Some child actors successfully make the transition to adult stardom. Jodie Foster, Jason Bateman, and Drew Barrymore are just three notable examples of this. Others aren’t so lucky. Many of them remain in show business, but are relegated to being contestants on reality shows like Dancing with the Stars or, in other cases, doing “stunt casting” cameos on TV and in film as themselves. Those things keep them in the limelight, but it must be disappointing to not have the A-list opportunities anymore. And, of course, there are those incredibly sad cases where the actors get so messed up by fame that they develop ultimately fatal drug and alcohol addictions.
Then there are child actors who decide to leave the business altogether. Maybe they get sick of the grind, or maybe they just find other things they want to do. In some cases, acting was never what they wanted to do in the first place. Whatever the reason, many of them go on to have surprising careers far away from Hollywood. We’ve tracked down 15 of those former stars who opted to call it quits. What they did afterward will catch you off guard.
Here are 15 Child Stars Who Did Surprising Things After Leaving Show Business.
15. Ariana Richards
After small roles in Tremors and Prancer, Ariana Richards landed a dream role. She played Lex, one of the kids in Jurassic Park. Having a sizable role in one of the biggest hit movies of all-time is the kind of opportunity every actor yearns for. Richards briefly reprised the part in the first sequel, The Lost World, and did some television work in the years afterward. There was also a brief stint as a pop singer.
Perhaps recognizing the difficulty child stars can have transitioning to adult roles, she wisely chose to pursue an education, earning a BS degree from Skidmore College. In between takes on the set of Jurassic Park, Richards enjoyed creating watercolor paintings. This interest in art would put her on a cool path after quitting acting. She went on to become an award-winning artist, snagging first place in the 2005 National Professional Oil Painting Competition. Currently, Richards paints some pretty amazing portraits, landscapes, and nudes, which you can check out on her official website.
14. Shirley Temple
Shirley Temple was the original child star. From 1935 to 1938, she was the biggest box office draw in the country. Movies like Curly Top, Little Miss Marker, and Poor Little Rich Girl made her a nationwide sensation. Bright Eyes, meanwhile, provided her with the song that became synonymous with her name, “On the Good Ship Lollipop.” Her run as a motion picture actress ran all the way up to 1949, when she made her final silver screen appearance in A Kiss for Corliss.
After deciding to depart from the acting scene, Temple became very active in politics. She failed to win a Congressional seat, but President Richard Nixon saw fit to make her a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. His successor, Gerald Ford, made her the Ambassador to Ghana, and she later became the Ambassador to Czechoslovakia under the presidency of George H.W. Bush. In this latter position, she was instrumental in helping to end Communism in the country. Temple died in 2014, but she left behind a remarkable legacy, not only in Hollywood, but in the entire world, as well.
13. Danica McKellar
Danica McKellar played Winnie Cooper, the childhood dream girl of Kevin Arnold on ABC’s hit series The Wonder Years. The quintessential girl next door quickly became iconic. Winnie was a representation of the mystery and joy that accompanies youthful infatuation. The young actress was talented enough to deliver everything that Winnie was supposed to embody, which made her a star. However, she became so associated with the part that getting juicy adult roles wasn’t easy.
We admit that, unlike the others on this list, McKellar never left show biz altogether – she still does some voice work and an occasional TV movie – but she did leave gaps in her acting resume. What she did during those breaks is pretty amazing. After graduating summa cum laude from UCLA with a degree in mathematics, McKellar penned four best-selling books, including Math Doesn’t Suck and Kiss My Math, designed to get adolescent readers interested in math and comfortable with some of the more advanced concepts. She even co-authored her own mathematical theorem. How many child stars can make that claim?
12. Robert MacNaughton
We’ve all seen, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, right? Part of the movie’s overwhelming success is due to the casting of the three children. Drew Barrymore, who played Gertie, of course went on to become an A-list star. Henry Thomas, who won our hearts as Elliott, has become a respected character actor. But what about Robert MacNaughton, who played the eldest sibling, Michael?
His career didn’t take off the way his co-stars’ did. His only other major film role was in the 1983 drama I Am the Cheese, which flopped. A few insignificant TV guest spots followed before he disappeared from the screen in 1998. Some stage work followed, but then he retired from acting. Apparently quite happy to be out of the competitive showbiz scene, MacNaughton became a mail carrier, first in Phoenix, Arizona, and more recently in Jersey City, NJ. If you live in either of those places, one of the stars of E.T. may have personally sorted or delivered your mail. That’s certainly something to “phone home” about.
11. Jordan Warkol
The Little Rascals (also known as Our Gang) were a group of child actors who made a series of popular short films between the years of 1922 and 1944. The characters were lovable street urchins who had a penchant for getting into trouble. Spanky and Alfalfa (with his weird spiky hair) were always the best known, but Froggy was a fan favorite. Originally played by Billy Laughlin, he spoke in a weird gutteral voice that would have sounded demonic were it not so funny.
