You might regard being a successful actor as a dream job. Reaching the top in the entertainment industry may seem like the ultimate achievement. The allure of stardom has kept a constant supply of young hopefuls flocking to Hollywood for well over a century.
The reality is that many performers find the pressures of fame begin to take their toll, prompting them to retire from acting to pursue other passions, be present with their kids, or simply find a more peaceful way of life.
Award-winning method actor Daniel Day-Lewis has always kept fans guessing about his future in show business: he generally leaves around five years between roles. In the 1990s, he went so far as to renounce the entertainment industry to train as a shoemaker. He subsequently reprised his career with Gangs of New York in 2002.
Day-Lewis announced his latest retirement in 2017, saying he made the decision spontaneously during the filming of Phantom Thread. Only time will tell whether this is the end of his critically acclaimed screen career.
Audrey Hepburn was much more than a style icon. Her childhood was turned upside down by the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during World War II. Somehow, she overcame the hardship she’d endured and went on to star in classic movies like Breakfast At Tiffany’s and My Fair Lady.
Hepburn wound down her film career from 1967 onwards to make more time for her family, but it seems her early experience of war was the catalyst for her focus on humanitarian work in her later years. In 1988 she became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, a role she continued right up until the end of her life.
Sidney Poitier is widely regarded as the most groundbreaking black actor of his generation. His film career started in 1950, when racial segregation was still rife in many US states, and three-dimensional roles for people of color were rare.
After starring in many movies that challenged stereotypes, such as No Way Out and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Poitier’s career broadened to encompass a wider social remit. His transition to international diplomacy was confirmed in 1997 when he became Bahamian ambassador to Japan.
In the 1990s and 2000s, Cameron Diaz seemed to be the quintessential Hollywood leading lady, especially when it came to romantic comedies like There’s Something About Mary and The Holiday. Behind the scenes, she became increasingly disillusioned with fame and longed to define herself beyond the film industry. Diaz officially announced her retirement in 2018, having declined any further roles since the remake of the classic film Annie four years earlier.
For many people, British-born Cary Grant was the ultimate leading man. He overcame a troubled childhood to star in golden age classics like Bringing Up Baby and North by Northwest.
After many decades of high-profile roles, Grant decided it was inappropriate to play the romantic lead in films where he was far older than his female co-stars. Ultimately, the birth of his daughter, Jennifer, in 1966 gave him the incentive he needed to quit the silver screen for good.
Unsurprisingly for someone descended from Hollywood royalty, Bridget Fonda quickly rose to fame in the 1990s with significant roles in films like The Godfather Part III, Single White Female, and Jackie Brown. It appears that a serious car accident in 2003, her marriage in the same year, and the transformative effect of motherhood may all have contributed to Fonda re-evaluating her priorities and choosing a way of life far from the public eye.
The problem with film series is that few sequels, or prequels, ever live up to the expectations of die-hard fans. When people are disappointed, it’s predictable that the writers, the director, and the production team would receive lots of criticism.
Sadly, in the case of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, much of the public hostility towards the film was misdirected towards ten-year-old Jake Lloyd, who played the young Anakin Skywalker. As a result of the bullying he endured, he quit acting shortly afterward.
Even the most beloved of child stars can find the cut-throat movie industry struggles to adapt to them growing up. After starting her film career at the age of four, Shirley Temple became a household name with films like Curly Top. As she got older, she became increasingly frustrated by the lack of range in the roles offered to her, to the extent that she officially retired at the age of twenty-two. Temple soon found a fulfilling second career working in diplomacy, including as the US Ambassador to Czechoslovakia between 1989-1992.
The Scottish actor, best known for playing James Bond in no less than seven of the legendary spy films, retired permanently in 2012. His last live-action role in 2003's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen fared badly with film critics, leading him to publicly berate “the idiots now making films in Hollywood” in a 2005 newspaper interview.
The mysterious Swedish actor Greta Garbo began her career in silent films like The Temptress before successfully switching to the world of sound with Anna Christie in 1930.
After the release of her final film, The Two-Faced Woman, Garbo lived up to the notorious slogan "I want to be alone" by retiring aged 35. From then on, she lived a low-key life in New York, avoiding the limelight and amassing a huge collection of fine art.
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