Hollywood magic can make our favorite actors seem immortal. No matter how many years pass after the release of a beloved film or television series, we look at the screen and see them there, young as ever, vital and vibrant.
It’s easy to forget that actors are ordinary people behind the glitz and glamor. They are as vulnerable to the ravages of time and illness as the rest of us. While many actors struggled to persevere in the face of adversity and an illness that curtailed their ability to perform, many were forced into a brief hiatus in order to find the time to recover. Others were forced to retire from acting completely or limit themselves to less strenuous roles that required less physical activity. Either way, they lost work.
Though these circumstances are always tragic, many of these actors took on a second life as inspirational role models beyond whatever fame and glory they earned as actors. The stories of how they tried to keep going despite their condition, or used their position to encourage awareness of their disease and try to help other people who were less fortunate than them, stir the heart as surely as any cinematic thriller.
Here are 16 Actors Who Lost Roles To Illness.
16. Morgan Freeman
Morgan Freeman is one of the most prominent, popular and prolific actors of his generation. He is currently ranked fourth on the list of highest-earning box office stars in history, with his movies having earned $4.316 billion dollars worldwide. Freeman is also a highly sought after voice actor and narrator, famously lending his voice to the documentary March of the Penguins and the wise man Vitruvius in The Lego Movie.
Given how much Freeman works, most would be surprised to know that his career has been limited due to fibromyalgia – a disorder that causes widespread musculoskeletal pain. Freeman was diagnosed with the condition following a car accident in 2008. Even before that, Freeman had turned down many roles that required extensive physical activity due to the extreme pain he was experiencing.
15. Selena Gomez
First appearing as one of the children on Barney and Friends, Selena Gomez was quickly discovered and signed-on to star in the Disney Channel situation comedy The Wizards of Waverly Place. Her singing on the show prompted a recording contract with Hollywood Records and a secondary career as a singer, like many other Disney Channel starlets. Gomez was quick to branch out beyond Disney, however, taking on roles in the movies Spring Breakers and Hotel Transylvania.
Diagnosed with lupus in 2015, Gomez was initially reluctant to cut back on her acting, recording, and touring schedules to see to her health. Continued complications eventually forced Gomez to cancel her performances and appearances, before finally taking a hiatus from working in 2017 as she recovered from a kidney transplant.
14. Frankie Muniz
Discovered at the age of eight while playing the role of Tiny Tim in a production of A Christmas Carol in Raleigh, North Carolina, Frankie Muniz was soon starring in feature films. Making his debut in the Louis Gossett Jr. vehicle To Dance With Olivia, Muniz would go on to star in the sitcom Malcom in the Middle. Muniz earned an Emmy Nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for his performance as the troubled genius trapped in the middle of a dysfunctional family.
Muniz has few fond memories of his acting experiences, but not for the same reasons many child actors have trouble looking back on their past accomplishments. Muniz has reportedly suffered from a series of mini-strokes due to an undiagnosed neurological condition and forgotten most of his childhood. As a result, he’s now more focused on his career as a racecar driver than acting.
13. Colton Haynes
When Colton Haynes left the series Arrow in the middle of its third season, producers claimed it was because the former Teen Wolf star had always been signed to a limited two-year contract. It was reported that Haynes was reluctant to get tied down to another television series so soon after Teen Wolf, but the producers had persuaded him to take on the role of Roy Harper with the understanding that he could leave after his contract was up, if he still felt it was time to move on.
This turned out to be a little white lie to cover up Haynes’ diagnosis of an anxiety disorder that made it impossible for him to continue the physically stressful role of Arsenal on Arrow. This allowed Haynes to maintain his privacy as he sought treatment, giving him time to heal and reveal himself to the public in his own time.
12. Catherine Zeta-Jones
For several years, Welsh actress Catherine Zeta-Jones was one of the prominent leading ladies in Hollywood. She first achieved notice playing the role of Elena in the Zorro films, starring Antonio Banderas as the legendary masked vigilante. She later won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actress, and the BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the film adaptation of the musical Chicago, where she played the murderous singer Velma Kelly.
