Child actors sometimes achieve phenomenal success at young ages and then transition that success into lifelong careers. Others can’t wait to retire once they reach adulthood. Ever wondered where some of your favorite child stars are today? Many have left Hollywood far behind.
Some had strong reasons for leaving Tinseltown, while others live on the edge of fame, occasionally still appearing in something new. Many have careers today that are even more impressive than acting. Regardless of where they are now, these 30 child stars were totally okay with losing the spotlight as adults.
Although his Twilight fans may not realize he started as a much younger child star, Taylor Lautner began his acting career at six years old. In his early days, he made guest appearances as a neighborhood kid on The Bernie Mac Show and My Wife and Kids. The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl gave Lautner his big break.
As a teenager, he became a heartthrob when he played Jacob Black in the smash-hit Twilight series. After that role, he starred in several movies that weren’t as successful, and for the last few years, Lautner hasn’t earned any acting credits. On his Instagram, he appears to be imply enjoying his life with his family and friends.
Jamie Lynn Spears
Jamie Lynn Spears, the little sister of pop star Britney Spears, found fame of her own when she starred as the title character in Zoey 101, a highly-rated Nickelodeon drama. Fans were disappointed when the show ended on a cliffhanger after only four seasons.
Soon after the show finished filming, Spears found out she was pregnant with her first child. She left the limelight to have her baby and finish high school. Since then, she has released a few songs and is said to be starring in the upcoming TV series Sweet Magnolias. Spears’ devoted fans are still hoping for a Zoey 101 reboot.
Macaulay Culkin chose peace of mind over a piece of the Hollywood pie. By the time he hit puberty, Culkin had already built an impressive resume. He will always be renowned for making audiences laugh in his iconic role in Home Alone, but no one can forget his character’s untimely death in My Girl, which still inspires a lot of reaching for a Kleenex.
After his retirement from acting in 1994, Culkin went on to live a relatively normal life. He went to a private high school but not one for celebrities. As an adult, he has appeared in a few indie movies, but his work focuses more on fun than on ratings. He has started parody websites and bands, and he’s known for making cameo appearances here and there.
Most people view acting as a lifelong career, but if you start at a young age, you could grow tired of it, just as you would any other career. Brandon Call was only two years old when he started acting. He is well known for playing T.J. on Step by Step, but he has way too many acting credits to mention.
After Step by Step, Call didn’t take any more acting roles. This happened long before the days of social media, so there are few known facts about his life today.
When Jason Zimbler played Ferguson in Clarissa Explains It All, he seemed destined for a long career in Hollywood. Many of the other young actors of his time, including co-star Melissa Joan Hart, translated Nickelodeon and Disney fame into lucrative adult careers.
For Zimbler, Clarissa Explains It All was his final — and most memorable — televised acting gig. When the show ended, he was only 17 years old, and like many kids his age, he decided to go to college. He later appeared in and directed stage plays, but, today, he works with HBO as a software developer.
Ariana Richards will forever be ingrained in millions of viewers’ memories for the shaking green jello in Jurassic Park. Before that iconic role, she had appeared in shows like Golden Girls and the Switched at Birth miniseries. Since 1998, she has only acted in two projects.
When the latest installments in the Jurassic Park series were released, Richards was called upon to make appearances, give interviews and attend Jurassic Park-related events. She even has a video on the Jurassic Park YouTube channel where she meets Blue, one of the dinosaurs in the newer movies, for the first time. Today, Richards is focused on her art career and raising her family.
Starring alongside Ariana Richards as one of the lovable kids in Jurassic Park, Joseph Mazzello seemed to be destined for greatness. After all, being in a successful Steven Spielberg movie can be a catalyst to a great career, but Mazzello’s acting career seemed to stall out after appearing in two Jurassic Park movies. Why?
As Mazzello told the press, high school, dances and college all seemed more exciting than acting to him at the time — so he quit. After more than a decade hiatus, Mazzello has returned to Hollywood and is now working under the name Joe Mazzello.
