15 Stars Who Left Hollywood To Start New Careers

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Is the allure of fame and fortune enough for every established Hollywood star? According to these individuals, it’s a bit overrated. Here are 15 stars who traded in their established status in Hollywood to pursue new careers that may surprise you.

Geena Davis

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Following the cancellation of Commander-In-Chief in 2006, actress and archery athlete Geena Davis slowed her career down to launch The Geena Davis Institute on Gender In Media. The organization’s aim is to “spotlight gender inequalities at every media and entertainment company.” Davis has returned to acting sporadically since her three year hiatus, mostly on television.

Dave Chappelle

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Comedian Dave Chappelle famously left his hit Comedy Central show behind in 2005. Rumors floated around for years that Chappelle was living an idyllic, quiet existence on a farm in Ohio. In all likelihood, he is probably honing his stand-up material for his return to the stage, a revival that’s currently in swing.

Kirk Cameron

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During the end of Growing Pains run, teenage star Kirk Cameron found God and was inspired to pursue a career in evangelism. Though he left Hollywood behind, Cameron has continually put his acting chops to good use starring in Christian-themed movies like Fireproof (which turned out to be a runaway hit).

Dolores Hart

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Dolores Hart’s place in history was cemented by her starring role in Elvis Presley’s first vehicle, King Creole. Despite being the first woman to ever kiss The King onscreen, Hart shunned the fame the role brought her. She famously left Hollywood to become a nun and has never looked back.

Jonathan Taylor Thomas


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Home Improvement star and 1990s heartthrob Jonathan Taylor Thomas left Hollywood in 1999. The actor cited burnout and a desire to enjoy his teen years as a key motivator for his departure. After spending years taking classes at institutions like Harvard, JTT returned to Hollywood to pursue a career as a screenwriter and director.

Danicka McKellar

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Yet another child actor, Wonder Years star Danicka McKellar (fans know her as Winnie Cooper) has enjoyed a second career as an academic. McKellar has authored three books to date, all of which are designed to veer middle school-aged girls toward mathematics. Fortunately, McKellar didn’t leave acting completely behind– she’s also enjoyed success as an actress on shows like Young Justice.

Cary Grant


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Cary Grant’s last starring role was in 1966– the actor departed his trade following the birth of his daughter, which occurred when he was 62. Following his retirement from movies, Grant took up various jobs, including board of directors positions at Faberge, Western Airlines, The Magic Castle, MGM and Hollywood Park.

Heather Donahue

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The Blair Witch Project made Heather Donahue’s teary-eyed face one of the most recognizable images of 1999. The part even opened up roles in mainstream fare like Boys and Girls, a rarity for indie horror stars. Yet Donahue was so overwhelmed by her newfound fame that she ended up walking away from Hollywood completely. She departed to start a career growing medical kush, though after a friend was busted she left the industry to write about her experiences and advocate on the drug’s behalf.

Mara Wilson


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Mrs. Doubtfire, Miracle on 31st Street, Matilda— Mara Wilson was Hollywood’s child star du jour throughout the 1990s, but left it all behind after 2000. Though she was seemingly at the height of her career at the time, Wilson opted to pursue her teen years in school instead of movies. These days Wilson still dabbles in stage and voice acting, though she mainly works as a writer.

Brian May

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Queen guitarist Brian May continued playing music long after the group’s run ended. However it is worth noting that May’s solo efforts were juggled with careers in physics, animal activism, and writing.

Phoebe Cates

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Phoebe Cates was a defining sex symbol during the 1980s thanks to roles in films like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Paradise. After marrying actor Kevin Kline in 1989, Cates began slowing her career down in favor of focusing on raising a family. In 2005 she opened a boutique called Blue Tree, which currently operates on New York’s Madison Avenue.

Shirley Temple

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Shirley Temple’s post-child star career was notoriously bumpy. After a failed attempt at a comeback in the 1940s, Temple went into a career in politics. Temple also acted on the board of directors of several companies, including Disney, and served as ambassador to countries like Ghana and Czechoslavokia.

Grace Kelly

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Grace Kelly’s final film was High Society in 1956. Shortly after its release, Kelly gave up acting altogether to marry Prince Ranier III of Monaco. Kelly lived the remainder of her life as royalty, a career move that had her playing Princess Grace full time.

Meg Tilly

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Though turns in films like The Big Chill made her among the most frequently seen actresses of the 1980s, Meg Tilly left Hollywood behind in 1994. In the ensuing years Tilly rose to acclaim as a writer with memoirs like Singing Songs and a fiction work called First Time. Most recently she’s returned to acting in the Canadian TV series Bomb Girls. 

Gene Hackman

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Gene Hackman retired in 2004, wrapping up his career with (of all things) the comedy Welcome To Mooseport. Following his retirement from acting, Hackman turned to writing historical fiction novels. He has published four books to date, three of which were co-written by Daniel Lenihan.

  • Paladin77

    i thought this article was about celebrities who left Hollywood to start new careers. Careers on Pause is more like it…..misnomer

  • Nicole

    I’m not sure how much credibility this article actually holds considering it stated Mara Wilson starred in “Miracle on ’31st’ St” lol.

    • Jessica

      Uh she did star in miracle on 34th street

  • Garrett1776

    Who cares?

  • OrdM

    Didn’t know gene Hackman retired !!

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