Skip To Content

    20 Child Stars Who Left Hollywood And Pursued Totally Different Lives

    "Had I stayed at the show and tried to do academically what I'm doing now, I would've put myself in an early grave." —Jonathan Taylor Thomas

    Hollywood is a notoriously challenging place for children, which is one of the reasons many people who rose to fame as child stars decide to leave their acting careers behind.

    ABC / Via

    While their work will always be appreciated, the decision to move on is also something to be proud of. Many of them have found fulfilling careers outside of the spotlight.

    Here are 20 child stars who retired from acting and pursued totally different lives:

    1. Nickelodeon star Jennette McCurdy quit acting because she was "so ashamed" of the roles she'd done in the past.

    she played Sam Puckett on "iCarly"
    Nickelodeon / Via Netflix

    On her podcast Empty Inside, she said, "I quit...because I initially didn't want to do it. My mom put me in it when I was 6 and by...age 10 or 11, I was the main financial support for my family."

    Now, she's focused on other creative ventures, such as her podcast, her short films, and her live comedy show.

    2. After playing Charlie in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Peter Ostrum quit acting because "being in the film industry as a child was hard," and he grew up to become a dairy veterinarian.

    Charlie finds the golden ticket
    Courtesy Everett Collection / Everett Collection / Everett Collection

    He told Hollywood Chicago, "In the end, leaving was the right decision. ... I don’t have any regrets at all."

    3. Ross Bagley, who played Nicky Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, largely retired from acting after Independence Day, and he now splits his time between working as a real estate agent, DJing, and finance.

    Nicky hugs Will before he moves out
    Courtesy Everett Collection

    He's the executive recruiter of the corporate finance and IT recruiting firm Pathways Consulting.

    4. Mara Wilson, who played the lead in Matilda, stopped acting for several reasons, but one of the biggest factors was the way she was treated while going through puberty on the set of Thomas and the Magic Railroad.

    Matilda carries her notebook down the hall
    TriStar / courtesy Everett Collection

    She told NPR, "I came to set one day after a few months away, and people were kind of giving each other worried looks. ... And I had to have the director come and sit with me and explain to me that my body was changing. I was horrified, I felt embarrassed, I felt like I had done something wrong even though I hadn't. They brought out these sports bras that...were meant to bind my chest. I felt completely humiliated."

    In college, she began to focus more on writing, and she's now a journalist, author, and playwright. 

    5. '90s icon Jonathan Taylor Thomas left Home Improvement in 1998 to go to college, returned to acting a few years later, then disappeared from the public eye in 2013.

    he played Randy Taylor on "Home Improvement"
    Touchstone Television / Courtesy: Everett Collection

    He wasn't photographed in Hollywood again until June 2021. 

    At the 1999 Kids Choice Awards, he said, "I made such a good decision because had I stayed at the show and tried to do academically what I'm doing now, I would've, you know, put myself in an early grave."

    However, he did cameo on a few episodes of Last Man Standing, which stars his Home Improvement father, Tim Allen. 

    6. When she was 18, Ashley Olsen stopped acting and moved to New York City with her twin sister Mary-Kate to start a fashion label.

    she played Roxy Ryan in "New York Minute"
    Warner Bros / ©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

    They initially didn't want to be the faces of the Row because they're "discreet people." 

    Ashley told i-D, "We really didn’t want to be in front of it. We didn’t necessarily even want to let people know it was us, in a way. I mean, it was one of those things where it was really about the product, to the point where we’re like, ‘Who could we get to kind of front this so we don’t have to?’ I think, to this day, you’ll see we really put the product first."

    Mary-Kate continued acting on her own for several years. 

    7. Jeff Cohen, who played Chunk in The Goonies, felt "forced" into retirement after puberty because "I was transforming from Chunk to hunk, and I couldn’t get roles any more."

    Chunk screams through a window
    Warner Bros / ©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

    He went on to have a successful career as an entertainment lawyer. 

    He told the Daily Mail, "My clients get a kick out of the fact their lawyer is Chunk. They dig it. With my job, I’m dealing with legitimately famous people, so it’s just silly and fun. I’m usually only the fifth most famous person in the room at any one time."

    8. Disney star Kay Panabaker retired from acting in 2016 because she lost her love for it.

    she starred in "Read It and Weep"
    Disney / Via Disney+

    She went on to study zoology and worked as a zookeeper at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

    9. Willow Smith hasn't taken on a live-action role since she guest-starred on True Jackson VP in 2010, but she's found her passion for music as a punk rock/pop artist.

    young Willow talks to Keke Palmer about their shared role
    Nickelodeon / Fanlala / Via

    She also does voice work and co-hosts Red Table Talk.

