Show business is often thought of as a magical world that instantly provides lifelong fame and fortune. However, it isn’t for everyone, and a lot of the biggest stars of stage and screen wind up completely abandoning the celebrity life after becoming household names. We’ve put together a list of high-profile stars who left the entertainment world to pursue a very different career path.
23. Peter Ostrum aka Charlie from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory – Veterinarian
Peter Ostrum famously played Charlie Bucket in the American film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s much-loved children’s story, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.
He had never actually been on a film set before he joined the cast of the film!
He acted alongside the legendary Gene Wilder and Jack Albertson (who played Grandpa Joe).
- Credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr
However, despite the fact that Ostrum enjoyed his brief foray into the world of acting, he decided it wasn’t for him.
He refused the offer of a three-movie contract, which could have made the kid some serious money!
Instead, Ostrum became a vet, specialising in large animals such as cows and horses.
22. Steven Seagal – Police sheriff
Any 80s and 90s film fans out there will remember Steven Seagal for his amazing martial arts and performances in films such as Under Siege and Against the Law.
However, his film career has hit a roadblock in recent years so he instead turned to other ways of making money.
In fact, like many of his on-screen personas, Seagal decided to use his skills and experience to fight crime, and today he works as a New Mexico deputy sheriff.
According to his reality series, Steven Seagal: Lawman, the star graduated from a police academy in Los Angeles over twenty years ago and has a certificate from Peace Officer Standards & Training (POST).
You can catch up with all of his law enforcement antics on his reality series, which currently airs on the Reelz network.
Seagal also owns a ranch in Colorado which he rents out for agritourism purposes.
21. Kevin Jonas – Entrepreneur/construction worker
Kevin Jonas is the oldest of the pop group siblings the Jonas Brothers.
After mainstream success in the 2000s, Kevin decided that music wasn’t for him and he left the band in 2014.
He worked as a builder at first, and even made a cameo as a contractor on a 2014 episode of The Real Housewives of New Jersey.
In the show he was shown leading construction on Kathy Wakile’s home.
He’s also had success as an app entrepreneur – he developed a food searching app called Yood.
The app uses location to bring you the highest-rated restaurants closest to you.
20. Nikki Blonsky aka Tracy Turnblad from Hairspray – Beautician
Nikki Blonsky bagged the lead role of Tracy Turnblad in the 2007 film adaptation of Hairspray.
She found herself starring alongside Hollywood legends John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer and Christopher Walken in one of that year’s most popular films.
Blonsky was nominated for a Golden Globe award for her performance and sang on the Hairspray album which was nominated for a Grammy.
However, since then Blonsky’s career has gone downhill and somewhat ironically, the actress wound up working in a salon.
She earned her cosmetology degree in 2011 and now works in a salon in New York in-between auditions.
She tweeted in 2011, “Its true I’m workin @ Superstar Salon as a makeup artist & more, I’m proud 2 b workin & helpin pay bills BUT I’ll NEVER lose sight of my dreams.”
19. Jeff Cohen aka Chunk from The Goonies – Lawyer
Who else remembers Chunk from The Goonies?! You won’t believe what he’s up to now!
Unlike his co-stars Josh Brolin and Corey Feldman, child actor Jeff Cohen decided that Hollywood wasn’t for him and soon departed the world of acting.
Instead, Cohen trained to be a lawyer and became a founding partner of Cohen & Gardner LLP. His firm was so successful that he was included in The Hollywood Reporter’s “Next Generation: Hollywood’s Top 35 Executives 35 and Under.”
- Credit: @Jeff_B_Cohen Twitter
Instead of doing the truffle shuffle, Cohen is helping to forge fairer contracts for artists working in LA.
He has previously stated, “I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be a lawyer but I was sure that I wanted a legal education. I was always fascinated by the entertainment industry and as an undergrad at Berkeley, I developed interests in politics and business as well.”
“A legal background seemed to be a unique tool to help me make an impact in those arenas once I figured out what I wanted to do.”
