15 Stars Who Quit Acting After Hitting It Big

These actors walked away from the business when they were still in high demand.

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Film and TV actors live unpredictable lives with long hours on set, irregular schedules, and no way of knowing what their next gig will be. On the other hand, if they find success, they can have a lengthy career, big paychecks, and the fulfillment of doing what they love. Outsiders may think of that as the ultimate goal, but these 15 stars actually decided to quit acting after hitting it big. And they went on to do everything from writing and woodworking to painting and politicking.

While it's pretty rare for big actors to retire officially and entirely, it does happen. Ever since the early days of Hollywood, there have been actors who joined the A-list only to take their lives in a completely different direction. Some of the actors were child stars who either weren't interested in acting careers as adults or had trouble making the transition. Others were in movies for years and finally needed to make a change, whether it was to raise a child, live a less stressful life, or become an actual princess. (I think you know who I'm talking about there.)

Read on to find out more about 15 actors who left the business behind—either permanently or until they decide to change course yet again. And for some shocking transformations, check out 14 Actors Who Looked Unrecognizable in Major Movies.

1
Cameron Diaz

Cameron Diaz
Shutterstock/Featureflash Photo Agency

Cameron Diaz starred in three movies in 2014, and since then… nothing. After being on the A-list for years, the star of Charlie's Angels, The Holiday, There's Something About Mary, and many more decided to call it quits on acting. "The way I look at it is that I've given more than half of my life to the public," Diaz told InStyle in 2019. "I feel it's OK for me to take time for myself now to reorganize and choose how I want to come [back] into the world. If I decide to. I don't miss performing." As she's moved away from acting, she's released two wellness-themed books: The Body Book and The Longevity Book.

For stars who tried their hand at music, here are 15 Actors Whose Singing Careers You Completely Forgot.

2
Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple
Lifestyle pictures/Alamy Stock Photo

Shirley Temple was one of the biggest child stars of all time, and was the most popular actor—period—in the late '30s. But, after retiring from acting in her 20s, she turned to politics. Temple ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1967, but was later appointed by Richard Nixon to the United Nations General Assembly. Later, she became Ambassador to Ghana and Chief of Protocol under Gerald Ford, and Ambassador to Czechoslovakia under George. H. W. Bush.

3
Daniel Day-Lewis

Daniel Day Lewis
Shutterstock/Featureflash Photo Agency

He's one of the most decorated actors ever, and apparently, Daniel Day-Lewis is all set with his three Oscars, four BAFTAs, and his knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II. The Lincoln star's rep said in a statement in 2017, "Daniel Day-Lewis will no longer be working as an actor. This is a private decision and neither he nor his representatives will make any further comment on this subject." Day-Lewis went into "semi-retirement" in the '90s, as reported by the BBC, but if this current retirement sticks his last film will be 2017's Phantom Thread.

For some famous faces who were late bloomers, here are 40 Stars Who Didn't Become Famous Until After 40.

4
Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly
Allstar Picture Library Ltd./Alamy Stock Photo

Some people dream about being a movie star or a princess, but Grace Kelly went right ahead and did both. Kelly was a popular actor in the '50s, starring in three Alfred Hitchcock movies — Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, and To Catch a Thief — among several other films. But, after meeting him at the Cannes Film Festival, Kelly married Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1956 and took on her next role: Princess Grace.

5
Cary Grant

Cary Grant
Allstar Picture Library Ltd./Alamy Stock Photo

One of Kelly's co-stars also retired from acting—just after a much lengthier career. In 1966, at age 62, Cary Grant welcomed his only child, Jennifer Grant. Also in 1966, he gave up acting and committed himself to raising her. Jennifer wrote about being raised by her movie star father in her 2011 memoir, Good Stuff. Grant was in a whopping 72 movies during his career, so maybe the decision to pack it in wasn't all that hard.

For star pairs you miss seeing together, here are 15 Celebrity Couple Breakups You're Probably Still Mourning.

6
Gene Hackman

Gene Hackman
Shutterstock/Featureflash Photo Agency

Seeing that he's now 90, when Gene Hackman retired from acting in 2004, he was 74 years old—a fine age for retiring in any field. In a 2009 interview with Empire, Hackman said that "the
straw that broke the camel's back" when it came to his acting career was when he took a stress test. "The doctor advised me that my heart wasn't in the kind of shape that I should be putting it under any stress." So, the French Connection star further committed himself to the novel writing career he began in 1999. His latest, Pursuit, was published in 2013.