    She told Zane Lowe, "I felt a lot of pressure. ... Because I'm not a minor anymore, I'm finding the freedom to — I can put that beauty in the world."

    10. Angus T. Jones left Two and a Half Men when he was 19 because he felt that the show conflicted with his Christian faith, and he urged people to stop watching it.

    he played Jake Harper on "Two and a Half Men"
    Cbs / ©CBS/Courtesy Everett Collection

    Afterward, he enrolled at the University of Colorado so he could "live a normal existence." 

    In 2016, he also apologized for the comments he made about the show. He told People, "I got pretty doomsday with my thinking for a long time, but now I’m having fun and enjoying where I’m at. I no longer feel like every step I take is on a landmine.”

    Currently, he's part of the management team at the production company Tonite.

    11. Charlie Korsmo, who played Jack Banning in Hook, "managed the trick of leaving [acting] voluntarily just about the time I would have been thrown out anyway."

    TriStar Pictures / courtesy Everett Collection

    He took an almost decade-long break, then filmed his last movie, Can’t Hardly Wait, when he was 19 and went on to study physics at MIT. After working in Washington, DC for a few years, he pursued a law degree at Yale. 

    He's now a professor of corporate law and corporate finance at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland. He told the campus newspaper that he still gets "what seems to me to be an unusual volume of ‘fan mail’ asking me to sign Dick Tracy and Hook trading cards."

    12. Omri Katz, who played Max in Hocus Pocus, retired from acting around 2002 and became an entrepreneur.

    Max lights a candle
    Buena Vista Pictures / Via Disney+

    In 2020, he launched a cannabis-based online clothing store.

    13. At 22, Shirley Temple, who became a major film star in the 1930s, retired from acting because she "had enough of pretend," got married, and pursued a political career in Washington, DC.

    she starred in "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm"
    20th Century Fox, TM & Copyright / courtesy Everett Collection

    She started as a Republican fundraiser, then had a failed Congressional campaign. However, she later joined the UN delegation, served as the US ambassador to Ghana, and served as the US ambassador to Czechoslovakia.

    14. After he played Ferguson W. Darling on Clarissa Explains It All, Jason Zimbler stopped acting, graduated from Notre Dame, and worked in theater as a director and producer for several years.

    Ferguson defends his love of watching TV
    Nickelodeon / Via

    He's currently employed as a software designer for HBO.

    15. Ross Malinger, who played Jonah Baldwin in Sleepless in Seattle, retired from acting around 2006 and went into the automotive industry.

    Jonah looks through the binoculars
    Tristar Pictures / ©TriStar Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

    He managed Automotive Legends until it closed in 2009.

    16. After a film career in the US, Japan, and Hong Kong, Jonathan Ke Quan, who played Data in The Goonies, pulled back from acting around 2002 and began working behind the scenes as a stunt choreographer.

    Data stares into the mystery mist
    Warner Bros / ©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

    He's done stunt choreography for movies such as X-Men and The One.

    In 2021, he cameoed in the Netflix movie Finding Ohana.

    17. Eva Amurri, who acted alongside her mother, Susan Sarandon, in The Banger Sisters and Friends, left acting after the birth of her first child because she didn't want her daughter to grow up watching her pursue an unfulfilling career.

    Courtesy Everett Collection

    She started a lifestyle blog, Happily Eva After, which has grown into a successful brand.

    18. Barret Oliver, who played Bastian Balthazar Bux in The Neverending Story, quit acting around 1989 and pursued photography instead.

    Bastian rides the dragon
    Warner Bros / ©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

    He's become known in the photography and printing worlds for his use of 19th century processes, such as Woodburytypes. In 2007, he published a book called A History of the Woodburytype. 

    19. Norman D. Golden II, who played Devon Butler in Cop and a Half, stopped acting so he could focus on his education, and he studied English and creative writing at Antioch University Los Angeles.

    Devon talks to his new officer friend
    Universal / ©Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection

    In 2011, he began pursuing a music career as a rapper under the name Enormus.

    He told, "I came from a creatively expressive family on the music side. ... I want to be a bigger inspiration to people."

    20. And finally, Nickelodeon star Amanda Bynes retired from acting as a young adult because she was struggling with substance abuse, but afterward, she worked hard to recover and graduated with an associate's degree from fashion school.

    she played Judge Trudy on "The Amanda Show"
    Nickelodeon / Via

    She's currently working on her bachelor's degree at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.