Charlie From "Willy Wonka" Quit Acting After That One Role. See Him Now.
It's been 50 years since the classic family film first hit theaters.
The family-friendly fantasy Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was released in 1971 and quickly became iconic. It's hard to believe that it's been half a century since audiences first saw Charlie Bucket find the last golden ticket, but the movie is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The actor who played that kind-hearted paperboy, Peter Ostrum, decided to quit acting after that role, making the classic the first and last film he ever made. To hear why he walked away from the business immediately after becoming a child star and to find out what he's doing now, read on.
Ostrum was discovered doing children's theater in Ohio.
Ostrum was 12 years old and doing children's theater in Cleveland, Ohio when a representative from the movie's casting agency spotted him in a production. "In the end, I was in the right place at the right time," the former actor said during a 2014 interview with Oprah's Where Are They Now?
While Ostrum quickly realized that acting wasn't going to be his lifelong career, he's noted how important the film is to generations of fans, particularly because of its moral. "We captured lightning in a bottle," he said. "There was a great message there. Basically, good things happen to people who make the right decisions."
He's devoted his life to helping animals.
That's right: Charlie Bucket is a veterinarian. Speaking to the the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) in 2000, explained how he found his passion. Working at his family's stable as a teen, he paid a lot of attention to their horse's veterinarian.
"I can remember the veterinarian coming out and taking care of the horses, and it made a huge impression on me," Ostrum explained. "My father was a lawyer, and I really didn't have a clue what he did all day. But I knew exactly what the veterinarian did. Someone making a living from something he enjoyed so much really sparked my interest."
Ostrum still considered acting after he graduated high school, however. He even spoke to colleagues from Willy Wonka about their movie and TV careers, since he wasn't sure whether veterinary school was a possibility. But one week on the West Coast pursuing roles was enough. Ostrum decided to focus on going to school instead and received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University in 1984. He's been working as a practitioner ever since, and "does mostly dairy work," per the AVMA.
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For years, Ostrum distanced himself from Willy Wonka.
Though he enjoyed making the film, Ostrum never had a strong passion for performing. "Everybody thinks that acting is such a glamorous profession, but it's a difficult profession," he told the AVMA.
He used to avoid talking about his claim to fame, as well. "Growing up after the film, I always denied my involvement with Willy Wonka," he noted to Oprah's Where Are They Now? "I didn't really want to have anything to do with it. I really didn't appreciate the significance of the film until I had children of my own. They saw the film, they were interested." Ostrum and his wife, Loretta Ostrum, have a daughter, Helenka Ostrum, and a son, Leif Ostrum, who are both adults now.
Having reconnected with his childhood project, the former star has attended many events over the years to discuss Willy Wonka. You can occasionally spot Ostrum at film festival panels or at celebrity signing conventions, like the one pictured above.
He's stayed friends with his Willy Wonka co-stars.
While the other children in Willy Wonka don't fare as well as Charlie, Ostrum and the rest of the cast got along fine. The retired actor recently discussed with Reuters how happy he is to be a part of the movie in honor of its big anniversary. Ostrum also noted that he still keeps in touch with his co-stars today.
"I like to think that if you could only make one film, this was the film to be in," he said. "I've known these people for now 50 years, other than my family … I have never kept up with anybody other than these people."
Ostrum also had a close relationship with Gene Wilder, who starred as the mysterious candy factory owner. "It's kind of like losing a parent," Ostrum told Variety of his adult co-star, who passed away from Alzheimer's complications in 2016. "You know it's going to happen, but it's still a shock." Ostrum remembered Wilder as being a "pro" on set, as well as a man who "treated people with respect and dignity."