Becoming an actor or a director can be a real challenge and some people spend years of their lives trying to find their footing in Hollywood. However, for some, being famous and having a career in the spotlight isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Over the years, there have been quite a few celebrities who have decided to leave show-business behind whether it be to start a family or to find a different career path.
Whatever their reasons may have been, here is a look at 20 different celebs who decided to turn the spotlight off.
Doris Day Sought Love And Family
Although the actress is best known for the song “Que Sera, Sera” has her name attached to dozens of classic films, she hasn’t appeared on television or in movies since 1973. After a wildly successful career, Day stopped acting when she was just 51 years old (after her successful five-year stint on The Doris Day Show).
Once America’s Sweetheart, Day decided to leave Hollywood in search of something to fulfill her soul. Those who knew Day said that she ultimately wanted a happy home life, but with four marriages under her belt, she hadn’t had much luck.
She moved to a ranch just outside of Carmel, California, and began caring for stray animals. She also chose to go by the name “Clara” to completely distance herself from her former career.
Dave Chappelle Moved To South Africa
Best known for his eponymous Chappelle’s Show and his role in the stoner comedy, Half Baked, the stand-up comedian and actor walked away from public life right at the moment he reached the top. Having first appeared on screen in the Mel Brooks send-up Robin Hood: Men In Tights, Dave Chappelle abruptly quit during the production of the third season of Chappelle’s Show in 2005 and moved to South Africa.
His unplanned and unexpected retreat came as a result of multiple stressors, from his $50 million contract with Comedy Central to the impact the show had on his stand-up career. Chappelle has since returned, but continues to maintain a low profile.
Gene Hackman Struggled With Aging
The actor, best known for his role in the film Unforgiven, left his career behind back in 2004. His very last film, Welcome to Mooseport, was the end of the road. At the time of the film’s release, Hackman told Larry King that his career was “probably over.” He had 100 acting credits to his name and decided to retire.
Hackman struggled a bit with becoming an older actor in the business and ultimately decided that he needed to step away from his career. In his time out of the spotlight, Hackman started writing. He has authored three novels: Escape From Andersonville, Justice for None, and Wake of the Perdido Star.
Rick Moranis Needed To Be With His Children After His Wife Died
From Ghostbusters to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Rick Moranis was a well-respected performer in comedy films. However, tragedy struck his family when his wife, Anne, passed away in 1991.
“The decision in my case to become a stay-at-home dad, which people do all the time, I guess wouldn’t have meant as much to people if I had had a very simple kind of ‘make a living’ existence, and decided, ‘You know what, I need to spend more time at home. I’m not going to do that. I’m going to do this part time and then work out of my house to do this and this and this.’ Nobody would pay any attention to it. But because I came from celebrity and fame and what was a peak of a career, that was intriguing to people and to me it wasn’t that. It wasn’t anything to do with that. It was just work and it was time to make an adjustment,” he said in a 2013 interview with Bullseye with Jesse Thorn.
“I didn’t walk away from [creativity]. I applied all my creativity to my home life, to my kids, to my family. I was the same person. I didn’t change. I just shifted my focus,” he added.
Jack Gleeson Wants To Enjoy Life
Actor Jack Gleeson portrayed Joffrey Baratheon on HBO’s Game of Thrones for four years. His character was hated by just about everyone who watched the series. After his time on GoT ended, the Irish actor decided to take a break from show business. He has not done any work since 2014.
“I just stopped enjoying [acting] 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. 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. I’m happy to sacrifice a big paycheck for my happiness, if that’s not too corny a thing to say. It’s probably more naive than mature to say that, maybe, but that’s how I feel,” he told People magazine in recent years.
Grace Kelly Retired And Got Married—To A Prince!
Actress Grace Kelly was one of the best of her time. However, she left Hollywood when she decided to wed the Prince of Monaco. She married Prince Rainier III in April 1956.
Two years after winning an Academy Award for her role in The Country Girl, Kelly decided that it was time to try something different. Although she was only in the business for five years, she wanted to become a wife — and to start a family.
Kelly and Rainier III had three children, Princess Stéphanie of Monaco, Countess of Polignac, Caroline, Princess of Hanover, and Albert II, Prince of Monaco, the reigning monarch. Kelly suffered a stroke and passed away on September 13, 1982.