18. Jack Gleeson aka Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones – Student
Jack Gleeson gave an unforgettable performance as the sadistic boy-king, Joffrey Baratheon, so fans will be disappointed to learn that the experience actually put him off a career in acting.
The Irishman had been acting since the age of eight, but decided that making a profession of it just wasn’t for him.
He has previously stated, “I just stopped enjoying it as much as I used to. 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.”
- Credit: Anna Webber/Getty Images
“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.”
Jack originally told a newspaper that he wanted to go back to studying but in a later interview he said he had “gone off that idea”.
In 2015 he created a puppetry show entitled Bears in Space that subsequently toured in America.
17. Danny Lloyd aka the boy from The Shining – Biology teacher
At the age of only six years old, Danny Lloyd starred in the notorious horror film The Shining.
Apparently, Lloyd was told by his parents that he was making a drama film about a family who live in a hotel.
By all accounts, everyone involved with the film did their utmost to ensure the young actor was kept in the dark about the film’s grimmer elements.
We’re not sure how psychologically scarred Lloyd was by the making of the film, but it doesn’t seem to have affected him too much.
Lloyd has gone on to have a successful career in education. In 2007, he became a biology professor at a community college in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, where he still works today.
However, Lloyd made a brief return to film in 2019, when he made a cameo appearance in The Shining sequel Doctor Sleep.
16. Phoebe Cates – Business owner/philanthropist
Phoebe Cates is probably best known amongst men of a certain age for her stand out performance in the high school comedy Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982).
Cates played the worldly teenager Linda Barrett, who was best friends with main character Stacy.
One memorable scene saw Cates wearing a red bikini which she later gets rid of during another character’s wet dream!
Cates did actually go on to do more acting work during the 80s and 90s – her line in Lace, ‘Which one of you bitches is my mother?’, was voted the greatest line in TV history by TV Guide in 1993.
Cates walked away fro acting in the mid-90s after starting a family with husband Kevin Kline, and she is now a business woman and philanthropist instead.
She has donated to various charitable causes and in 2005, she opened a boutique called ‘Blue Tree’ on New York’s Madison Avenue, which sells clothing, homeware and jewellery.
15. Vanilla Ice – Real estate investor
Vanilla Ice will always be remembered by 90s kids for his iconic song ‘Ice, Ice Baby.’
It was essentially a one-hit wonder which reached heights that the singer’s later songs just couldn’t replicate.
However, despite being a figure of ridicule in the music industry, Vanilla Ice turned his brief mainstream success into a fortune thanks to his real estate business.
He is an investor and home renovator who also teaches new investors how to make a profit selling houses.
After experiencing success in the industry, he decided to turn his projects into a reality TV series.
The Vanilla Ice Project launched on the DIY Network in 2010, and the show is still running today.
14. MC Hammer – Church minister
Speaking of music industry novelty acts, MC Hammer has also had a rather interesting career over the years!
His early albums achieved Diamond certification and he had a worldwide hit with “U Can’t Touch This”, containing a music video which popularised ‘Hammer pants’ everywhere.
However, despite his significant earnings, Hammer racked up $13 million in debt and was forced to file for bankruptcy.
- Credit: Brian Solis/Wikimedia Commons
Eventually he got his life back together and has been involved in a number of projects over the years, including iPad apps and lecturing about new media at Ivy League universities.
MC Hammer has been a Christian for most of his life, and has now become a pastoral minister.
He officiates weddings and also works with prison and youth ministries.
13. Gene Hackman – Author
Gene Hackman is a Hollywood legend who has starred in a number of iconic films including The French Connection and Unforgiven.
He won two Academy Awards for his work on those films and has earned himself a string of awards and nominations on top of that.
Fans of the actor were surprised when Hackman announced he was retiring from acting in July 2004.
This was shortly after appearing in the rom-com Welcome to Mooseport, which would be his last ever film.
Instead Hackman decided that he wanted to become a novelist and has written three historical novels alongside archaeologist Daniel Lenihan.
He also released two solo efforts in 2011 and 2013 entitled Payback at Morning Peak and Pursuit.
