Former Child Stars Who Changed Careers in Adulthood

     April 3, 2019

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Former child stars have quite a bad reputation in general. Because of the highly publicized misfortunes of many fallen child stars, the difficulties that young people can face when the spotlight turns away from them are well-known. However, not all child stars have tragic stories. Some actors simply choose to walk a different path away from their early fame. For better or worse, all these child stars changed careers in adulthood, and this lifestyle change usually stuck!

Quinn Cummings

Winning an Academy Award nomination for her first performance in a feature film, Quinn Cummings rose to fame in 1977 as a precious and precocious little girl in The Goodbye Girl. She went on to have an interesting career as an actress that included starring opposite Patty Duke in Hail to the Chief.

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Image via Warner Bros.

Quinn Cummings chose to change careers as an adult. After working as an agent for several years, Quinn went on to become a successful author. Her books include Notes from the Underwire, The Year of Learning Dangerously, and Pet Sounds. She posts engaging stories about her life on Twitter and through her Patreon page.

Paul Petersen

Paul Petersen is perhaps as well-known now for using his early stardom to help others as he is for the roles that made him famous in the first place. He became famous as the charming son Jeff Stone on The Donna Reed Show which ran from 1958 to 1966. He later appeared in films such as The Happiest Millionaire and Gidget Grows Up.

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Image via Paramount Pictures/Wikipedia Gazebo

In January 1991, Paul Petersen founded the organization A Minor Consideration to help former child stars. After a series of former child stars committed suicide and otherwise had major problems that garnered a lot of media attention, Petersen knew that he had to do something. Now an activist for over 40 years, Paul Petersen has recently focused on handing down the foundation to a new generation to continue helping former child stars.

Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple was perhaps the biggest child star of all time. She received intense adoration across the U.S. during the Great Depression, and her natural charm and talents helped people forget about the difficult circumstances of their life at a time when national escapism was needed. She starred in many films, including Heidi and The Little Princess, and she received a special Juvenile Academy Award in 1935.

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Image via Blackhawk Films/Public Domain

After being Hollywood’s top box office draw from 1935 to 1938, Shirley Temple retired from show business in the 1940s when she got married at 17. She would later become the United States ambassador to Ghana under President Gerald Ford and the U.S. ambassador to Czechoslovakia under President George H.W. Bush. She also served as Chief of Protocol of the United States under President Gerald Ford and President Jimmy Carter.

Carrie Kei Heim

With her serious nature as a young actress, Carrie Kei Heim seemed like a natural on screen. She starred as the daughter of Hayley Mills in Parent Trap 2, the made-for-TV sequel to Disney’sThe Parent Trap. She also starred in Santa Claus: The Movie in 1985 and appeared on television shows such as The Equalizer and Spenser: For Hire.

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Image via Disney–ABC Domestic Television

Carrie became disenchanted with acting as an adult, and she has followed multiple passions. She became a lawyer, and then started a blog where she identified as a “recovering attorney”. She uses her blog to publish some of her fiction and connect with readers. She has also served as an instructor at Grub Street since 2011.

Mary-Kate Olsen

Mary-Kate Olsen was always identified with her twin Ashley while the two were growing up. Media often referred to them as simply “The Olsen Twins”, and they were credited together on Full House, the show that made them famous when they were just babies. Some might same their early fame was exploited, and they then became little entrepreneurs with countless projects and made-for-video films.

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Image via ABC/CBS Films

In 2010, a grown-up Mary-Kate lamented that she wouldn’t wish her upbringing on anyone. She struggled with growing up in the spotlight and even reportedly had an eating disorder that kept her from thriving in college. However, Mary-Kate went on to have a career as a fashion designer and businesswoman.

Ashley Olsen

Ashley Olsen was the other part of the duo “The Olsen Twins”. The two were the most famous child stars of the 1990s, so it is no wonder that public interest in them remains strong several years after both ladies retired from show business. Ashley was known as the more outgoing twin while the two were filming full House during the first decade of their lives.