Shirley Temple Wanted To Focus On Being A Mother
After a whirlwind career that started when she was just a small child, actress Shirley Temple decided to step out of the spotlight in 1950. Although she could have continued her career, Temple wanted to stay home and enjoy being a mother to her three children.
Known for her work in films such as The Little Princess, Fort Apache, and Heidi, the little girl that stole millions of hearts just wanted a change of pace. She didn’t disappear completely, however.
Temple became a diplomat, serving as the Ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. She even ran for office, though she didn’t win. Temple passed away in 2014.
Taylor Momsen Quit ‘Gossip Girl’ And Never Looked Back
Taylor Momsen wanted a career in music, but got swept up in acting, taking on a role in Gossip Girl. However, she chased her dream and gave up acting in 2012. She hasn’t had her name attached to any television or film credits since.
“I quit acting, actually. I quit Gossip Girl and now tour and am in a band, and that’s pretty much all I want to do. Hopefully I’ll be able to only do that for the rest of my life,” Momsen told Elle Magazine of her decision.
Momsen is still making music with her band, The Pretty Reckless, but her name rarely appears in tabloids and she hardly ever does interviews.
Cary Grant Left Hollywood To Care For His Daughter
Former heartthrob Cary Grant left Hollywood in 1966. With an incredibly successful career and starring roles in films like North By Northwest and Notorious, Grant had plenty of clout in the business. Ultimately, however, it’s not what he wanted most.
Grant wanted to stay home and raise his daughter, Jennifer. He wanted to shield Jennifer from the spotlight and give her as normal of an upbringing as he could. Interestingly enough, Jennifer took after her famous dad and pursued a career in acting! She has a few film credits to her name and was even in an episode of CSI back in 2006.
Meg Ryan Left Hollywood After Her Divorce
Meg Ryan might be the first face that comes to mind when you think about rom-coms, but she took a big break from the industry after her marriage fell apart; she and actor Dennis Quaid split in 2001.
The actress has done a few television gigs in recent years, but she lives her life completely out of the mainstream.
“All of the tabloid attention really shook her up. She was deeply troubled by it. It contributed to her stepping away,” a former colleague of Ryan’s told People magazine back in 2013. Ryan does a few small projects here and there, but she’s done doing red carpets and blockbuster films — at least for the time being.
Greta Garbo Didn’t Have Very Thick Skin
Actress Greta Garbo had done quite a bit of work in the business and was even nominated for three Oscars, but she couldn’t handle the amount of criticism her work received. In 1941, she bid her career adieu.
Garbo, known for films like Ninotchka and Grand Hotel, left Hollywood when she was 36. She moved to Manhattan where she lived a very quiet life. She never got married and she did not have any children.
Although she was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1955, Garbo didn’t even attend the ceremony to pick up her award. She passed away in 1990.
John Hughes Wanted A ‘Normal Life’
Writer/director John Hughes left the mayhem of Hollywood in search of a “normal life.” After directing films such as The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (as well as writing and producing countless more), Hughes decided to move out of California in hopes of being just a regular guy somewhere else.
In 1994, Hughes moved to the Chicago suburbs to give life-post-Hollywood a shot.
Fifteen years later, Hughes passed away in Manhattan, New York, at the age of 59. He had been visiting family in the Big Apple and suffered a heart attack while out for a walk.
Jonathan Taylor Thomas Said Goodbye To Acting In 2006
The Home Improvement actor decided to give acting a rest in 2006. Jonathan Taylor Thomas took part in a couple of other shows and movies after leaving television’s Taylor family, but he wanted to pursue his education, attending both Harvard and Columbia.
“I’d been going nonstop since I was 8-years-old. I wanted to go to school, to travel and have a bit of a break,” Thomas told People magazine in 2013.
Fans were so excited to see that Taylor came out of his unofficial retirement that same year to become a semi-regular cast member on Tim Allen’s show Last Man Standing. Other than his cameo appearance, however, Taylor has stayed out of the spotlight.
Lauryn Hill Gave Music A Rest For Over A Decade
Lauryn Hill made the tough decision to leave her music career behind after releasing The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 1998. She has vaguely explained her abrupt exit from music in several interviews over the years.
“There were a number of different reasons. But partly, the support system that I needed was not necessarily in place. There were things about myself, personal-growth things, that I had to go through in order to feel like it was worth it,” she told NPR back in 2010.
“It’s important that people be given the time that they need to go through, to grow, so that the consciousness level of the general public is properly affected,” she added.
