The Greatest Actor Comebacks In Hollywood History

We all experience ups and downs in our lives, but actors experience all of them in the public eye. Just when it looked like these stars had fallen off the radar forever, they picked themselves up and had a comeback.

Robert Downey Jr.’s Early Career

Robert Downey Jr.’s Early Career

Robert Downey Jr., son of the filmmaker Robert Downey Sr., began his career in theater in a number of off-Broadway roles. He also spent a year as part of the cast of Saturday Night Live, but Rolling Stone gave him a scathing review as the worst cast member in SNL history. He got back on his feet with the film Tuff Turf and found his stride in the 1987 film based on the Bret Easton Ellis Novel Less Than Zero—in which he played a drug-addicted rich kid.

He also played Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin to great critical reviews and an Academy Award nomination. Though his serious film roles were piling up, his personal life was in turmoil.

Struggles with Addiction

Struggles with Addiction

It turns out Downey’s portrayal in Less Than Zero may have come from a very real place. The actor was struggling with serious addiction behind the scenes that eventually led to several arrests. In 1996, Downey was arrested for possession of heroin, cocaine, and an unloaded handgun while speeding down Sunset Boulevard.

A series of arrests and failed drug tests eventually led to spending nearly a year in the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison. Though he joined the cast of Ally McBeal a week after his release, he describes it as a low point in his addiction. His struggle wasn’t over.

Downey’s Ups and Downs

Downey’s Ups and Downs

Before finishing his first season on Ally McBeal, Downey was arrested over the 2000 Thanksgiving holiday. He was under the influence of cocaine and Valium. Then, he was arrested again for wandering barefoot through Culver City with cocaine in his system. Downey was written off of Ally McBeal, and Mel Gibson shut down the stage production of Hamlet in which Downey was slated to appear.

Downey’s stepmother Rosemary told People magazine in 2000 that Downey had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and his mental illness was the reason he had a “hard time staying sober.” Downey denied he was depressed or manic and said his drug use skewed his behavior. At this point, it seemed like Downey would die from addiction.

An Inspiring Comeback

An Inspiring Comeback

After five years of addiction, arrests, rehab, and relapses, Robert Downey Jr. conquered his addiction and made a full recovery from drugs. He told Oprah Winfrey in 2004, “When someone says, ‘I really wonder if maybe I should go to rehab?’ Well, uh, you’re a wreck, you just lost your job, and your wife left you. Uh, you might want to give it a shot.”

Downey returned to the big screen in the 2003 movie The Singing Detective directed by Mel Gibson, which paved the way for his comeback. Despite several critically successful films, most people today know Downey from his blockbuster hit, the Iron Man series, in which Downey plays the leading role of Iron Man/Tony Stark.

Jason Bateman’s Early Career

Jason Bateman’s Early Career

Jason Bateman got his start as a child star. He appeared in a Golden Grahams commercial in 1980 before landing a role as an orphan boy on Little House on the Prairie. He was also a supporting character in Silver Spoons as Derek Taylor, and he had the starring role as Matthew Burton in the NBC sitcom It’s Your Move.

During his teen years, he became a teen idol for his television role as David Hogan on The Hogan Family. He also starred in the movie Teen Wolf Too. In his twenties, things started going south for the child star.

His Lost Years

His Lost Years

In the 1990s, it seemed like Jason Bateman had disappeared. It turns out, he was spending his time drinking in between failed TV pilots. “I did all the things a guy in his 20s would do,” he told The Guardian. “I was out there drinking and doing drugs and trying to bang as many girls as I possibly could. I was living as if my parents were out of town and had left me the house and the car and a bunch of money, and I didn’t know when they were coming home. It was fantastic.”

After a while, all the partying caught up to Bateman. After years of partying and regretting his childhood success, Bateman quit drinking and landed a role that helped him come back.

Arrested Development

Arrested Development

Jason Bateman landed the lead role as Michael Bluth, the sole sane member of the corrupt and dysfunctional Bluth family in the sitcom Arrested Development in 2003. Though the show only lasted a few seasons, it developed a cult following, and Bateman won a Golden Globe for his role.

Despite the premature cancellation, Bateman took his small screen success and started starring in films, including The Break-Up, Horrible Bosses, The Switch, and Juno. While Bateman has acknowledged that success in the entertainment industry can be fleeting, he seems to have found his stride after the rough patch in his 20s.