Jonathan Taylor Thomas
Jonathan Taylor Thomas was handsome, and he appeared on millions of TV screens every week as one of the sons in Home Improvement. This success led to voicing Simba in The Lion King. With all the attention he received, he could have easily been a Ryan Gosling if he wanted, but he left Hollywood soon after his hit show.
The former teenage heartthrob attended both Harvard and Columbia. Although he is still fond of the years he spent in the spotlight, Taylor Thomas explains that he was ready for a slower pace of life. He had worked nearly non-stop for most of his childhood, and he did not want to forgo the college experience.
By the time they hit 20, many child actors assert their adulthood by taking on more edgy roles. At the age of 22, Lisa Jakub, who was the go-to teenage girl on countless movies for much of the ’90s, left Hollywood once and for all. She moved to Virginia and got married. Unlike many of the other child actors on this list, Jakub has yet to return to Tinseltown for a movie or even a guest appearance.
She is an accomplished author, with many of her books serving as personal memoirs exploring her depression and anxiety as well as the lifelong impact of spending her childhood in the spotlight.
Peter Ostrum is indelibly etched into the minds and hearts of many generations for his legendary role as Charlie Bucket in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the original with Gene Wilder). After the movie’s success, Ostrum was offered a lucrative contract, but that contact offer put the nail in the coffin of his acting career.
The film industry worked differently back then. Instead of allowing him to pursue whatever projects he wished, the contract required 12-year-old Ostrum to agree to work in three more unnamed movies. He wasn’t ready to make that kind of commitment. As an adult, he is a successful veterinarian.
Jeff Cohen’s landmark role as Chunk, the adorable boy with plenty of personality in The Goonies, will likely always overshadow the rest of his career. Before The Goonies, Cohen starred on television shows like Family Ties and Amazing Stories. He was one of the biggest child stars of the 80s.
However, Cohen was typecasted as the self-described “fat kid,” even after he began to lose weight. He got tired of trying to prove he was more than Hollywood’s image of him, so he became a lawyer instead. Now, he runs a law firm in Beverly Hills.
In a matter of years, Amanda Bynes went from playing a small role on All That to starring in her own sketch show, The Amanda Show. She was Nickelodeon’s main starlet for many years. After she left the teen scene, she starred in plenty of movies, including She’s the Man.
In the rush of Hollywood life, Bynes got involved in heavy drug use. She forcibly retired herself to get her mental and physical health back on track. She recently attended fashion school in LA and says she is open to a return to the world of acting.
As a child, Mara Wilson was the smallest supporting actress on many ’90’s blockbusters. She played the cute little girl on Mrs. Doubtfire and Melrose Place, but with her starring role in Matilda, she showed that she was more than just a cute kid. In her heyday, casting directors sent scripts to Wilson and hired her without auditions. As she grew older, however, it became harder and harder to get leading roles.
In the teen acting scene, physical appearance was viewed as more important. After feeling pressure to alter her body to fit the ideals of Hollywood, Wilson made the decision to leave the industry. She pursued a college degree and is now an author and comedy writer living in New York.
While Danielle Spencer’s name may not immediately ring a bell, one look at her is all it takes to remember exactly who she is. She played Dee, Rog’s annoying little sister on the ’70s sitcom What’s Happenin’?. After the original iteration of the show was canceled, Danielle went to college, but she later left school to play on the show’s reboot, What’s Happenin’ Now?.
After that show ended, Spencer basically left acting, with the exception of a few roles from 1997 to 2001. Today, she works as a veterinarian. She had two health scares, a brain bleed and breast cancer, but she has a clean bill of health now.
Frankie Muniz was one of the hottest child stars of his generation. He starred in the Cody Banks movie series, and he played Malcolm in the hit sitcom Malcolm in the Middle. He was a talented actor, and he seemed to land great roles that appealed to adults just as much as children.
