An unfortunate reality of Hollywood is that a lot of performers are treated as if they have an "expiration date" — even if they're still young.
Many child actors face these setbacks as they grow up. Once Hollywood decides they're no longer suited to play the "cute kid," they're either fired or unable to land more roles. However, other child actors decide to move on from the entertainment industry before their opportunities dry up.
Here are 12 former child stars who were fired or struggled to get roles once they grew up:
1. Jeff Cohen played Chunk in The Goonies.
Puberty, however, was a "career ender" for him. His exit from the acting world was "a forced retirement."
"I didn't give up acting. Acting gave me up," he said.
However, upon Jeff's retirement, Goonies director Richard Donner hired him as a production assistant. Richard also wrote him a college recommendation letter, then paid his tuition.
Jeff told Variety, "I had to sit down because, for me, paying for college was going to be a problem. That changed my life. Not only economically, but it showed that Dick and [his wife] Lauren believed in me."
Jeff grew up to be an entertainment lawyer.
2. Ke Huy Quan played Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Data in The Goonies.
His early success made him think that he "was going to have this amazing career." However, there were few opportunities for Asian actors, and most of the available parts were small and rooted in stereotypes.
So he made the "very difficult decision" to quit acting in the early '00s. Focusing on his talents behind the camera, he graduated from film school and then found success as an assistant director and stunt coordinator.
However, when Crazy Rich Asians — Hollywood's first movie with an all-Asian cast in 25 years — debuted in 2018, he was inspired to return to acting.
He said, "I was happy working behind the camera, but I had serious FOMO. I wanted to be up there with my fellow Asian actors!"
He landed the first role he auditioned for — Waymond Wang in Everything Everywhere All at Once.
He said, "When I read the script, I thought it was written for me because [the different versions of Waymond] are me. I understood every single one of them. ... Looking back upon my life, all the highs and lows, I reached deep within me to pour my entire life into these three different characters."
3. Shirley Temple was a massive child star in the 1930s, landing leading roles in films such as Curly Top and Dimples.
When she was 12, Fox canceled her contract after a single box office failure. She signed a new contract with MGM, but she only did one movie — Kathleen — with the studio.
She continued to act with various studios for another 10 years, but when she was 22, she decided to quit because she was still being typecast.
Later that year, she married Charles Alden Black — who'd never watched any of her films — then moved to Washington, DC. A few years later, she began working in politics.
She ran for Congress, worked for the UN, then served as the US ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia.
4. Danny Lloyd played Danny Torrance in The Shining.
Afterward, he continued auditioning "but with no success, really."
Around the time he was 13, the constant rejection "got kind of boring," so he decided to quit.
He told the Guardian, "Then I had to tell my parents that I was ready to quit. Which they were fine with. They were never stage parents. They made sure I had a normal upbringing."
He grew up to be a biology professor at a Kentucky community college.
5. Mara Wilson played the titular character in Matilda and Susan Walker in Miracle on 34th Street.
Her last major role was Lily Stone in Thomas and the Magic Railroad. 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."
She continued, "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 basically binders — they were meant to bind my chest. I felt completely humiliated."
She also said, "They always want child actors to play parts that are a few years younger than they are, but when you're a 12-, 13-year-old girl and your body's changing and your voice is changing, you can't. I couldn't play 10 anymore. I didn't look 10 anymore."
"I wasn't as cute anymore because I looked halfway between a child and an adult — which is what puberty is. People didn't know what to do with me, and I knew it, and I felt it, and it really hurt," she said.
In college, she slept through her acting classes because she "was so afraid to let people see [her] as an actor." She focused on writing instead, and she published Where Am I Now? True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame in 2016.
She's also continued to take on voice roles in shows like BoJack Horseman and Big Hero 6: The Series.
6. Soleil Moon Frye played the titular character on Punky Brewster.
While going through puberty, she "developed very quickly." She told People magazine, "Everywhere I went, I was called Punky Boobster, and people would stare directly at my boobs."
As a young teenager, she was only offered "tits-and-ass roles," and she felt "so much shame" about her body.
She also experienced back pain. So when she was 16, she decided to have a breast reduction, but after she shared the news publicly, she felt that "the message was lost."
After several years of guest spots, thrillers, TV movies, and a stint as a writer-director, she landed the recurring role of Roxy King on Sabrina the Teenage Witch. She also moved into voice acting, then reprised her iconic role in the 2021 Punky Brewster reboot.
7. Lisa Bonet played Denise Huxtable on The Cosby Show and its spinoff, A Different World.
While filming the spinoff, she became pregnant, and — despite a producer's suggestion to incorporate her pregnancy into the show — Bill Cosby had her fired.