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Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

Ashley Olsen’s last major appearance in film or television was as the star of New York Minute alongside sister Mary-Kate Olsen in 2004. Although it has been 15 years since she appeared in a starring role onscreen, she is still a subject of media interest. Like her sister Mary-Kate, she is now a fashion designer and businesswoman. The two founded fashion brands that include The Row, Elizabeth and James, and Olsenboye.

Sarah Polley

As the star of the CBC series Road to Avonlea (which was simply called Avonlea on its Disney Channel airings in the U.S.), Sarah Polley grew up in the spotlight. She lost her mother when she was only 11 years old and spoke of leaving acting behind when she was still a child. She became a political activist in her teen years while still taking on fascinating roles on television and film.

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Image via CBC Television/Disney/ Universal Pictures

Although Sarah Polley was able to make the rare transition from child star to grown-up movie star, she was disenchanted with acting. She went to film school to learn to direct and would later direct such films as Away from Her and Stories We Tell. She also has received critical acclaim (and an Oscar nomination) for her work as a screenwriter.

Lisa Whelchel

As beautiful, rich, and snobby Blair Warner on the Facts of Life, Lisa Whelchel somehow made the character very lovable. She portrayed Blair for nine years and, to many people, will forever be known as her role on that classic sitcom. Before that, she appeared on the lesser-known 1970’s version of The New Mickey Mouse Club.

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Image via NBC/The Hallmark Channel

After her extremely successful career as a young star, Lisa also delved into several other careers. She won a Grammy Award for her album All Because of You in 1984. She went on to become a public speaker and author, and she even briefly became a reality TV star when she appeared on Survivor: Philippines.

Jeff Cohen

The Goonies was one of those films that a generation fell in love with, and it made celebrities of its young stars. Jeff Cohen was among the more memorable characters in the film. He portrayed Chunk in the Richard Donner movie, and he later lost the weight that was much-mocked in the film.

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Warner Bros./ Youtube

His acting career included guest appearances on shows like The Facts of LifeFamily Ties, and Kids Incorporated. These days Jeff Cohen is a successful attorney who is a co-founder of a law film. The Cohen Gardner LLP firm is located in Beverly Hills. He has written about legal matters for websites such as The Huffington Post.

Lisa Jakub

The talented Lisa Jakub started her career as a child actress in Canada in the late 1980’s, and she rose to fame as the oldest daughter in Mrs. Doubtfire. While she was playing the daughter of Robin Williams, she was thrown out of the school she attended for lack of attendance while making the movie. Robin Williams wrote the school a letter on her behalf. They framed the letter but didn’t let her back in.

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Image via 20th Century Fox/ Beaufort Books

Lisa Jakub also acted in feature films such as Independence Day and A Walk on the Moon. However, when she grew up, she discovered there were things that she loved much more than acting. In search of an authentic life, she left Hollywood and moved to the east coast. She is now a published author. So far, her books include her memoir, You Look Like That Girl, and The Anxiety Book: Not Just Me.

Rider Strong

Rider Strong got his start in a theatrical production of Les Miserables in his hometown of San Francisco. He became a household name among young people in the 1990’s when he portrayed Shawn Hunter on Boy Meets World. He acted on the show for seven seasons and won several awards for his work. He also appeared in films such as Cabin Fever.

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Images via ABC

In 2014, Rider Strong later appeared in Girl Meets World, the short-lived sequel to the show that made him famous. However, he has taken up a new career behind the camera as an adult. He is a director, producer, and screenwriter. He also hosts a podcast called Literary Disco about books and writing alongside two other hosts.

Mara Wilson

Mara Wilson starred as the child who learns to believe in Santa Claus in the 1990’s remake of Miracle on 34th Street. She also appeared as the youngest daughter in Mrs. Doubtfire opposite Robin Williams and Sally Field. She had the title role in Matilda and acted in other high-profile projects during her time as a child star.

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Image via 20th Century Fox/Comedy Central

Mara Wilson went through a lot while growing up in front of the camera, including the loss of her mother shortly after Matilda had finished filming. It’s then that she lost some of her passion for acting, and she ultimately chose to be a writer when she grew up. Among other things, she had a play produced and released a memoir called Where Am I Now?.

