- Former child stars often struggle to make a successful career transition into adulthood, leading many to quit acting before they turn 30.
- Many former child stars quit acting due to a loss of passion, lack of roles, or feeling burnt out from their early experiences in the industry.
- Only one former child actor on this list eventually returned to acting after retiring, and he ended up winning an Oscar for his comeback role.
Not every child star continues acting into adulthood, and some of those who do end up quitting acting before they turn 30. Being a child actor can be a tough existence. While some child stars go on to have huge Hollywood careers as adults, it’s not easy to make a successful transition from child actor to adult actor. Many former child stars found that as they got older, they either stopped getting roles, lost their passion for the craft, or found themselves burnt out from being worked too hard as children.
Besides one who quit as a teenager and never looked back, every former child star on this list kept acting through their 20s but ended up retiring by the time they turned 30. Only one of these ten child actors eventually returned to acting after retiring at 30 years old. This proved to be a smart move, since 20 years after he quit acting, the former child actor became an Oscar winner for his major comeback role. Most former child actors aren’t that lucky, though, which is why the rest of the child stars on this list might’ve made the right call by leaving the business for good.
9 Jeanette McCurdy
Quit acting at 25 years old in 2018
After working as a child actor since she was eight years old, Jeanette McCurdy landed her breakout role at 15 on the Nickelodeon series, iCarly, in 2007. After iCarly wrapped in 2012, McCurdy’s character, Sam Puckett, got a spinoff series with fellow Nickelodeon star Ariana Grande’s polar opposite Victorious character, Cat Valentine. Sam & Cat ran for one year before getting cancelled in 2014. Over the next four years, McCurdy only starred in a few more projects before quitting for good in 2018 at 25. Her final roles were in the comedy Little B*tches and the short film First Lady.
Since then, McCurdy has ventured into acting, directing, and podcasting. After her notable absence from the iCarly reboot in 2021, it was revealed that McCurdy quit acting because she was “ashamed,” “unfulfilled,” and “embarrassed” by her past roles and career as a whole. She also revealed that she “initially didn’t want to” act but that her mom forced her into it at a young age. The following year, McCurdy published her memoir titled I’m Glad My Mom Died, in which she details her deceased mother’s history of abuse and her subsequent struggles as a child actor.
8 Angus T. Jones
Quit acting at 22 years old in 2016
Best known for his long-term role as Jake Harper on the sitcom Two and a Half Men, Angus T. Jones was the highest-paid child actor on television at one point, making $300,000 per episode. After making his screen debut in Simpatico in 1999, Jones starred in films like The Rookie and Bringing Down the House before landing his breakout role in Two and a Half Men at just ten years old. During his ten-year run on the show from 2003-2013, Jones’ other acting roles were sparse, making rare appearances in shows like Hannah Montana and the TV movie, The Christmas Blessing.
Jones left Two and a Half Men after season 10 because it conflicted with his newfound religious faith. He also encouraged people to stop the show, calling it “filth” (via THR). Despite these claims, Jones returned for a cameo in the series finale in 2015. The following year, he starred in one episode of Horace & Pete before quitting the business for good at 22 years old. Since 2016, he has made one uncredited onscreen appearance as himself in an episode of Two and a Half Men creator Chuck Lorres’ comedy series, Bookie, in 2023.
7 Ross Bagley
Quit acting at 24 years old in 2015
Ross Bagley made his film debut at five years old, playing Buckwheat in The Little Rascals in 1994. Besides this, Bagley is best known for playing Nicky Banks in the final two seasons of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air from 1994-1996 and starring opposite his Fresh Prince co-star Will Smith in Independence Day in 1996. Unlike most of the other child actors on this list, Bagley’s retirement from acting is not so cut and dry.
After Independence Day, Bagley only had a few TV spots between 1996 and 1999 before he took a 5-year break from acting. In 2004, he returned for just one episode of Judging Amy in 2004 before taking another hiatus. During this time, he attended California State University-Northridge (via Looper). Nine years later, Bagley starred in two films in 2015, Gnome Alone and Dead Ringer, at 24 years old, and has not acted again since. He is currently working as a realtor and the director of a consulting firm in California and DJs on the side.
6 Kay Panabaker
Quit acting at 22 years old in 2012
Kay Panabaker was a prolific child actor throughout the 2000s and early 2010s, but she’s since changed career paths. Panabaker appeared in multiple Disney Channel Original Movies like Life is Ruff and Read It and Weep alongside her older sister, Danielle Panabaker, and played Debbie Berwick on the Disney Channel show Phil of the Future. She also played Nikki Westerly in the series Summerland and had roles in movies like 2007’s Nancy Drew starring Emma Roberts as the titular teen detective, the 2009 Fame reboot, and 2011’s Cyber Bully opposite Hannah Montana star Emily Osment.
However, as she got older, Panabaker started to lose her love of acting. After a few more TV spots in 2011, Panabaker quit acting for good. Her final acting role was voicing Rosa in Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3: Viva La Fiesta! Thankfully, while she was busy acting throughout her teens, she never neglected her studies. After graduating high school at just 13 years old, she received an associate’s degree in acting at 15 and a BA in history from UCLA before she turned 18. Since 2016, Panabaker has been working as a zoologist in the Animal Kingdom at Disney World.