Phoebe Cates Gave Up Her Career For Her Family
Phoebe Cates wanted to spend time at home with her children and her husband, Kevin Kline. The actress, best known for her role in the 1982 hit, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, wanted to keep her kids out of the spotlight and give them a private life — something that isn’t easy to do when both parents are extremely famous.
Cates’ and Kline’s son, Owen, couldn’t stay away, however. He has pursued a career in the business and already has a few credits to his name. The 2005 film The Squid and the Whale earned Owen quite a bit of praise.
Freddie Prinze Jr. Started Cooking — And Released A Cookbook
The super-popular 90s heartthrob decided to give acting a nice long rest. While he had some box office success with various films throughout his career (including lending his voice for Fred in Scooby Doo), Freddie Prinze, Jr. decided that movies just weren’t his thing.
Although he has done a number of television gigs over the years, he prefers to live a quiet life at home with his wife, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and their two children.
In 2016, Prinze, Jr. released a cookbook called Back to the Kitchen: 75 Delicious, Real Recipes (and True Stories) from a Food-Obsessed Actor. It was a good change of pace for him.
Michael Schoeffling Blew Out The ‘Candles’
Michael Schoeffling played the role of Jake Ryan in Sixteen Candles, but gave up his career seven short years later. Schoeffling did a few other films (like the popular 1990 movie Mermaids alongside Cher), but didn’t grab his career by the horns by any means.
Schoeffling took his money and ran out of Hollywood, giving it all up to stay home and be a dad to his two kids.
Interestingly enough, his name has found its way back into the popular consciousness over the last several years, but not as an actor — as an interior designer. His furniture designs can be found online!
Axl Rose Chose To Live A Quiet Life In The Late ’90s
Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses fame decided to remove himself from the spotlight after the group broke up in the late 90s. While he may have been able to have a successful solo career in the years that followed, he wanted to live privately and get away from all of the hooplah that stardom brought along.
While he has managed to keep his personal life out of the tabloids, Axl Rose is still making music today. In recent years, he has performed with AC/DC and even reconnected with Guns N’ Roses for a pretty epic reunion tour.
However, Rose is still notoriously private.
Sean Connery Left Hollywood In 2003
“Bond. James Bond.” The one. But not the only. Actor Sean Connery decided to give up acting after his role in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Connery was offered the role of Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings films, but he turned it down. Perhaps he didn’t realize at the time that those movies would have made him a very rich (more rich?) man.
While Connery has lent his voice to a few different things over the years, he has no interest in acting. He spends his time golfing, attending tennis matches, and spending time with his grandkids.
Gene Wilder Stopped Acting In The ’90s
With a number of incredible films under his belt (like Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and Young Frankenstein), the legendary Gene Wilder decided to quit acting in the late 90s. In 1991, he starred in Another You alongside the hilarious Richard Pryor, but didn’t do any movies after that. He appeared in a handful of television movies and a couple of shows, but preferred to live his life off radar.
Wilder made a surprise appearance on Will & Grace, but kept himself out of the spotlight for many years. He passed away at his home in Stamford, Connecticut, in 2016 after suffering complications of Alzheimer’s disease.
Lil Wayne Has Had Enough
Lil Wayne, who was arguably the best rapper alive during a long span that took place about a decade ago, recently called for retirement. He still has those clever lines that have fans scratching their head wondering how he came up with that, isn’t quite at his peak but it wasn’t that long ago that he was there. The rap community still very much respects Wayne.
His retirement stems from an on going feud with Cash Money Records leader Birdman. “This is business,” Wayne said. “I have a family, I have kids, I have a mother. We got bills. Once the business is right, then everything is right.” He then went on and further backed up his initial tweet that said he was retiring. “I did feel that way and I didn’t take the tweet down because I said I still feel that way.”
Denise Richards Goes Awall
Denise Richards was one of the most beautiful and famous women in Hollywood back in the early 2000’s. She was a headline making queen. Between her roles and her looks and the fact that she married Charlie Sheen, there was no form of media that excluded her. After many of her roles, the divorce and crazy issues with Mr. Winning, she just went missing. The rumor was she wanted to raise her kids away from the spotlight and their father’s issues. However, she left when her career was starting to get really good.