Danny Lloyd

As one of the central characters in one of the most beloved and talked about horror films of all time, Danny Lloyd rose to fame as a young child. He portrayed the only child of Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) and Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall) in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. However, he did a few other projects after his iconic role in that film.

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Image via Warner Bros.

Danny had decided against an actor’s life when he was still a kid, and he instead became a college professor. While Danny isn’t a public person these days and doesn’t reveal much about his personal life, he did an interview with The Guardian in which he revealed that he is a professor in Kentucky. He is happily married with four children; his two oldest tease him about his haircut in The Shining.

Peter Ostrum

The 1971 movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory has grown in popularity over the decades. When it was first released, it was successful and received positive reviews, but the fanfare over time has become remarkable. Peter Ostrum played Charlie Bucket, the lead character who won the last golden ticket, in the movie.

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Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

After Peter Ostrum filmed Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory in Germany, he returned to his home in Cleveland, Ohio. He became interested in animals after making the film, and he lost interest in acting. He decided to become a veterinarian, and he received his doctorate from Cornell University. He is now a successful veterinarian who is married with two children.

Jonathan Taylor Thomas

Jonathan Taylor Thomas first appeared on TV as Greg Brady’s son in the short-lived but fascinating 1990 TV show The Bradys, which was a sequel show to the beloved TV series The Brady Bunch. As the middle child on Home Improvement, Johnathan became a child star in the 1990s. However, he never really wanted fame and took a mature approach to acting even as a kid.

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Image via Buena Vista Television/ABC/Fox

Many people don’t realize that Jonathan Taylor Thomas was the voice of Simba in Disney’s animated classic The Lion King. He was also in several other shows and feature films before he stepped away from acting. He went to Harvard University, and he later turned to writing and directing. He has directed episodes of Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing.

Gema Zamprogna

Gema Zamprogna starred in the 1990 made-for-TV movie The Challengers around the same time she was cast as one of the lead roles in Road to Avonlea alongside Sarah Polley. She stood out in this role, and she soon found herself well-known as the show was a breakout hit on the Disney Channel and CBC.

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Image via CBC Television / The Disney Channel

Gema grew up in front of the camera on Road to Avonlea, and it ended around the same time her young adulthood was beginning. She acted in other projects and seemed to bow out of the spotlight after she married and had children. She worked as a dance instructor at her parents’ dance studio and her other endeavors are lesser-known. She stays away from the spotlight to enjoy a private life.

Kirk Cameron

Kirk Cameron stole tween and teen hearts in a big way in the 1980s when he starred as Mike Seaver in Growing Pains. The mischievous teen character with curly hair and dimples seemed innocent, yet there was enough of a bad boy in him to create endless storylines as he tried to pull himself out of trouble. Kirk was on the cover of every teen magazine, and he was one of the breakout stars of the show.

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Image via Warner Bros./ Samuel Goldwyn Films

After becoming a born-again Christian during the course of the show, Kirk Cameron changed in a lot of ways. He slowly withdrew from socializing with his castmates. When it went off the air, Kirk Cameron married Chelsea Noble, who played his love interest on Growing Pains. The two went on to have a family together, and Kirk Cameron primarily focused on his active work as an Evangelical Christian for many years. He recently produced films such as Saving Christmas, which he also starred in.

Jeremy Miller

Jeremy Miller played Ben Seaver, the often-smiling, sweet, but also mischievous youngest son on Growing Pains. Like Kirk Cameron who played his older brother on the show, he became a tween and teen star. He also appeared with Fairuza Balk as the children of Stefanie Powers and Barry Bostwick in the miniseries Deceptions.

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Image via Warner Bros./Youtube

After his very successful career as a child actor, Jeremy Miller began to delve into other passions. According to his Twitter page, he has a catering company that works for film sets and private events, and he offers private cooking classes for children and adults. As an adult, Jeremy Miller has delved into multiple projects as an entrepreneur. He previously created the soda company Miller’s Artisan Sodas and had a vegan pop-up eatery.

