6 Stars Who Retired at the Height of Their Fame
These celebrities walked away from the spotlight after they'd found success.
You'd think that once a star hits it big, they'd want to use all of that success and name recognition, if nothing else, to continue to pump up their career. But while some celebrities, like actor Dick Van Dyke or producer Norman Lear, have no intentions of taking it easy, even well into their golden years, others have scrapped it all at a relatively young age. Read on for six huge stars who retired at the very height of their fame and why they decided to cash in so early.
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Greta Garbo was one of the most famous stars in Hollywood in the 1920s and '30s, even though not all of her movies were successful. Despite her stature in the industry, at the age of 36, Garbo decided to begin a "temporary retirement" that ended up lasting almost 50 years, until her death in 1990.
Why? According to bi.org, the star told her biographer Sven Broman, "I was tired of Hollywood. I did not like my work. There were many days when I had to force myself to go to the studio … I really wanted to live another life." Garbo, who hailed from Sweden, was also very lonely in Los Angeles. She wrote in a letter, as reported by The Guardian, "I am almost always alone and talk to myself. I drive to the beach and take walks and that's always marvelous. But that's it."
Garbo was already known to be rather private at the time, but once she went into retirement, she became even more reclusive and spent most of her life dodging paparazzi in New York City or quietly visiting family and friends in Europe. She didn't even attend the 1955 Academy Awards to receive an honorary award.
Portia de Rossi
Portia de Rossi came to fame as part of the ensemble cast of Ally McBeal and later stretched her comedy muscles even further playing Lindsay Fünke on Arrested Development. Her last movie role was in 2015's Now Add Honey, and her last TV roles, including her final episodes of Scandal, aired in 2017. The following year, she explained on wife Ellen DeGeneres' show that she had officially retired.
"I was approaching 45 and I just kind of … was wondering is there something that I could tackle now that I've never done before that would be really challenging and different. I kind of knew what acting would look like for me for the next 10, 20 years, so I decided to quit and start a business," she said, as reported by People. That business is a consumer-art company called General Public, which uses technology to recreate artwork in the public domain for all kinds of buyers. She told Architectural Digest, "As a lifelong art lover and collector, I recognized the gap in terms of quality and price between works shown through a gallery and works that are readily available. Even if the customer has taste, he or she doesn't necessarily have the time or passion to visit art galleries and learn the art market. Most people are left with the choice of purchasing a black-and-white photograph or a black squiggle on a white piece of paper. Until now, technology has not enabled painters to re-create paintings with all the dimension and texture of the original."
Dylan Sprouse worked for years side by side with his twin brother Cole, the two simultaneously becoming some of the biggest child stars of the '90s and 2000s. They shared the role of Ben on Friends and Julian on Big Daddy and then played brothers in the Disney Channel sitcoms The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and The Suite Life on Deck. Both brothers took a break to go to college, but while Cole returned to the spotlight to play Jughead on Riverdale, Dylan has largely stayed out of it.
After graduating from New York University, Dylan opened a meadery in Brooklyn. He eventually moved back to Los Angeles to dip his toes back into acting, but he's taking it fairly easy, starring in a handful of shorts and indie films.
He told The New York Daily News in 2020 that he's not interested in being a leading man, however. "I think it's just [expletive] boring," he said. "Just frankly. I don't mean to be so blunt. … I don't think it really reaches the heart of what acting is. Like if I wanted to just do big films that didn't have substance or didn't have anything to say about who I am and what I like to respond to, I don't think it would be fair to the people who have also kind of responded to the stuff I've done. … I think it's also too conceited, truly."
Peter Ostrum starred in the 1971 musical movie Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, and with the success of the movie, he could have become a major star in his teenage years. Instead, Charlie Bucket would be not just his first but his only role, as he retired from the entertainment industry at 14 years old. He's now a veterinarian, and though he does show up for various nostalgic Willy Wonka events, that's all he wants out of his childhood fame.
"I was offered a three-picture deal with the studio, but I decided not to pursue acting," Ostrum told The Daily Express in 2014. "Looking back, my pay check was paltry, but it was during filming that I really became interested in medicine. So I bought my first horse with my earnings and that started my current career path as a vet."
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Mara Wilson was one of the most in-demand child actors of the '90s, starring in Miracle on 34th Street, Mrs. Doubtfire, Matilda, and other movies. But after her appearance in Thomas and the Magic Railroad in 2000, Wilson stepped away from acting at 13 years old. While she's dabbled in theater and guest spots, she hasn't made a major return to the industry—nor does she plan to.
In 2016, while promoting her memoir Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame, she told NPR that she thinks she should have quit even sooner, after starring in Matilda and losing her mother to breast cancer right afterwards." There wasn't really anywhere that I could go from there," Wilson said. "So I think that I was already starting to age out of acting. … I think it would have been a good time to re-evaluate things. But I think that after my mother died, I felt like I had to keep going because film was the only constant in my life."
Wilson went on to say that she had entered an age where casting directors didn't know what to do with her, since she "couldn't play 10" and "wasn't as cute." The former child star continued acting on stage, however, including at New York University.
Now, Wilson is mainly a writer and runs a newsletter called Shan't We Tell the Vicar. She's made some small TV appearances here and there, including in a 2016 episode of Broad City, and has done some voicework, most notably in a couple of episodes of BoJack Horseman.
Cameron Diaz made over 40 movies before stepping away from acting in 2014 and officially announcing her retirement in 2018. "When you do something at a really high level for a long period of time, when you're the person that's sort of delivering on this one thing, everything around, all parts of you that isn't that, has to sort of be handed off to other people," the star told Kevin Hart during a 2021 appearance on his Hart to Heart talk show of being a star. "Just, the management of me as a human being… Cameron Diaz is a machine. But for my personal, spiritual self, I was realizing that one part of me that functioned at a high level wasn't enough."
So Diaz left the spotlight and pursued other projects, instead. She's a New York Times bestselling author who's written two books about body acceptance and aging and owns a vegan wine company called Avaline. She's also focused on raising her daughter Raddix with husband Benji Madden. She told Yahoo! Finance in 2021, "It's just a different time in my life now. Now I'm here, and this is the most fulfilling thing that I've ever done in my life. [To] have a family and be married and have our little nucleus of a family. It's just completely the best thing. … I don't have what it takes to give making a movie what it needs to be made. All of my energy is here."
All that said, Diaz is currently making her first movie in almost 10 years: Back in Action with Jamie Foxx.