7
Greta Garbo

Greta Garbo
colaimages/Alamy Stock Photo

After becoming one of the biggest stars of Old Hollywood, Greta Garbo retired at the young age of 36. Time reports that the retirement was said to be temporary, but following the 1941 film Two-Faced Woman, Garbo never acted again. Instead, she moved to New York City where she lived until her death in 1990 at 84 years old. As reported by Smithsonian Magazine, old letters of Garbo's show her telling friends about being lonely in Hollywood and talking poorly about some of her movies, so it seems like she made the right decision.

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8
Mara Wilson

Mara Wilson in Mrs. Doubtfire
20th Century Fox

Mara Wilson rose to fame as a child star in Mrs. Doubtfire and Matilda, but as she grew up she backed away from the acting scene. In her 2016 book, Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame, Wilson explained that as she got older, she found that her appearance didn't fit in with what Hollywood wanted. She wrote (via People), "As I saw it, I had three choices: get cosmetic surgery and go out on auditions for the cute and funny best friend characters, stay the way I was and go out for the meager character actor roles for young women, or accept myself and give up the idea of a Hollywood film acting career for good." That said, she did appear on an episode of Broad City and has done some voice work.

9
Phoebe Cates

Phoebe Cates
Shutterstock/Everett Collection

In the '80s and '90s Phoebe Cates appeared in several movies, including Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Gremlins, and Drop Dead Fred. But, after 1994, she pretty much gave up acting, only appearing in one film since then, The Anniversary Party in 2001. Since 2005, Cates has owned a boutique in New York City called Blue Tree, but you still might have spotted her on the red carpet now and then—she has been married to actor Kevin Kline since 1989.

For more showbiz throwbacks, here are 24 Celeb Red Carpet Photos From 1990 You Have to See to Believe.

10
Michael Schoeffling

Michael Schoeffling in Sixteen Candles
Universal Pictures

Similar to Cates, Michael Schoeffling rose to fame in the '80s and '90s and then dropped off the map. He appeared in Vision Quest and Mermaids, but was most known for playing Jake Ryan in Sixteen Candles. His last film appearance was in 1991's Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken. According to The Hollywood Reporter, as of 2019, he was living with his wife in Pennsylvania where he owns a woodworking shop. Nine Network reports that he has two adult children, a son, Zane, and a daughter, Scarlet, who is a model.

11
Danny Lloyd

Danny Lloyd in The Shining
Warner Bros.

A lot of the actors on this list retired after at least several years in the biz. Danny Lloyd went out after two years and at the age of 10. Known for playing Danny Torrance, the kid in The Shining, Lloyd later appeared in the TV movie Will: G. Gordon Liddy about the Watergate scandal, and that was it! Now, he is a college professor, though he did make a cameo in the 2019 movie Doctor Sleep, which stars Ewan McGregor as an adult Danny.

12
Meghan Markle

Meghan Markle
Shutterstock/ComposedPix

Like Grace Kelly before her, Meghan Markle went the actor-to-royalty route. Markle's most well-known role was playing Rachel on Suits from 2011 to 2018, at which point she left the show to marry Prince Harry and become the Duchess of Sussex. Now, her career is changing yet again. She and Harry established a foundation called Archewell and got a production deal with Netflix after taking a step back from royal life.

13
Jack Gleeson

Jack Gleeson in Game of Thrones
HBO

Jack Gleeson retired from acting, but now it sounds like he'll be making a return. "I just stopped enjoying it as much as I used to," the then-21-year-old told Entertainment Weekly in 2014, after he left his role as Joffrey Baratheon on Game of Thrones. "And now there's the prospect of doing it for a living, whereas up until now it was always something I did for recreation with my friends, or in the summer for some fun. I enjoyed it. When you make a living from something, it changes your relationship with it. It's not like I hate it, it's just not what I want to do." According to Variety, he was cast in the upcoming BBC comedy Out of Her Mind in March 2020, so he may have found his love for it again. Still, a six-year break after being on a show as big as GoT counts as quitting after hitting it big.

14
Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen

Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen
Shutterstock/Everett Collection

Mary-Kate Olsen and Ashley Olsen have spent their entire lives working together. But while they started as actors, they now collaborate as fashion designers. The twins began their careers both playing Michelle Tanner on Full House, and moved on to many movies, TV shows, and other business ventures together before they stopped acting entirely in the early 2010s. Now, they're respected designers with their line The Row.

15
Ariana Richards

Ariana Richards, Sam Neill, and Joseph Mazzello in Jurassic Park
Universal Pictures

As a kid, Ariana Richards convinced audiences that real dinosaurs were after her in Jurassic Park and the sequel The Lost World. But, over 25 years later, Richards has gone in a different direction with her career. While she appeared in a TV movie as recently as 2013, there was a long gap before that. She's now an artist, who primarily does portraits with oil paint.

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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