Danny Bonaduce

Few would have thought that the happy-go-lucky, wisecracking character Danny Partridge was being portrayed by a child who was being abused at home. Sadly, Danny Bonaduce came from an abusive home, and he acted out some of his pain on the set of the Partridge Family. He became close with all the cast members on the set, and he developed a lifelong friendship with David Cassidy.

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Image via Sony Pictures Television/ARC Entertainment

Shirley Jones had often let Danny stay at her home during the making of The Partridge Family to get away from his problems at home, and the two remain friends. As an adult, Danny Bonaduce had a lot of struggles. He got involved with drugs and wound up homeless at some point. He was also arrested for multiple reasons. He seems to have put his troubles behind him now, though, and he has a successful career as a radio personality. On his Twitter page, he refers to himself as “Husband. Father. Radio God.”

Anna Chlumsky

When she appeared on screen with her big, expressive eyes and immense talent as 11-year-old Vada Sultenfuss in My GirlAnna Chlumsky became an instant child star. She carried the movie, an enormous feat when it also stars such charismatic and talented actors as Jamie Lee Curtis and Dan Aykroyd. It also starred Macaulay Culkin when he was at the height of his fame.

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Image via Columbia Pictures/HBO

Anna continued to act in several films, including a sequel to My Girl, but she eventually became more interested in going to college and other career opportunities. From 1999 to 2005, she was out of show business. She worked as an editorial assistant, but she found herself missing acting. Although she had completely changed careers, she changed her mind again and returned to acting.

Gennie James

Gennie James broke hearts with her earnest portrayal of the title character in Alex: The Life of a Child. The made-for-television movie was based on the life of Alex Deford, a special little girl who passed away from cystic fibrosis when she was a child. She also starred in other films and shows such as The Christmas Gift with John Denver and 1987 adaptation of The Secret Garden.

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Image via ABC/Vimeo

Gennie James contained her acting career to the 1980s, and she then retired from the art of acting. Originally from Navasota, Texas, she went home to Texas and lived a “normal” life out of the spotlight. She took on her married name and chooses to keep her new life and career out of the limelight.

Josh Saviano

Josh Saviano became famous for his part as the best friend of Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage) on The Wonder Years. He also played a brooding rebel with a big crush in the made-for-television movie Camp Cucamonga that plays like a whos-who of teen celebrities of the day. He also had guest appearances in shows like Reading Rainbow and The Ray Bradbury Theater.

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Image via Disney-ABC /NBC

Josh had fun as an actor, but he decided to pursue another line of work when he grew up. He studied at such schools as Yale University and Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. He passed the bar and now works as an attorney. He also created two start-ups including the JDS Legal law firm.

Rusty Hamer

Rusty Hamer, whose formal name was Russell Craig Hamer, became well-known for his role as Rusty Williams on Make Room for Daddy, which was later called The Danny Thomas Show. He relished his time on the show, and he even came back for reunion special and a sequel TV show that was called Make Room for Granddaddy. He appeared on an episode of Green Acres but did not do a lot of other acting aside from his role as Rusty Williams.

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Image via CBS Films

As an adult, Rusty Hamer moved away from Hollywood. He moved to Louisiana where he worked multiple jobs. He delivered newspapers for a time and worked for Exxon on an off-shore oil rig. He sometimes worked as a short order cook. Tragically, Rusty Hamer died by suicide in DeRidder, Louisiana when he was only 42 years old.

Janet Jackson

A certain child star who started her long career in entertainment in show business in acting surpassed her early success. Janet Jackson began her career playing Jojo Ashton in the TV show A New Kind of Family. She went on to play Penny in Good Times, and she even had a cameo appearance in her brother Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video.

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Image via CBS/Lionsgate

As an adult, Janet Jackson decided to pursue music like her famous brothers had done. While she does occasionally act these days, she has largely focused on music since the late 1980s. Her debut album Control topped the charts and is still beloved as a pop music masterpiece. She is still recording and performing popular music.