When Universal produced the modern Little Rascals movie in 1994, Jordan Warkol assumed the role of Froggy. He continued to work for a little over a decade following the film’s release, then opted to move on from performing. Warkol ended up making something of a name for himself as a poker player, competing in high-stakes tournaments around the country and racking up some impressive wins. He has taken part in the World Series of Poker and often provides updates on his passion for cards over on his Twitter account.
10. Michael Oliver
Problem Child is the story of a couple who adopt a little orphan boy, only to discover that he’s far from the sweet, innocent thing he initially appears to be. Not long after arriving at his new home, young Junior proves to be a terror, creating all sorts of problems with his out-of-control behavior. The role called for a child actor capable of projecting a spirit of anarchy, and Michael Oliver assumed that duty for the movie and its sequel.
Oliver didn’t do a whole lot of acting outside of the Problem Child pictures. He did, however, find himself forced to testify in a lawsuit. Universal Pictures sued his mother for trying to strong-arm them into raising his fee for the sequel after the contract had already been signed. They won, and Oliver left the biz not long after that incident. One of his more notable post-acting jobs was working as a roadie for a rock band called The Samples. He was even listed on their website under the moniker “PC,” presumably a reference to the movie that made him famous.
9. Amy O’Neill
Former soap opera actress Amy O’Neill landed her first movie role in what would turn out to be a major hit, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. She played Amy Szalinski, one of the children who are, indeed, shrunken by their mad scientist father Rick Moranis. Audiences were charmed by her performance, particularly during a funny scene in which the character dances around the kitchen with a mop. She reprised the role for a sequel, Honey, I Blew Up the Kid.
You know how people joke about running off and joining the circus? Amy O’Neill literally did that. She quit acting altogether in 1994, frustrated by scripts that called for nudity, which she was not comfortable doing. Soon after that, she was reunited with an old friend who managed several circus acts. Fascinated by what she saw, O’Neill decided to take part. She began traveling the world as part of an act called Girls on Stilts, which required her to juggle, eat fire, and dance while maneuvering on 10-foot stilts. Pantomime and other movement-based performances were in her act as well. How’s that for a change of career?
8. Omri Katz
Omri Katz started off playing John Ross Ewing III on the legendary nighttime drama Dallas, then became a teen heartthrob after landing the lead role in the series Eerie, Indiana. The show didn’t last long, but the actor made an impression nonetheless. He went on to have sizable big-screen roles in Joe Dante’s Matinee and, most famously, the witchy Bette Midler comedy Hocus Pocus, where he played Max. Katz had trouble getting roles after that, for some reason. A bit part on Freaks & Geeks in 1999 was his most notable post-Hocus Pocus appearance.
Following a one-shot on General Hospital in 2000, he bolted from show biz for good. That’s not to say he stopped acting, though. Katz starred in a bizarre short film entitled The Perfect Girl that got some buzz when it debuted on YouTube. The one-time child star showed a significantly more grown-up side in this racy video. He also worked as a hairdresser for a time before deciding to move to Israel where, at last report, he currently resides. Katz did stir up the internet recently, when he posed for an Instagram photo with fellow Hocus Pocus stars Vinessa Shaw and Thora Birch.
7. Steven Anthony Lawrence
If you grew up watching Even Stevens on the Disney Channel, then you are certainly familiar with Bernard “Beans” Aranguren. This scene-stealing character was the annoying neighbor of the Stevenses, the family at the center of the show. His most well-known traits were coming into their house uninvited and possessing an intense love of bacon. (Can you blame him on that latter one?) Steven Anthony Lawrence played the role with loads of comic energy.
Lawrence only acts sporadically these days, but that’s okay because he remains busy. He popped up on an episode of Weeds in 2010, and you may have also caught rapper Tyler the Creator tweeting out pictures of him a while back. Or, if you were at the Sunvalley Shopping Center in Concord, California during the 2015 Christmas holiday season, you might have seen him working as Santa’s helper. Yes, that’s right, he was Kris Kringle’s right-hand man — when he wasn’t posing for selfies with fans, that is. From the looks of these pictures, he appeared to be having a ball. No word on whether he handed out bacon to children as they sat on Santa’s lap.
6. Jeff Cohen
The Goonies is one of those movies that’s a touchstone for viewers of a certain generation. It was a kid-friendly adventure that tapped into the fantasies of young people in the ’80s. The film still retains its popularity to this day, thanks in part to the character of Chunk. He’s an overweight kid whose signature move, the “truffle shuffle,” involves lifting up his shirt, making weird noises, and wobbling around like a goofball.