Neil Patrick Harris: The Child Star

Neil Patrick Harris: The Child Star

Jason Bateman definitely isn’t the only child star to make a comeback. Neil Patrick Harris also falls into that category. He appeared in several films and shows as a child, but he might be best known for his role as Douglas “Doogie” Howser in the ABC sitcom Doogie Howser, M.D.

Neil Patrick Harris played the title character who was a prodigy teenage physician navigating medical problems at work and teenage problems in life. He seemed to fade off the radar during his later teen years but appeared as a former child star who had succumbed to every imaginable vice in the Harold & Kumar films.

Grown-Up Roles

Grown-Up Roles

Neil Patrick Harris escaped the curse of most child stars. He didn’t deal with overwhelming periods of dysfunction, and after a slow period in his late teens and early twenties, he was able to transition to grown-up roles without being typecast. On How I Met Your Mother, which began in 2005, Harris played the total opposite of his best-known childhood role. He became Barney Stinson, a serial womanizer.

Of course, in real life, Harris couldn’t be further from his role as Barney. He’s openly gay, happily married with children, and has been an advocate for LGBT rights since coming out publicly in 2006. Since How I Met Your Mother ended in 2014, Harris has had several film and Broadway roles where he puts his singing chops to work.

Winona Ryder’s Early Career

Winona Ryder’s Early Career

Winona Ryder was acting in the mid-1980s, but her breakthrough role was in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice as the goth teenager Lydia Detz alongside Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin, and Michael Keaton. Her performance received positive reviews and catapulted her to several smart roles. She appeared in the cult-classic Heathers, a satirical take on teen life, as Veronica alongside Christian Slater. She also appeared alongside then-boyfriend Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhands (which reunited Burton and Ryder).

She appeared in the film Mermaids alongside Cher, but the Generation X comedy Reality Bites cemented her as a sarcastic and cynical voice of her generation. Girl, Interrupted also established her as a serious character actress. But then she was caught red-handed…

Shoplifting Charges

Shoplifting Charges

In 2001, Winona Ryder was arrested for shoplifting in Beverly Hills, California on the charge of stealing $5,500 worth of designer clothes and accessories from a Saks Fifth Avenue department store. The Los Angeles District Attorney Stephen Cooley played hardball and filed four felony charges against her. Her celebrity lawyer, Mark Geragos, tried to get a plea bargain but failed, so they went to trial.

During the trial, Ryder was accused of possessing and using Vicodin, oxycodone, and diazepam without prescriptions, and was convicted of grand theft, shoplifting, and vandalism, though she was acquitted of the third felony charge of burglary. She still had many supporters.

Free Winona

Free Winona

Winona Ryder’s fans were definitely on her side through the shoplifting incident, and in 2002 during the trial, t-shirts emblazoned with “Free Winona,” began popping up everywhere. Later, Ryder told Interview magazine that the shoplifting had occurred while she was clinically depressed, and the painkillers she was taking were prescribed by a quack doctor and seriously clouded her judgment.

Despite the public support, her 480 hours of community service and reputation in Hollywood made it difficult for her to get roles. She mostly appeared in bit parts or small indie films throughout the 2000s. All of that changed when she landed a recent role in a TV show…

Stranger Things Have Happened

Stranger Things Have Happened

Winona Ryder’s fans have been looking forward to a well-developed role for the actress since her shoplifting arrest, and their wish was granted with the 2016 Netflix original series Stranger Things, created by the Duffer Brothers.

Ryder stars in the series as a single mother Joyce Byers whose 12-year-old son mysteriously vanishes. Her desperate search for him showed off her acting talents and earned very positive reviews from critics. As an homage to 1980s genre films, Stranger Things feels like the perfect vehicle for Ryder to make her comeback. She was nominated for a Golden Globe and several Screen Actors Guild awards for her portrayal.

Drew Barrymore’s Early Career

Drew Barrymore’s Early Career

Drew Barrymore seemed born to act—especially since it ran in her family. Her great-grandparents and her paternal grandparents were all actors—with John Barrymore as one of the most acclaimed actors of his generation. With Steven Spielberg as her godfather, it made sense that she started her acting career when she was young.

As a child, she played Gertie in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and earned a Young Artist Award. She was also in Irreconcilable Differences as a girl whose parents were divorcing and was nominated for her first Golden Globe Award. But her childhood was rocky, and there was a lot of trouble going on behind the scenes.

An Unstable Childhood

An Unstable Childhood

Barrymore acted intermittently throughout the 1980s and 1990s, but she was developing a reputation for drinking and drug use. She started smoking cigarettes at nine years old, drinking at eleven, smoking marijuana at twelve, and using cocaine at thirteen. She was in rehab by the age of fourteen and spent time in an institution after a suicide attempt.