In 2011, Zeta-Jones revealed to the world that she suffered from depression and Bipolar II Disorder, explaining several sizable gaps in her resume where she did not work for a year or two. Before she went public with her condition, many accused the actress of being difficult to work with, which cost her roles.
11. Anthony Anderson
When he was first starting out in Hollywood, actor/comedian Anthony Anderson made bank on his rotund figure. There’s a number of roles built around “the funny fat guy” and Anderson found success playing the type in a variety of small roles before starring in his own sitcom, All About The Andersons.
Though he had been diagnosed with Type II Diabetes in 2002, the funny man didn’t take his condition that serious until his father died of complications from the same disease. Anderson took time off to change his habits, spending the better part of two years fighting to change his diet and exercise regimen.
First finding fame as half of the folk-rock husband-and-wife team of Sonny and Cher, the Goddess of Pop would go on to wider fame as a solo act. Over her long and illustrious career, Cher has won multiple industry awards, including the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in the movie Moonstruck. She is also as financially successful as she is critically beloved, having sold over 100 million albums around the world.
Cher’s prolific output as an artist is even more impressive considering that she suffers from Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Diagnosed at the height of her fame in the late 1980s, the condition causes the victim to become increasingly tired and weak in a way that rest cannot help. Cher’s condition has forced her to curtail her acting, though she is scheduled to appear in the upcoming Mama Mia! sequel.
9. Rachel Miner
Most famous for her role as the sarcastic demon Meg Masters on Supernatural, Rachel Miner was born to the life of an actor as the third generation of a theatrical family. She got her start early, playing a 12-year-old version of Mia Farrow’s character in the film Alice. She later won a Best Actress award at the Stockholm Film Festival for her performance in the movie Bully.
Tragically, Miner was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis – a potentially disabling nervous system disorder that hinders the brain’s ability to send signals to the rest of the body. Her character was written out of Supernatural at the end of the eighth season in 2013 and Miner retired from acting to devote her life to Multiple Sclerosis Awareness activism.
8. Christopher Reeve
For many people, Christopher Reeve will always be Superman. The actor first found fame making audiences around the world believe that a man could fly. While he never quite managed to escape the role that made him famous, it was a burden he bore with good grace and humor, lending his image to various noble causes when he wasn’t acting.
The acting work dried up after a tragic horse-riding accident in 1995 left Reeve paralyzed. There were few roles for characters who were confined to a wheelchair and many directors found it easier to employ an able-bodied actor and have them play a physically-immobile character than work with a disabled actor. Still, Reeve refused to give up and started a new career as a director. He also went on to star in a remake of the thriller Rear Window, earning a Screen Actor’s Guild Award for his performance.
7. Tim Curry
A prolific actor on stage and screen, Tim Curry is a legend to multiple fandoms. First finding fame as the cross-dressing mad scientist Dr. Frank N. Furter in the London stage production of The Rocky Horror Show, Curry would inspire generations of “regular Frankie Fans” when he reprised the role for the movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Curry is also fondly remembered for playing Wadsworth The Butler in Clue, Pennywise the Dancing Clown in the original IT, and King Arthur in the original Broadway and West End productions of Monty Python’s Spamalot.
Sadly, Tim Curry suffered a stroke in 2012 that has confined him to a wheelchair and hindered his ability to speak. He has largely retired from acting apart from the occasional voice role as a result, but he still did a cameo role as The Criminologist in the 2016 TV Movie adaptation of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
6. Gene Wilder
Gene Wilder’s career is a fascinating study in contrasts. He is equally well-remembered today for his performances in children’s entertainment like Sesame Street and Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory and his work in wild adult comedies, like his many collaborations with Mel Brooks, Richard Pryor, and his wife Gilda Radner.
Famed for playing bombastic characters, Wilder was anything but wild off-screen and was known as a kind, quiet and thoughtful man.