12. Hayden Christensen – Farmer
Hayden Christensen is best known for playing the role of Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars franchise.
The part earned him international recognition and a flood of job offers once filming for the sci-fi epic was over.
However, Christensen decided to turn them all down and choose a very different career path.
It turns out that the ex-actor used his Star Wars salary to buy a load of land in Ontario, Canada and started work on his own farm there, leaving the world of Hollywood firmly behind him for a good few years.
However, rumour has it that Christensen is interested in making a comeback in the next few years.
In 2017 he starred in a film entitled First Kill, and he’s just finished filming another movie called Little Italy which is currently in post-production and set for release later this year.
So, Hayden Christensen’s days in the entertainment industry might not be over just yet!
11. Chris Owen – Waiter and photographer
Chris Owen will be known to a generation of 90s and early 2000s kids as the Sherminator in American Pie, as well as a string of other films from that era.
However, he struggled to find acting work once the American Pie franchise ended and was forced to work as a waiter to make ends meet.
Fans spotted him working in a restaurant back in 2013. In response to a Daily News article about his situation, the actor made a public statement.
- Credit: @chriscoleowen Instagram
Owen declared, “Life doesn’t always go the way you planned. I love acting and this job lets me stay in the fight.”
However, it seems as though he’s recently had a career change and is now working as a professional photographer.
His last film appearance was in 2018’s The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time, alongside fellow American Pie alumnus Tara Reid.
10. Freddie Prinze Jr. – Chef
Freddie Prinze Jr. was a heart throb in the late 90s and early 00s, and will probably be best remembered for his roles in She’s All That and I Know What You Did Last Summer.
He married fellow 90s star Sarah Michelle Gellar in 2002 and the couple have two kids together.
The actor has had a lot of career changes over the years – he’s a massive wrestling fan and has been heavily involved in WWE over the years as a host, producer and even director.
However, his love of food eventually led him to become a chef and food entrepreneur.
Prinze wrote and published his first ever cookbook, Back to the Kitchen, in 2016.
The actor credits his love of cooking to his mother, who was herself a chef.
9. Mark Feehily from Westlife – Coffee vendor
Mark Feehily was one member of Westlife, the Irish pop group which sold over 40 million records worldwide.
It’s fair to say that Feehily probably had a lot of cash lying around after his singing days were over.
He decided to use that money to open his own coffee and crepe van, which has been spotted by fans parking up at festivals, with Feehily himself behind the till.
He has called the venture his passion and says he loves doing it – fair enough!
However, he clearly couldn’t stay away from show business for long, because in 2016 he launched a solo career under the name ‘Markus.’
Sadly, it didn’t do as well as Westlife. However, Feehily and his old band mates reformed in 2018 and are touring again now.
8. Mara Wilson – Writer
Everyone recognises child actor Mara Wilson from her starring turns in Matilda, Mrs Doubtfire and Miracle on 34th Street.
Wilson ultimately decided that acting wasn’t for her and chose instead to become a writer.
Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000) proved to be Wilson’s last feature film, although she’s taken a few TV roles in recent years.
- Credit: marawilson official Instagram
In the meantime, she penned a play entitled Sheeple for the New York International Fringe Festival.
Wilson also published a memoir entitled Where Am I Now? in 2016, and continues to write to this day.
She produced a popular article on Cracked.com about the problems affecting child actors and still appears at various ComicCon events to discuss her past work.
7. Ali MacGraw – Yoga instructor
Ali MacGraw starred in a series of successful films in the 70s, 80s and early 90s.
She was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in 1970’s Love Story, and later published her autobiography, Moving Pictures, in 1991.
MacGraw eventually turned her back on acting and decided instead to become a yoga instructor.
- Credit: Aaron Davidson/Getty Images
She had been practising since her early 50s and produced an extremely popular yoga video with American Yoga Master Erich Schiffmann entitled Ali MacGraw Yoga Mind and Body.
The video was still a bestseller over ten years later, and publications have gone on to claim that MacGraw is primarily responsible for popularising yoga in the West thanks to her work.