He Just Wanted To Win
This is Calvin Johnson, the former wide receiver on the Detroit Lions. He was, if not the best wide receiver in the league. Drafted straight from high school, Johnson was a beast on the field and no one could really stop him. However, just him alone wasn’t enough to push the lions into winning habits. It’s not that they were bad, they just weren’t winning when it mattered and that mattered to Johnson.
Because he couldn’t get traded, Johnson chose to just retire because he felt the front office of the Lions were not committed to winning.
Chevy Chase No Longer Spotlighted
You may know him from Community. Chevy Chase was loved heavily in all of his comedic roles. Hollywood loved him during the National Lampoon era but weirdly, he vanished from the spotlight just as his career was catching its wings. The reason for it is because he turned down a role that would have launched him into greater success. The role he was asked to do was in American Beauty that Kevin Spacey took and eventually won an Oscar for. Since then, his career went down. He took up Community after that but that wasn’t very much for him.
Demi Moore No More
Due to her immense beauty, she really isn’t out of the spotlight but she did happen to turn down her career as she was starting to get big. In 1996, she became the highest paid actress in the game but that is also when she decided to take a break and move to Idaho.
She had gone through a divorce with Bruce Willis and as a result she took the kids with her and got out of the limelight for a long while. When she made her way back to Hollywood, she married the funnyman and much younger Ashton Kutcher and ended up divorced one more time.
Frankie Muniz Just Up And Leaves
Malcolm in the Middle is no longer in the middle or in the spotlight anymore at all really. Frankie Muniz had racked up $40,000,000 in the bank when he was just 19. What would you have done with that much money when you were only 19, still a teenager? Well, there are tons of things you would have done but Muniz chose to retire.
He is still enjoying his life and took up race car driving. He also does a lot of traveling. But it’s interesting that he didn’t stick around and continue to do acting and make more money.
Macauley Culkin Spites His Parents
At one point in time, the child star Macauley Culkin was the biggest child star on Earth. He was friends with the king of pop Michael Jackson and starred in many people’s favorite holiday film, Home Alone. Then when he hit the age of 14, he chose to retire. He did it to spite his father who was not a pleasant person and mean to the star.
“My father was overbearing,” he said. “Very controlling. He was always the way he is, even before my success. He’d play mind games to make sure I knew my place. I’d made enough money by 12 to never have to work again.”
He Called It Quits
We all know that Jay-Z is still making music today and very active in the hip-hop community. However, not too long ago, “Hov” (as he likes to call himself) chose to hang up the headphones and mic. His “last” album was supposed to be The Black Album but you couldn’t keep the Jiggaman away for long.
He had just come off seven number one albums consecutively before he released The Black Album (which also went number one) so fans were distraught at his random decision. Sure enough, three years later, fans were blessed with Kingdom Come which also went number one. He couldn’t stay down for long.
Yao Ming Returns To China
Perhaps the biggest international NBA star, Yao Ming, made a huge impact on the NBA. He drew up viewership from overseas a ton and helped the Rockets make huge waves in the league. Ming instantly was a success and the only player that could stop him was Shaq, ever heard of him?
Sadly, at a 2011 press conference, Ming announced he was going to retire. Some of his better years were still ahead of him but thanks to multiple feet and ankle problems, he couldn’t stay healthy enough to play. For tall people, the foot is very sensitive so Ming had to do what was right for him.
Phoenix Wants To Rap?
Joaquin Phoenix is a three-time Oscar nominee. The guy is a really good actor, clearly but in 2008 he announced he was throwing in the towel. Why would he even want to do that? The ensuing two years were filled with him acting strangely while he was pursuing a rap career.
When 2010 struck, Phoenix revealed that everything was a joke for a mockumentary, I’m Still Here. He shaved his crazy beard and came back to the big screen in 2012. So technically, he did quit but it was a hoax. He had his fans fooled and us that’s for sure.
Kevin Jonas Leaves Behind Music
The three headed monster of Kevin, Nick and Joe Jonas or The Jonas Bros, got their first shot at fame in 2008. They starred in the Disney Channel Original movie Camp Rock and since then they shot to fame. They captured the attention of all preteens and teens everywhere but in 2013, they called it quits.
Going their separate ways, Nick stayed in acting while Joe went on and dated Taylor Swift. But whatever happened to Kevin? He had a wife and some kids and turned into a full-time entrepreneur. He left the music behind and followed what appears to be his true passion.