Despite rumors, Muniz has never officially retired. After Malcolm in the Middle ended, he began to feature in edgier projects like horror movies and R-rated movies. He has also had numerous guest appearances on TV shows and has dabbled in writing and directing. Although he is doing well now, the progression of his career was interrupted at one point by health problems that led to memory loss.
Charlie Korsmo blasted onto the Hollywood scene at just the right time, when the industry was ripe with great roles for young talent. Audiences likely remember him most for his integral role in the Peter Pan spinoff Hook, but he was also in What About Bob? and Dick Tracy.
Korsmo could have easily gone on to become one of Hollywood’s next big stars, but he decided to go to MIT instead. With the physics degree he earned there, he began a career with the EPA and later earned his law degree at Yale. In between working as a lawyer and law professor, he also has an active role in politics. Not bad for a kid who didn’t want to grow up once upon a time.
Michael Fishman will always be known as D.J. Conner from Roseanne. The show gave him his first big break, although Fishman has had small roles on other television shows since then. He was even a voice actor for an episode of Hey Arnold!.
Fishman has expressed the desire to land a leading role on a television show or a movie, but he has yet to find that role. After a break from Hollywood, the Roseanne reboot seemed hopeful, but the show was marred by Roseanne Barr’s controversial comments. During several acting hiatuses, Fishman worked in set design, so who knows where his career will go next?
Daniel Tay is most known for his role as Michael, the half brother of Buddy in Elf, Will Ferrell’s widely-acclaimed Christmas movie. Since then, Tay has played in a movie called American Splendor and has appeared on a few short-lived television shows, including Beer League.
Later in his career, he did some voice acting for the cartoon Doogal and for the Grand Theft Auto video game series. Tay has not had any other roles in mainstream Hollywood since then. He isn’t very active on social media, but on the bright side, he seems to have stayed out of trouble. Read on to learn what the matchmaking kid from Sleepless in Seattle is doing now.
Ross Malinger was the most adorable face in Hollywood for years. He acted alongside award-winning adults in movies like Sleepless in Seattle, Toothless and Kindergarten Cop. He went on to play in Peter and the Wolf and Little Big Foot. One of his later claims to fame is voice acting as the character T.J. in the Recess cartoon series.
He played a few different characters on Touched by an Angel and guest-starred on an episode of Without a Trace, but since 2006, Malinger has quit Hollywood. According to reports, he now works in auto mechanics.
Ross Bagley played Buckwheat in the modern version of The Little Rascals. After the movie, Bagley was in a movie every year for a while. His adorable face became even more well known when he landed the role of Nicky Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and then went on to play alongside his Fresh Prince co-star, Will Smith, in Independence Day.
As an adult, Bagley earned a degree in cinema and television arts, so much of his current work in the movie industry is done behind the scenes. He is still open to acting, but he has not played any major roles in the past few years.
Nineties television show producers had a weird habit of axing characters — or replacing them with other actors — and just pretending it never happened. That’s exactly what happened to Jaimee Foxworth when her character, Judy Winslow, was abruptly cut out of the hit sitcom Family Matters.
Foxworth struggled to find another role in mainstream Hollywood after leaving Family Matters. In the midst of a battle with depression and addiction, she launched a two-year career in the adult film industry. Since then, Foxworth has achieved sobriety and has appeared on talk shows like Dr. Oz to speak about her experiences.
Angus T. Jones
Two and a Half Men isn’t really fit for children, but Angus T. Jones starred on the long-running sitcom as Jake Harper, the son of Jon Cryer’s Alan Harper anyway. Before that, Jones played James in City of Angels. As he grew up, he became interested in religion and finally began to understand the more adult themes of his hit show.
He wasn’t personally comfortable with some of Jake’s activities as the character grew older, so he left. Since then, Jones has denounced organized religions and now works for a media company called Tonite. He’s open to acting again in the future.