That’s quite a responsibility! Imagine being the reason why most of the Western world does yoga!
6. Karyn Parsons – Philanthropist
90s kids used to love watching Karyn Parsons on screen every week thanks to her performance as the snobby and spoiled Hilary Banks on Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
However, she decided not to capitalise on her success and instead chose a much more charitable way of life.
Parsons now works as a philanthropist and has been instrumental in promoting the achievements of African-Americans.
- Credit: HBO
She set up the non-profit charity Sweet Blackberry, which produces short animated videos about unsung heroes of African-American descent.
Parsons married the director Alexandre Rockwell in 2003 – they have a daughter (Lana) and a son (Nico) together.
More recently, Parsons briefly returned to the spotlight thanks to a reunion of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s cast.
5. George Foreman – Entrepreneur
- Credit: Bert Verhoeff/Wikimedia Commons
‘Big George’ was a two-time world heavyweight champion and Olympic gold medallist who enjoyed a highly successful career in boxing after a difficult childhood.
But youngsters will probably be more familiar with his famous kitchenware rather than his boxing prowess.
Foreman became an entrepreneur after hanging up his boxing gloves and has made millions of dollars thanks to his George Foreman Grill.
- Credit: biggeorgeforeman official Instagram
After his second sporting comeback he claimed that his success was down to eating healthy, and he was quickly approached by Salton, Inc. to endorse their grill.
Foreman has since acquired other endorsements to help keep his bank account ticking over nicely.
These include InventHelp, which hosts America’s largest invention trading convention.
4. Charlie Korsmo from Hook – Lawyer
Charlie Korsmo was a child actor who played the role of Jack Banning, aka Peter Pan’s son, in the 90s fantasy film Hook.
Korsmo soon decided that acting wasn’t for him and trained to be a lawyer instead.
He studied at the prestigious MIT before passing the bar and working as a lawyer in NYC for many years.
He’s also done work for the Environment Agency and the Republican Party in the House of Congress.
Nowadays he works at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland, Ohio.
He’s had the honour of being nominated by Barack Obama to become a member of the Board of Trustees of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation.
3. Al Green – Minister
Al Green is the legendary soul singer who produced classic tracks such as ‘Let’s Stay Together’ and ‘Tired of Being Alone’.
He was one of the most popular singers of the 1970s with his erotically-charged style of music, before returning to gospel music in the 80s.
In fact, Green has fully committed to his faith since retiring from the world of singing and is now a practising minister in Memphis, Tennessee.
- Credit: algreen official Instagram
He preaches at the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church, which is located near Elvis’ Gracelands mansion.
We can imagine the gospel music during his services is something truly special to hear!
Of course, Green’s music is still widely celebrated: he was inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame in 2009, and was a Kennedy Center Honors recipient in 2014.
2. Sarah Michelle Gellar – Entrepreneur
Sarah Michelle Gellar enjoyed a hugely successful career as an actress in the 90s and early 2000s.
She starred in Buffy the Vampire Slayer as the titular character and also appeared in teen films such as Cruel Intentions (1999).
However, since then her acting career has taken a bit of a downturn, and rumour has it that Gellar now prefers food to show business.
- Credit: sarahmgellar official Instagram
This is a personal and business interest which she shares with her actor husband Freddie Prinze Jr.
In 2015, Gellar became an entrepreneur after co-founding the baking kit company FoodStirs.
She also released a cookbook entitled Stirring up Fun with Food in April last year, which provides families with fun baking and crafting ideas.
1. Amanda Bynes – Fashion student
Amanda Bynes was a rising star in the 2000s after appearing in popular films such as What A Girl Wants, She’s The Man and Hairspray.
However, her acting career was cut short after she struggled with alcoholism (leading to a DUI arrest) and mental health issues.
After being hospitalised for setting a stranger’s driveway on fire, Bynes managed to overcome her demons.
The star went on to enroll in the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Irvine.
Bynes graduated from FIDM in 2019, after achieving an Associate’s of Art degree in Merchandise Product Development.
She has since expressed an interest in returning to acting, although this has yet to come to pass.