Skip to content

"Terms of Endearment" Star Debra Winger Left Hollywood at 40—Here's Why

"My life challenged me more than the parts, so I dove into it fully," the star said.

In 1995, Debra Winger was already a three-time Academy Award nominee, who had starred in the movies Terms of Endearment, An Officer and a Gentleman, Shadowlands, and many more. Yet, that's the year she decided to quit acting. Her retirement didn't last long — she returned to the business after six years — but it was a big deal at the time that one of Hollywood's biggest stars was stepping away. Rosanna Arquette's 2002 documentary about the pressures women feel in Hollywood, Searching for Debra Winger, even bears her name.

Deciding to step back from acting is something that Winger has opened up about many times over the years. She's expressed some understandable reasons for her choice, from the roles that were available to her family's needs. Read on to see what the Terms of Endearment star had to say about leaving Hollywood and to find out what she's up to today.

RELATED: This Is Why You Never Hear From Robert Redford Anymore.

She wanted to spend more time with her family.

Arliss Howard and Debra Winger at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival
Evan Agostini/Getty Images

Winger was married to her first husband, actor Timothy Hutton, from 1986 to 1990, and they have one child together, Noah Hutton. In 1996, she married her current husband, Arliss Howard, also an actor, and they welcomed their son, Babe Howard, in 1997.

Winger spoke to The Guardian about the role her family played in her choice to retire in a 2002 interview.

"I do not need a lot of money to be happy," Winger said. "I had a new marriage, I wanted another child and it seemed ridiculous to run off for three months to do another film. I had also reached 40, a point in life when things can get really tough in Hollywood. I looked around and thought: It's time to go."

A New York Times Magazine interview from 2010 also noted that during this time, Winger was not just able to spend time with her children, but also able to take care of her mother at the end of her life.

She wasn't happy with the roles that were being offered to her.

Debra Winger at the premiere of "Kundun" in 1997
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

In her interview with The New York Times Magazine, Winger shared that when she would go to the movies during her time off, "I came out thinking, I'm so glad I was away!" She continued, "I thought for a lot of years that all those guys [in Hollywood] would at some point want to make movies about their mothers—then, I thought, it'll finally get interesting out there. But that didn't happen."

Winger also talked about choosing her personal life over the roles that were floating around in a 2017 interview with People. "The parts that were coming, I wasn't interested in," she said. "I'd already done that or I'd already felt that. I needed to be challenged. My life challenged me more than the parts, so I dove into it fully."

And even during the period she wasn't seen onscreen, she did occasionally act. The New York Times Magazine noted that she worked on stage with the American Repertory Theater. This, in addition to raising her family, working with charities, writing, and gardening, filled up her time, the magazine explained.

She felt free after walking away.

Debra Winger at the International Rome Film Festival in 2011
Andrea Raffin / Shutterstock

In her Guardian interview, Winger explained how liberating it felt to stop acting and auditioning.

"Nothing quite compares with the sense of liberation I felt," she said. "It stays with me: I am happy and I am free. There are no more auditions, no more waiting for phone calls, no more depending on the judgment of others. I can do what I like, go where I like and say what I like."

RELATED: For more celebrity news delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

She never considered it a permanent retirement.

Babe Howard and Debra Winger at the Costume Designer Guild Awards in 2014
Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock

When Winger stopped acting, she didn't know if it would be forever or not. "I didn't differentiate between 'That's it' and 'That's it for now.' I never had a plan," she told The New York Times Magazine. She also shared that it was harder to start again than it was to stop.

"I had a very insightful friend who warned me back when I stopped reading scripts, 'It's easier to change directions while you're still moving,'" she said. "If you stop, it's harder to get started again. I still don't think I made the wrong decision, but he was right."

She's been acting steadily since her return to show business.

Debra Winger at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2019
Paul Morigi/Getty Images

Winger returned to the big screen in 2001 with Big Bad Love, which co-starred Howard and was also directed by him.

"I have enjoyed a wonderful run in films, so far, and I may, at some point, come back," she told The Guardian not long after making Big Bad Love, which, at that point, was potentially going to be a one-off thing. "But it will be in my own time and in my own style."

Since then, she has appeared in the 2008 movie Rachel Getting Married, the series In Treatment and The Ranch, and the 2020 film Kajillionaire, among other projects. Her most recent role was in the 2021 series Mr. Corman.

RELATED: This Is Why You Never Hear From Jack Nicholson Anymore.

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
Filed Under