Jeff Cohen played Chunk. The young actor got tired of going out for “fat kid roles” and found himself slimming down during puberty anyway. As is sometimes the case, Hollywood only wanted him to be one thing. In this case, that was a thing he no longer wanted to be. Cohen therefore left acting, graduated from the UCLA School of Law, and became an entertainment lawyer. In this capacity, he represents writers, directors, producers, and actors. He has also written about legal matters for prestigious outlets such as the Huffington Post and CNBC. No more truffle shuffling for him!
5. Taran Noah Smith
Hitting the big time at a young age is exhausting. Just ask Taran Noah Smith, who played Mark Taylor, the youngest of Tim Allen’s sons on the long-running sitcom Home Improvement. He started on the show when he was just seven years old, and ended when he was fifteen. Feeling he’d missed out on his childhood to some degree, Smith decided that he simply didn’t want to act anymore, so he walked away.
When he was sixteen, he ran off with his girlfriend, who was twice his age. Together, they opened a business making non-dairy cheese and other products out of cashews in Kansas City. They also ran a vegan restaurant. The tabloids took notice of the age difference, which had the undesired effect of keeping Smith in the headlines. After the couple eventually broke up, Smith worked as a charter boat captain, volunteered with a disaster relief organization, and published a book with his mother, Candy Bennici, about the perils of childhood celebrity.
4. Barret Oliver
In The NeverEnding Story (a movie that does, in fact, end) Barret Oliver plays Bastian Balthazar Bux, an unhappy 10-year-old. He’s bullied at school and one day ducks into a bookshop to avoid his tormentors. There, he stumbles across a magic book that transports him into a fantasy world full of wonder and awe. The young actor parlayed the film’s success into follow-up roles in Cocoon and D.A.R.Y.L., but retired from acting just five years after the movie for which he became most associated.
Oliver has had an interesting life since then. He joined the Church of Scientology and became a member of their Sea Org program. (Sea Org members are required to sign a billion-year contract, meaning their souls still belong to the church in any reincarnated forms.) When he wasn’t busy following the controversial teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, Oliver became an expert in 19th century printing and photography processes. He wrote an academic book on the subject, entitled A History of the Woodburytype, which you can buy on Amazon if you have $65 burning a hole in your pocket.
3. Danny Pintauro
Who’s the Boss? ran for eight seasons, gave Tony Danza his signature role, and made Alyssa Milano a star. Danny Pintauro made a name for himself on the show too, playing Jonathan Bower. His picture graced the pages of teen magazines for years. But this was one of those instances where association with a hit show proved to be a bit of a curse. So closely was Pintauro associated with his Who’s the Boss? character that he had trouble getting casting directors to see him in any other light. His acting career came to a screeching halt.
Pintauro did some stage work, and he returned to the spotlight after revealing to Oprah Winfrey that he was HIV positive. The most interesting part of his post-show biz life, however, involves food storage. That’s right, Pintauro spent time selling Tupperware. It’s no longer live, but he had a website that helped him peddle the airtight containers. He even offered to personally come to the homes of any Southern California residents who wanted to host a Tupperware party. We guess that, after eight years of following Tony Danza’s rules, he was ready to be his own boss.
2. Liesel Matthews
Liesel Matthews has a very short filmography. She starred in Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron’s A Little Princess in 1995, played Harrison Ford’s daughter in Air Force One in 1997, and top-lined the indie drama Blast in 2000. That’s it. Of course, she really didn’t need to work. Matthews’ real name is Liesel Pritzker, and she hails from one of the wealthiest families in American history. The Pritzkers own (or have owned) the Hyatt hotel chain and the Royal Caribbean cruise line, among other things.
After bolting from acting to attend college, Matthews came to believe that her father and eleven of her cousins had misappropriated money that had been placed into a trust fund for her. She therefore sued them for six billion dollars. That’s not a typo — we’re talking billions-with-a-B. Several years of legal wrangling followed before the suit was settled. The one-time actress walked away with a reported $280 million in cash, plus an additional $170 million in other trusts. To her credit, she didn’t rest on her laurels. Matthews became a philanthropist, helping organizations working to address global hunger.
1. Charlie Korsmo
In the early ’90s, Charlie Korsmo seemed like he was primed to be the next big child star. He had substantive roles in Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy and Steven Spielberg’s Hook, plus he held his own opposite Bill Murray in What About Bob? An ace sense of comic timing made critics and audiences sit up and take notice. After Hook in 1991, though, Korsmo took a seven-year hiatus, returning in 1998 for the teen party comedy Can’t Hardly Wait. That was his last screen role.
Young Charlie, it turned out, had an interest in the law that far surpassed his interest in acting. He graduated from Yale, then went on to practice at a New York law firm. From there, he worked for both the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. House of Representatives, serving as a staffer for the Homeland Security Committee in the latter. In 2011, President Obama appointed Korsmo to membership on the Board of Trustees of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, which awards scholarships to students in the fields of science, math, and engineering. These days, you’ll find him teaching law at Case Western Reserve University.
Which of these stories surprised you the most? Which of these child stars is your favorite? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
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