5 Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen
Quit acting at 24 years old in 2011 (Mary-Kate) and 22 years old in 2009 (Ashley)
Possibly the most famous and hardest-working twins in show business to date, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen made their screen debut at just nine months old as Michelle Tanner on Full House in 1987. The twins continued to play the role interchangeably throughout the sitcom’s eight seasons until it wrapped in 1995. That same year, they made their feature film debut at eight years old in It Takes Two. They also continued their direct-to-video series, The Adventures of Mary-Kate & Ashley, and started a new series, You’re Invited to Mary-Kate & Ashley’s…
From the late ’90s to early 2000s, the Olsen twins starred in a slew of movies together as teens. These include Billboard Dad (1998), Passport to Paris (1999), Our Lips Are Sealed (2000), Winning London (2001), Holiday in the Sun (2001), Getting There (2002), When in Rome (2002), and The Challenge (2003). They also had their own TV series, So Little Time, which ran for one season from 2001-2002. The Olsen twins’ final film together was New York Minute in 2004, which was only their second theatrical film release ever.
Once they became co-presidents of Dualstar production company on their 18th birthday in 2004, the Olsen twins decided to step away from their joint acting projects. Since then, Ashley’s only other acting credit is a super minor role in the teen comedy The Jerk Theory in 2009. Mary-Kate continued acting for a little longer, starring in the films Factory Girl in 2006 and The Wackness in 2008. She also had a recurring role in the series Weeds in 2007 and made a guest appearance on Samantha Who? in 2008. Her final acting role was in 2011’s Beastly.
As they pulled back from acting, the Olsen twins shifted their focus to fashion and moved to New York City. As adults, they worked on building their fashion empire and found immense success as co-designers of their label, The Row. The Olsen twins were notably absent from Fuller House, the Full House spinoff that premiered in 2016, after they declined to reprise their shared role as Michelle Tanner.
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4 Amanda Bynes
Quit acting at 24 years old in 2010
Many have been wondering what happened to Amanda Bynes ever since the teen comedy queen cut her acting career short at 24 years old. Bynes’ breakout role was starring in the Nickelodeon sketch comedy show All That between ages 10 to 14. She got her own spinoff show, The Amanda Show, which ran from 1999-2002. Her biggest film roles include Big Fat Liar (2002), What a Girl Wants (2003), She’s the Man (2006), Hairspray (2007), and Sydney White (2007). She also played the lead character Holly in the sitcom What I Like About You, which ran for four seasons from 2002-2006.
In 2010, Bynes starred opposite then-newcomer Emma Stone in Easy A, which turned out to be Bynes’ final acting role. Later that year, Bynes announced an indefinite hiatus from acting, later citing her dissatisfaction with her performance and physical appearance onscreen in Easy A as the cause for her decision to quit acting. In the years since, Bynes has struggled with substance abuse issues and mental health struggles, and was under a conservatorship for ten years until 2022. She graduated from FIDM in 2019 and has considered returning to acting, but does not have any projects currently lined up.
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3 Ross Malinger
Quit acting at 21 years old in 2006
Best known for playing Tom Hanks’ son Jonah in the romcom Sleepless in Seattle in 1993, Ross Malinger first started acting at six years old. His first acting roles were in episodes of Beverly Hills, 90210 and Who’s The Boss? in 1990. That same year, he made his film debut in Kindergarten Cop with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Throughout the ’90s, Malinger had recurring roles in Good Advice and Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher and starred in movies like Sudden Death and Toothless. He also appeared in an episode of Seinfeld in 1997 and voiced the character of TJ Detweiler in the first season of the animated series, Recess. In 1999, Malinger’s acting career began to slow down. After a three-year break, he made one final screen appearance in an episode of Without a Trace in 2006 before officially retiring at 21 years old. Since then, Malinger entered the automotive industry and has worked at different car dealerships throughout Los Angeles.
2 Ke Huy Quan
Quit acting at 30 years old in 2002 (but returned in 2021)
Before winning an Oscar after a 20-year retirement, Ke Huy Quan started his career as a child actor. In 1984, Quan made his film debut at 12 years old as Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom with Harrison Ford. The following year, he played Data in The Goonies. Though he appeared in films like Breathing Fire and Encino Man, Quan’s roles began to diminish in the ’90s. In 2002, after starring in only two films over the course of eight years, Quan quit acting for 20 years due to a lack of substantial roles for Asian actors.
Quan remained in the film industry and began working behind the scenes in film production and stunt coordination. In 2018, the romcom Crazy Rich Asians inspired Quan to return to acting. He made his official return to acting in Finding O’Hana in 2021 before winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his major comeback role in Everything Everywhere All At Once in 2022. Quan has since starred in the TV series American Born Chinese and Loki.
1 Jeff Cohen
Quit acting at 16 years old in 1991
Fellow Goonies star Jeff Cohen also reluctantly left the acting world behind, but unlike Quan, he never returned. Cohen made his film debut as Chunk in The Goonies in 1985 after a handful of TV appearances. Over the next few years, he had minor roles in TV series like She’s the Sheriff and Family Ties and a voice role in the animated series Popeye and Son. After taking a few years off in 1988, Cohen returned for one final acting role in the TV movie Perfect Harmony in 1991 before quitting for good.
Cohen was only around 16 years old when he officially stepped away from acting, claiming that it was a “forced retirement” and that puberty was a “career ender” for him. “I couldn’t get roles anymore,” he told the Daily Mail. “I didn’t give up acting. Acting gave me up.” As an adult, he was able to find success as an entertainment lawyer and notes that his “clients get a kick out of the fact that their lawyer is Chunk.” However, his most heartwarming act as a lawyer was negotiating his Goonies co-star’s contract for his comeback role in Everything Everywhere All At Once.
Source: THR, Looper, Daily Mail