group ABBA, and will likely be remembered most for her time with them. After the group split, Fältskog continued to record music as a solo artist. She was more successful while solo than her ABBA counterparts, but was still never able to escape the shadow of the group. In 1989, Fältskog decided to leave the music industry and the public spotlight altogether. She spent this time as privately as she could, though she was plagued by a stalker for much of that period. Fältskog did return to music in 2004, releasing a single and eventually a cover album entitled My Coulouring Book. She made her first public performance in 25 years in 2013, singing a duet with Gary Barlow. While Fältskog has not been able to replicate her commercial success, she is still relatively active and has written an autobiography that was released earlier this year.
1. Dave Chappelle
Dave Chappelle had maybe the most polarizing exit of any modern celebrity. Chapelle was on top of the comedy world during his Chappelle Show run, at least so it would seem. Privately, Chappelle was battling with the content he was creating as well as its affects to other parts of his life. While he’s never given us one concrete reason why he left the show, it seems as though there were a perfect storm of events that led to his departure. Chappelle has admitted that he didn’t feel comfortable dressing up as a woman for laughs, which was something that the studio wanted him to do. His stand-up act (Chappelle always thought of himself as a stand-up comedian first) was beginning to suffer, as unruly Chappelle Show fans would begin berating him during his performances. When he finally left for Africa with the show in limbo, many publications deemed him mentally unstable, and hinted at the fact that he might be on drugs. Chappelle was taken aback by these comments, making him even less inclined to return to his place in the spotlight. He left and only recently began publicly performing stand-up comedy again; although he prefers to be left alone with his family in Ohio.
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