Wilder retired from acting in 2003, after winning an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for his performance as Mr. Stein on Will and Grace. Though Wilder said he had grown sick of Hollywood, this may have been a white lie to mask the truth. It was revealed after Wilder’s death that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease but kept that knowledge private because he didn’t want his younger fans seeing him deteriorate.
5. Kathleen Turner
Kathleen Turner had a most impressive film debut in the 1981 thriller Body Heat, earning nominations for the BAFTA Award for Best Newcomer and a nomination for the Golden Globe for New Star of the Year. She later went on to win two Golden Globes for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for her performances in Romancing the Stone and Prizzi’s Honor. Her husky voice also earned her the role of Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Unfortunately, the A-list actress’ career began to decline as increasing physical pain hindered her ability to work. Turner was forced to turn down the lead roles in Ghost and The Bridges of Madison County because of her condition, which was finally diagnosed as severe rheumatoid arthritis. Though Turner was able to continue working while undergoing therapy, she never regained her previous position and now mostly works in television.
4. Valerie Harper
Famed for her role as Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda, Valerie Harper has found tremendous success on stage as well as in television. She won four Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series and a Best Actress Golden Globe for Rhoda. She also earned a Tony nomination for Best Actress in a Play for her performance as Tallulah Bankhead in the 2010 Broadway production of Looped.
Sadly, Harper has had to scale back her acting following a double diagnosis of lung cancer and leptomeningeal carcinomatosis – a rare condition in which cancer cells spread into the membranes surrounding the brain. Harper has refused to give up, however, defying a diagnosis that said she had as little as three months to live. Still, she left her role in the play Nice Work If You Can Get It in 2015 after collapsing backstage.
3. Candice Bergen
Ever since she first appeared alongside her famous father on an episode of the game show You Bet Your Life, Candice Bergen was destined for a career in show business. Originally cast in a variety of upper-class, ice-princess film roles, Bergen would reinvent herself as a comedian, becoming the first woman to host an episode of Saturday Night Live and finding fame starring in the sitcom Murphy Brown, playing the titular outspoken reporter.
A stroke in 2006 caused Bergen to lose some work as it affected her ability to memorize lines. Thankfully, it only caused her to miss two weeks of work from her regular role as Shirley Schmidt on Boston Legal. Bergen has rallied since then, going on to make her Broadway debut in a 2012 production of The Best Man. She will soon be starring in a revival of Murphy Brown.
2. Jennifer Saunders
One of the many comedians to find success as part of the English alternative comedy scene in the early 1980s, Jennifer Saunders first found fame as one-half of the comedy team French and Saunders. She also found international acclaim in Absolutely Fabulous, which she wrote and starred in as fashion PR agent Edina Monsoon.
A prolific writer and performer, Saunders was forced to take a break following her diagnosis with breast cancer in 2009. Saunders kept her condition private, procuring an expensive custom wig to hide the fact that she was undergoing chemotherapy.
Saunders faltered a bit with her first project afterward, writing the critically-panned Spice Girl’s musical Viva Forever. However, she went on to win the 2012 BAFTA Award for Best Female Performance in a Comedy Program for her work on Absolutely Fabulous.
1. Michael J. Fox
First finding fame playing the young Republican son of two ex-Hippie parents in the 1980’s situation comedy Family Ties, Michael J. Fox would also shine as a film star in the role of Marty McFly in the Back to The Future film franchise. With his appearances in other comedy films such as the original Teen Wolf and The Secret of My Succe$s, Fox’s career in Hollywood was looking bright.
That changed when Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1991. Though Fox struggled to keep the disease under control with medication, his condition deteriorated to the point where he could no longer hide it. He publicly addressed his status as a Parkinson’s patient in 1998 before leaving his role in the sit-com Spin City in 2000.
Fox has been semi-retired since then, though he still does a good deal of voice work and the occasional cameo as himself.
Is there some star we forgot to spotlight? Let us know in the comments!
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