His disapproval of her Angel Heart role, for which she filmed a nude scene, also contributed to tension on set.
Later on, she was brought back on The Cosby Show, but her character was married with a stepdaughter.
8. Liam James played young Shawn Spencer for the first four seasons of Psych.
Toward the end of his tenure, however, he grew taller, and his voice began to change.
In Season 5, he was replaced in the role by Skyler Gisondo — who's actually a few weeks older than Liam.
However, Liam went on to have major roles on The Killing and Deadly Class.
9. Jolean Wejbe played Teenie on Big Love.
Ahead of Season 4, however, she was replaced by Bella Thorne.
Series creator Will Scheffer told the Los Angeles Times, "Because our show is structured so tightly, we usually don’t have year breaks between seasons in showtime. We never have time for our characters to age with our actors, which is OK generally. ... But unfortunately, our Teenie [Jolean] — our cute little pixie — just shot up."
He continued, "By the time she was 13 playing 11, she started to become tall and looked like she was turning into a 15-year-old."
10. Malcolm David Kelley played Walt Lloyd on Lost.
Initially, he was billed as a main cast member, but after the first season, he had a major growth spurt and was demoted to occasional guest appearances.
Ahead of Season 4, producer Damon Lindelof told IGN, "We've always known Malcolm was going to grow faster than we could shoot the show. And we planned for it. Trust us. Please trust us."
His last appearance was in Season 5.
Malcolm continued acting and eventually landed a lead role on the Teen Nick series Gigantic. The show was short-lived, but he formed the pop duo MKTO with costar Tony Oller.
11. Caitlin Sanchez began voicing the lead character in Dora the Explorer in 2008.
When she was 14, Nickelodeon fired her from the role because her voice changed as a result of puberty.
In response, she filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the studio, alleging that they "used convoluted payment deduction clauses and additional free services provisions to underpay Caitlin for her acting and recordings, force her to work hundreds of hours marketing the Dora Brand for free ... and withhold her residual payments and merchandise percentages, all contrary to what she was originally promised."
12. And finally, Bobby Driscoll often worked with Disney, and he won an Oscar when he was 12. Most notably, he voiced the titular character in Peter Pan when he was 16.
In 1953, he was released from his contract. Reportedly, the studio's decision had to do with his acne.
His Peter Pan costar Kathryn Beaumont attributed it to Howard Hughes's purchase of RKO. She told Entertainment Weekly, "He, in effect, became the owner of the Disney studio. He controlled the money, and he hated Bobby Driscoll."
She continued, "He hated Hollywood kids. He thought they were precocious, weren't real, and were incredibly annoying. He didn't want Bobby Driscoll to be with Disney anymore."
Bobby reportedly said, "I have found that memories are not very useful. I was carried on a silver platter and then dumped into the garbage can."
He continued acting in TV shows for a while. However, after several arrests, a divorce, and time spent in a drug rehabilitation center, he was unable to land any more acting roles.
Sadly, he died in 1968, but the news of his passing didn't become public until 1972.
And now, here are 12 child actors who decided to leave the entertainment industry and pursue new careers:
13. Peter Ostrum played Charlie Bucket in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
He told HollywoodChicago, "Being in the film industry as a child was hard, and I couldn’t keep it going. But in the end, leaving was the right decision."
He graduated from Cornell University and then became a large-animal vet in a small town in New York.
For a long time, he didn't like to talk about his experience as a child star. He used to tell people that his brother played Charlie. He didn't even tell his wife about the movie until he introduced her to his mom.
14. Kay Panabaker is well known for her Disney Channel roles. She played Debbie Berwick on Phil of the Future and Jamie Bartlett in Read It and Weep. She also had a guest role on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.
Behind the scenes, she also found a lot of success in academics. At 13, she graduated from high school as valedictorian. At 17, she was the youngest person to graduate from the history department at UCLA.
As she got older, however, her love for acting diminished. She told Naperville Magazine, "The kicker for me was when a producer told me that they were going to be bringing on a love interest for [my TV character] and that I needed to lose weight because of that; I was barely 100 pounds. I didn’t think this was a good reason for a character to lose weight."
She continued, "I was 21 at the time the show ended. I spent a couple years after that in LA, still auditioning, but the passion wasn’t there."
So she went back to school for zoology, completed an 18-month animal program in Florida, completed an internship at Walt Disney World, then began working as an associate animal keeper at Animal Kingdom.
She said, "Looking back, finding my true passion was worth all of the extra time. ... That aspect was missing in my previous career and is something that feeds my soul in my current line of work. I love it when I leave work and have felt like I was able to inspire and make a difference, even if it was just one person that day. I don’t earn a fraction of what I used to, and yet, I couldn’t be happier."