Rocky Heads Out The Ring
One of the best boxers to ever step in the ring kept his career short and great. He was the winner of the heavyweight boxing title four years during the ’50s. He then went on to retire during his peak at the age of 32. Now, before we tell you why he did such a thing, do you see the way Muhammad Ali was during the latter part of his life?
Rocky Marciano was trying to avoid chronic injuries that hit many of his other competitors. Fortunately for him, he earned major love in the form of the big-screen with the Rocky movies.
Whatever Happened To Joe?
The short man and Italian American was a very memorable actor that could keep getting roles because he was a unique cast, no one was really like him in Hollywood. The peak of his career came during the early ’90s when he made appearances in Home Alone, Goodfellas and Casino.
In 1999, Peschi announced his retirement from movies to pursue other things he was interested in. Those things included music and creating an album that played on his mafioso archetype. He remained out of the public eye for the most part but who could forget about him!
The Kid Sensation Had Urges
Mara Wilson had a spectacular childhood acting career. Her list of roles is quite amazing acting in films such as Matilda, Miracle on 34th Street and Mrs. Doubtfire. Those were pretty big films in their time but after Wilson played in Thomas and the Magic Rail Road back in 2000, she decided to stop.
She figured there were other outlets for her creative urges so she went to NYU to get a degree in art. “It’s not my thing anymore,” Wilson said about acting. “If it ever was. Yes, I do still act [on stage] sometimes. But when I do, it’s with people I know and trust.”
Don’t Scream, She’s Gone
If you were a big fan of the horror flicks Scream then chances are, you are wondering whatever happened to this scream queen. Neve Campbell was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood when Scream and Wild Things came out. It looked as if she was going to be the next it girl of Hollywood. Sadly, once she was done with those roles she kind of just vanished.
Every once in a while, her name might pop up due to an appearance or a small role she takes up but for the most part, she just up and left the Hollywood scene never to be heard from again.
Katherine Wasn’t Having It
Katherine Heigl was probably the most attractive doctor on TV next to McDreamy. The former Grey’s Anatomy star was on the path to a great career when she took roles for Knocked Up and 27 Dresses. Sadly, the fame got to her head it appeared and she started to say foul things about co-stars and bosses on her job.
This made her reputation begin to tarnish. It also made it hard to work with her which led to her missing out on potential roles. She practically had to give up her career because she didn’t know how to handle the fame.
Gone To Be A Pastor
The rapper who used to roll heavy with Diddy and Biggie Smalls (Ri.I.P.) was once one of the biggest names in not just rap but all of music. The ’90s was in his hands but that didn’t seem to be enough for him. Mase soon gave up rap to become a minister. Have you ever heard of a rapper from Harlem giving up rap and leaving behind Diddy to become a rapper?
He did try to make a come back and although it was received well by some of his fans, not everyone was on board. He did a few collaborations but then he eventually left the scene.
Kenan And No More Kel
If you were born in the ’90s then the chances were high that you were familiar with Kel Mitchell. Not only did he have his own show with Kenan Thompson (Kenan and Kel) but he was also on All That and the comedy about fast food, Good Burger. Kenan continued to do his thing in acting and comedy but Kel fell off the map.
Some were speculating that a bad chemistry started to grow between Kenan and Kel so that’s why Kel backed up a bit but others were saying he wanted to go more behind the scenes. He was so quiet for many years, some started to think he committed suicide.
The GOAT Takes Up Baseball
Michael Jordan, if you have never seen him play basketball that is fine because you have probably seen his shoes somewhere or you at least know that he’s the guy from Space Jam that likes to stick his tongue out. Jordan is pretty iconic and he’s been so for many decades now even while he was playing but he decided to give it up after winning his third championship.
It was a highly weird move that left the NBA shook and all of his fans. Michael was destroying everybody in the NBA and winning tons of awards but he left to play America’s past time. He eventually returned back and won three more titles.
T.R. Knight Exits Stage Left
You may know Knight as the awkward character from Grey’s Anatomy. He played George O’Malley but was killed off in one of the most heartfelt scenes on the show. Knight was one of the fan favorites so it was sad to see him leave. But when season five came around, he was disillusioned with his story lines and short screen time.
He passed on his million dollar contract in 2009. Ever since he did that, his roles came few and far between except for when he had a seven episode run on The Good Wife in 2013. If only Knight had stayed with Grey’s, a show that is still going and going strong.