Ross Hull

Any kids of the 1990’s who loved Nickelodeon and scary stories will be easily able to tell you all about who Ross Hull is. He was the leading storyteller in the beloved TV show Are You Afraid of the Dark?. He also guest-starred in television shows like Ready or Not and Stargate Atlantis.

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Image via Nickelodeon/ Global Television Network

Acting eventually lost its sparkle for Ross, and he decided to switch careers. He now works as an on-air meteorologist for a show called Global News. He produces forecasts for several cities in Canada. He has worked as a weather anchor and on-air weather personality for well over a decade.

Danny Pintauro

Danny Pintauro was a child star in the 1980s and well into the 1990s. He played the precocious and serious character Jonathan Bower on Who’s The Boss? He starred alongside Tony DanzaJudith LightAlyssa Milano, and Katherine Helmond. He also acted in the 1983 movie Cujo and the soap opera As The World Turns.

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Image via Sony Pictures Television/HBO

When a tabloid threatened to out Danny in the 1990s, he beat them to it and decided to come out as a gay teenager. This was at a time when being gay could threaten someone’s career, and he was one of the very first actors to come out of the closet. He left acting behind in his adulthood, and he worked a variety of jobs. He managed a restaurant in Las Vegas for some time and traveled as an advocate after announcing that he was HIV positive.

Angus T. Jones

Angus T. Jones began his successful acting career when he was only five years old. It was then he landed his first film role in the movie Simpatico. He also appeared in films such as The Christmas Blessing and George of the Jungle 2 before he got his big break, starring in the hit show Two and a Half Men for 10 years.

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Image via Warner Bros./CBS

In an unusual move, Angus T. Jones left the show during its tenth season, citing his newfound religious path as the reason and calling the show “filth”. According to Christianity Today, he referred to himself as a paid hypocrite for his work on the show. He became an advocate for Christianity. In 2016, he began a career in business as part of the management team of an event production company.

Taran Noah Smith

Taran Noah Smith portrayed the youngest son Marcus Jason Taylor on Home Improvement. He did projects in addition to Home Improvement during his time on the show. He played Tiny Tim in a version of the classic Christmas Carol story called Ebbie in which Ebenezer Scrooge is portrayed as a woman (Susan Lucci).

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Image via Buena Vista Television

Taran Noah Smith stopped acting altogether when Home Improvement went off the air. He later explained that he’d been acting all his life, and the show ended when he was 16 years old. He knew by then that he didn’t want to act any longer. He became an entrepreneur and founded a vegan food company called Playfood. He is a devoted vegan.

Jodie Sweetin

Jodie Sweetin’s charm and intelligence came through in her portrayal of middle daughter Stephanie Tanner on Full House in the 1980s and 1990s. She started with the show when she was only five years old, and she grew up in front of the camera alongside Candace Cameron, Mary-Kate Olsen, and Ashley Olsen.

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Image via Warner Bros./ Netflix

When Full House ended, Jodie Sweetin was only 13, and she struggled to adjust to life outside the spotlight. She later got addicted to crystal meth and chronicled her harrowing journey into addiction in her memoir unSweetined. She had moved on from acting and worked in a drug rehab facility to help others with addiction when she was asked to reprise her role as Stephanie in Fuller House. Although she switched careers, she has enjoyed returning to acting to play Stephanie once again for her devoted fans.

Chad Allen

Chad Allen won young fans as one of the child stars of Our House, a television show about a widow with three kids who moves in with her father-in-law after the death of her husband. It was a charming drama with a lot of heart. Although it was canceled after three seasons, Chad Allen’s career continued to rise. He became a regular on My Two Dads, and he later also starred in Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman.

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Image via Empire Pictures/ Showtime

As an adult, Chad Allen continued his work as an actor, and he even had a YouTube page for a while. After coming out, he also started to advocate for LGBT causes. He was honored for his work when he became a GLAAD Media Award nominee. He ultimately decided that he wanted to give up acting in 2015 and instead became a therapist.

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