She posed nude for Playboy in 1995 when she was 19 years old, and apparently, her godfather, Spielberg, gave her a quilt for her 20th birthday with a note saying, “Cover yourself up.” After a decade of hard partying, Barrymore seemed to take his advice and completely re-established her image.

Cleaning up Her Act

Cleaning up Her Act

By the late 1990s, it seemed the wild child star had settled down, and the role of Casey Becker in Scream garnered her critical acclaim and established her as a bankable star. She went on to star in several romantic comedies, including The Wedding Singer and Never Been Kissed.

In the 2000s, Barrymore’s box office successes kept coming, with Charlie’s Angels and 50 First Dates. She made a directorial debut with the film Whip It in 2009, and as of 2017 stars in the Netflix original sitcom Santa Clarita Diet about a suburban couple whose lives take a turn when Barrymore’s character becomes a zombie.

Joaquin Phoenix Early Career

Joaquin Phoenix Early Career

Joaquin Phoenix broke into acting early as a child actor with bit roles in television shows, a film debut in SpaceCamp, and a role in Ron Howard’s Parenthood in which he was credited as Leaf Phoenix. That role earned him a nomination for the Young Artist Award for Best Leading Young Actor in a Feature Film.

He changed his name to Joaquin for darker roles, and his breakthrough adult role was in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. He also starred in challenging films like Hotel Rwanda and Quills before starring as Cash in the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line. It seemed like he was on top of the world.

The Rough Patch and Comeback

The Rough Patch and Comeback

Joaquin Phoenix went through a rough patch. He checked into rehab in 2005, then wrecked his car while under the influence in 2006; legendary director Werner Herzog rescued him. He routinely acted erratically in public, and gave a series of odd interviews. Then, he took a break from acting to focus on producing. In 2008 he said he was going to start a rapping career—though that never really panned out.

In 2012, Phoenix returned to the screen in the Paul Thomas Anderson film The Master. It received universal critical acclaim, and Phoenix went on to star in Her, directed by Spike Jonze. He’s continued to star in critically successful films.

Rob Lowe and the Brat Pack

Rob Lowe and the Brat Pack

Rob Lowe was a member of the Hollywood “brat pack” during the 1980s. He rose to fame as a young adult in roles in St. Elmo’s Fire, About Last Night…, The Outsiders, and Oxford Blues. However, he was on the verge of a scandal.

In 1988, a personal adult video tape of Lowe getting intimate with a 16-year-old girl he met in a Georgia nightclub was leaked. The age of consent in Georgia at the time was 14, but 18 was the legal age to be involved in a video tape like that. Lowe was shown with his friend Justin Moritt and the young American model Jennifer. The tape seriously damaged Lowe’s career.

Rob Lowe’s Comeback

Rob Lowe’s Comeback

Though he hasn’t been in many film roles since the scandal, Lowe has made a comeback on television. He made a self-deprecating appearance on Saturday Night Live mocking the tape, then went on to star in Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing.

Lowe showed off his comedic acting chops in the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation as the uptight fitness nut and city manager Chris Traeger. He was nominated for several Golden Globes for The West Wing, and won two Screen Actors Guild awards. It seems this former ’80s teen idol has found a way to have a lasting career in the entertainment industry…despite a few bumps in the road.

Goldie Hawn Explains Her Hiatus to Her Daughter

Goldie Hawn Explains Her Hiatus to Her Daughter

It must be great when your parent is in the same profession as you. Being able to reach out to them for advice is a plus, especially if they are great at what they do. Kate Hudson, Goldie Hawn’s daughter has that chance to do so with her mom and recently the two had a one-on-one interview discussing various topics including why Hawn went on a break.

Hudson asked, “It’s been 15 years since you’ve chosen to make a movie. Why so long?” Hawn explained, “Because I believe that life is about doing. It’s about changing. It’s about transitioning.” Wise words from a great person.

She Tried to Stay Away but It Didn’t Work

She Tried to Stay Away but It Didn’t Work

A certain event in life can change the way people perceive things or what they believe. That was the case for Goldie Hawn more than 10 years ago. When 9/11 happened, she came to a realization that she wanted to do something more meaningful but in the end, she came back to acting.

“I ended up writing two books and creating MindUP. It’s now in Jordan, Serbia, the U.K., America, Canada, Hong Kong. I never looked back,” said Hawn. “I never wished to be acting again. I was so engaged.” On May 11, 2017, expect to see her return to the big screen in the film Snatched.