15. Jennette McCurdy is well known for her Nickelodeon roles, most notably Sam Puckett on iCarly and Sam & Cat.
Her last onscreen role was Peggy in the 2018 short film The First Lady.
On her Empty Inside podcast, 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."
She continued, "My experience with acting is I'm so ashamed of the parts that I've done in the past ... but I resent my career in a lot of ways. I feel so unfulfilled by the roles that I played and felt like it was the most just cheesy, embarrassing [experience]."
Outside of acting, Jennette has worked as a screenwriter, director, podcaster, comedian, and author. She wrote a memoir under the same title as her one-woman show, I’m Glad My Mom Died.
16. Charlie Korsmo played the Kid in Dick Tracy and Jack Banning in Hook.
He "never saw acting as a lifelong career ambition," so in high school, he decided to stop. He told Case Western Reserve University's the Daily, "I think I managed the trick of leaving voluntarily just about the time I would have been thrown out anyway."
He went on to study physics at MIT, but as a student, he briefly returned to acting for Can't Hardly Wait. After graduation, he worked in Washington, DC, for a while before enrolling in Yale Law School.
17. Ashley Olsen's acting career began when she was 9 months old, splitting the role of Michelle Tanner on Full House with her twin sister, Mary-Kate.
For about two decades, the Olsen sisters starred in a ton of movies together. However, when they were 21, they decided it was time to retire from acting.
Ashley told USA Today, "If we did something in that sense again, it would be in terms of producing."
They turned their focus to fashion, launching their lines Elizabeth & James (named for their sister and brother) and the Row.
Ashley told the Sydney Morning Herald, "I don't have to be a pretty face. I've done that, but now it's important and liberating to be on the other side of the lens. I don't like to be the center of attention."
18. Mary-Kate Olsen stayed in acting a little longer than Ashley did, making her final onscreen appearance as Kendra Hilferty in Beastly (2011).
When it comes to fashion designing, however, she and Ashley always stick together. She told the Sydney Morning Herald, "Separate side projects are one thing, but we work better as a team."
19. Barret Oliver played Bastian in The NeverEnding Story.
In 1989, he made his last onscreen appearance as Willie Saravian in Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills.
Pivoting to a different kind of artistic career, he found success as a printer and photographer who specializes in 19th-century processes.
20. Tami Stronach played the Childlike Empress in The NeverEnding Story — her only film role as a child.
She was offered the chance to do a sequel, but her mom turned it down because she worried that she wasn't prepared to help her daughter navigate childhood fame.
Her mom's concerns proved to be correct. Fans of the movie called the family's home phone, camped in front of their house, and sent her wedding rings and marriage proposals. She was also offered roles that were inappropriate for an 11-year-old.
So Tami focused on dance instead and created her own dance company in 2000. Eventually she returned to acting, but she chose theater over film. She also worked as a professor.
21. Taran Noah Smith played Mark Taylor on Home Improvement from the age of 7 to 16.
As soon as the show wrapped, he knew he wanted to quit acting. He told Entertainment Weekly, "It was pretty exciting to leave it behind and do other things."
He tried several new careers — running a vegan food company, creating art installations for major events, and building energy-efficient water purifiers with his father. Currently, he's a submarine piloting instructor.
22. Willow Smith made her onscreen debut as Marley Neville in I Am Legend and her final onscreen appearance as young True on True Jackson, VP.
Initially, she was cast in the Annie remake — which was produced by her dad, Will Smith — but she decided to drop out and go back to middle school.
She told Teen Vogue, "To be honest, something inside me was just, like, don't. I'm very connected with my intuition."
While she's taken on a few voice acting roles since then, her main focus has been cohosting Red Table Talk with her mom, Jada Pinkett Smith, and grandma Adrienne Banfield-Norris, as well as her music career.
23. Carrie Henn played Newt in Aliens — her only onscreen role.
Her reason for quitting was simple — her family moved from London back to the US.
She grew up to be a teacher, but she still signs Aliens DVDs for students who bring them in, and attends fan conventions.
She told Wired, "It’s very weird, because I have a daughter who’s now the age I was when I made the movie, and she’s like my clone. So as I’m watching it, it’s like watching my daughter up there."
24. And finally, Taylor Momsen played Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Jenny Humphrey on Gossip Girl.
During her time on Gossip Girl, she preferred to focus on making music with the Pretty Reckless. In 2010, the network put her on an "indefinite hiatus" from the show.
Showrunner Joshua Safran told Vulture, "It was hard at a certain point to write for the old Jenny; we had to write for the new Taylor. Taylor wanted her hair a certain way because she was in the band and that was who she was, so we couldn’t dye Taylor’s hair to be Jenny every day, especially when she had events where she had to be Taylor for the weekend. So Jenny had to change."