Karyn Parsons is best known for her role as Hilary Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. On the show, she played an older teenager who became an adult, but Parsons has been an actress since she was 13. Her first role was in a movie called Bronx Zoo.
Parson’s was in her early 20s when Fresh Prince ended, and her acting career seemed to come to an end six years later when another series she starred in, The Job, ended. Since then, she’s been working as the founder of a non-profit called Sweet Blackberry that helps kids learn black history through animation. Like Parsons, the next child star also became famous in her late teens.
Most child stars are known for innocent roles. Phoebe Cates’ acting career started when she was well into her teen years, and her roles were a little edgier. In fact, her claim to fame is starring as Linda in the controversial rated-R Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Soon after that career-defining movie, Cates married fellow actor Kevin Kline. When the couple decided to have kids, they agreed to always prioritize their children. Cates is very selective about the projects she chooses to spend her limited time on, so she hasn’t done much acting since the early 2000s.
Although most people remember Matthew Labyorteaux as Albert Ingalls, he was actually first on Little House on the Prairie as a younger Charles Ingalls when Charles has flashbacks to his childhood. Labyorteaux comes from a family of actors, so he had scored guest appearances on a number of shows before he got his big break.
After portraying Albert, he made several other guest appearances and starred in the movie Deadly Friend. Since the 1980s, it’s been a rare occurrence to see Labyorteaux in front of the screen, but he has been very successful as a voice actor.
Shirley Temple was America’s original sweetheart — and that was part of the problem. After years of playing dozens and dozens of adorable, innocent characters, Temple struggled to find roles as an adult. She was typecasted into a persona that no twenty-something would ever be hired to play.
At the age of 22, Temple retired from acting, but she went on to lead a very successful life. She got married and moved to Washington D.C. where she launched an influential career in politics. She was a United Nations ambassador to both Ghana and Czechoslovakia for decades.
The Olsen Twins
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen proved just how far the careers of child actors can go. The twins starred as Michelle Tanner in Full House. As they grew older, they made a laundry list of movies, books and shows of their own, where they both had separate roles instead of playing the same person.
Although their last movie, New York Minute, debuted in 2004, the twins did not make an official retirement announcement until 2014. They both decided to devote the rest of their careers to fashion and entrepreneurship, pursuing various separate interests. The twins credit their multifaceted acting career for preparing them to be great businesswomen from a young age.
Success in Hollywood often has more to do with looks than anything else. That’s why many expected a hugely successful career for Clayton Snyder (AKA all-brawn, no-brains hunk Ethan in Lizzie McGuire), even though he only played a minor role.
Snyder took a lengthy break after McGuire, but he has returned with a vengeance. Since 2014, he has received acting credits for at least one project a year. Fans are hoping he will have a role in the recently announced Lizzie McGuire reboot. Next up, learn why you don’t see the little boy who played the biggest villain in the galaxy on your screen anymore.
Jake Lloyd is known for a role so iconic that his career can reasonably be divided into two eras — before Star Wars and after Star Wars. Before Star Wars, little Lloyd acted alongside the likes of Sinbad and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Jingle All The Way. He also had plenty of smaller roles on TV and in movies.
Ironically, his big break also became the demise of his career. He portrayed a young Anakin Skywalker, who would go on to become Darth Vader, in The Phantom Menace. Lloyd was bullied — by the media and his classmates — so badly that he left acting for a long time.
You’ve probably only seen Vincent Martella as Greg, young Chris Rock’s goofy friend in Everybody Hates Chris, but you may not know that you hear his trademark squeaky voice on dozens of cartoons. His most iconic role as a voice actor is certainly the title character Phineas in Disney’s Phineas and Ferb.
Martella has also lent his vocal abilities to a long list of video games. Since the end of Everybody Hates Chris, he has not found a similarly successful role on television, although he had a season-long stint on The Walking Dead. The series that made him famous is running in Brazil for the first time, so maybe that will lead to Martella’s next big break.