40 surprising celebrity "where are they nows"

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January 22, 2019
Kirill Kudryavtsev // Getty Images

40 surprising celebrity "where are they nows"

Fame is often fleeting, and across all the industries that create celebrities, many of the world's biggest stars eventually go on to launch second careers later in life. Sometimes out of necessity and sometimes as passion projects, singers, actors, musicians, athletes, artists, and politicians often reinvent themselves when their original run meets its end. Some become authors, others launch startups, and some slip into peculiarly normal lives as lawyers, bakers, and veterinarians. 

In one case, a two-time Oscar winner transformed himself into a three-time novelist. In another case, a former rapper brought his DIY skills to a home improvement show. Then there's the horror flick icon who ventured into the pot-growing business or the television smut peddler who became a political podcaster. Keep reading for a look at the often interesting and sometimes odd revivals lived out by some of the biggest stars from decades past.

ALSO: Where are they now: Famous runners-up for the Presidency

Ali MacGraw

In 1969, Ali MacGraw went from being a little-known fashion stylist and model to a global superstar thanks to a role in "Goodbye Columbus." The next few years would be a whirlwind of success and tabloid drama that included roles in critically acclaimed movies and publicly collapsing marriages to powerful Hollywood insiders like leading man Steve McQueen and producer Robert Evans. The Oscar nominee and three-time Golden Globe winner walked away from the business after her last credited role in 1997 for a quiet life in Santa Fe, N.M., where she volunteers and practices yoga and meditation while surrounded by the animals that she's rescued over the years—she even released a successful yoga video of her own in 1994.


Geoffrey Owens

Actor Geoffrey Owens was best known for his role as Elvin Tibideaux on "The Cosby Show," one of the most successful and beloved sitcoms of all time. In 2018, he was publicly shamed on social media when he was seen and photographed bagging groceries at a Trader Joe's in New Jersey. Almost immediately, celebrities of all stripes, along with fans and regular people, rushed to defend his pursuit of honest work between gigs. He's also received several acting offers since the story broke.

Steven Seagal

Steven Seagal was arguably the biggest action star in the world starting with his debut role in 1988's "Above the Law." In later years, his ventures included becoming an honorary cop and appearing in a law enforcement reality show while a storm of sexual abuse allegations swarmed around him. Most recently, and perhaps most bizarrely, Vladimir Putin in 2018 appointed Seagal, who has held Russian citizenship since 2016, as a special envoy to the United States.

Jennie Garth

On Oct. 4, 1990, pinch-rolled jeans and SoCal prep went mainstream with the debut of "Beverly Hills, 90210," which made household names out of stars like Jason Priestley, Tori Spelling, and Luke Perry. Jenny Garth played high-school queen of the in-crowd Kelly Taylor for all 10 seasons of the show's run. In 2017, Garth launched MomGiftBox.com, a curated subscription service that falls under the umbrella of the TheGiftBox.com line.

Mayim Bialik

Mayim Bialik is best known for her role in 1989's "Beaches" and most notably, the early 1990s sitcom "Blossom," although she more recently enjoyed a career resurgence on "The Big Bang Theory." Later, however, she became a prominent spokesperson for animal rights and the vegan lifestyle, launching a successful cookbook as well as a book on motherhood.


Gene Hackman

A two-time Oscar winner with 100 acting credits that include "Hoosiers," "Unforgiven," "The Royal Tenenbaums," "The French Connection," and "Mississippi Burning," Gene Hackman is one of the most successful leading men in Hollywood history. More recently, however, Hackman embraced his inner scribe and launched a career as a writer. Simon & Schuster lists him as the co-author of three novels.  


Phoebe Cates

With the exception of 2001's "The Anniversary Party," 1980s teen queen Phoebe Cates' acting credits dropped off entirely in 1994. Before that, she struck Hollywood gold both in 1982 and 1984 with key roles in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and "Gremlins," respectively. Cates switched gears in 2005 when she opened Blue Tree, a successful women's clothing and jewelry store in the Upper East Side neighborhood of New York City.

Josh Saviano

Josh Saviano's clients know him as the lawyer and entrepreneur who founded Act 3 Advisors, a New York City law firm that focuses on branding. Anyone who owned a television between 1988–1992, however, knows him as Kevin Arnold's neurotic and allergic neighbor Paul on "The Wonder Years." For much of his career, Saviano was the subject of a bizarre, enduring, and false rumor that he was secretly 1990s shock rocker Marilyn Manson.


Tony Hawk

Tony Hawk is probably the only household name in the history of skateboarding and was already a global icon by the time he became the first skater in history to land a 900, a then-unprecedented feat he pulled off at the 1999 X Games in San Francisco. In 2016, Hawk delighted fans when he pulled off the same trick again, this time at the age of 48—but skating is no longer Hawk's bread and butter. In 2018 he launched D/Cal, a brand consulting agency based out of Detroit and California.

Vanilla Ice

Robert Van Winkle, known to the world as Vanilla Ice, enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame thanks to his 1991 mega-hit "Ice Ice Baby," which topped the charts before his music career rapidly declined. He attempted several failed comebacks, tried his hand at acting, and embarked on a successful run in motocross racing, but he never truly disappeared from the limelight. He's now enjoying a television run as the host of a popular home renovation show on the DIY Network called "The Vanilla Ice Project."

Tony Danza

Tony Danza starred in two iconic sitcoms that spanned three decades: "Taxi," which ran from 1978–1983, and "Who's the Boss," which aired between 1984–1992. In 2009, the former pro boxer pursued his lifelong dream of becoming an educator and worked for one year as a 10th-grade English teacher in Philadelphia's Northeast High. Since then and to this day, Danza has remained active in fundraising for the public school where he was briefly employed.

Mara Wilson

Child star Mara Wilson is known for roles in "Mrs. Doubtfire," "Miracle on 34th Street," and most notably, "Matilda." As a grown-up, however, she successfully transitioned into writing. Not only has she been published by Penguin Random House, but she's a contributor to sites like The Daily Beast and Jezebel.


Heather Donahue

In 1999, "The Blair Witch Project" changed how movies were made and marketed, with Heather Donahue playing the lead role as an ill-fated character of the same name. Her instant rise to fame left her disillusioned, and she quickly walked away from acting to become a significant marijuana grower. More recently, she left the pot-growing business to write about her exploits in a book titled "Growgirl: How My Life After The Blair Witch Project Went to Pot."


Jerry Springer

Before he became the king of daytime tabloid TV and the host of the most notorious show of the 1990s, Jerry Springer was a politician who was elected mayor of Cincinnati at the age of 33 by the largest margin in the city's history. Starting in 1991, "The Jerry Springer Show" made him globally famous and infamous, and the show survived until 2018 when Springer hung up his gloves after 4,000 episodes. Today, he's returned to his government roots as the host of a political podcast that bears his name.

Noah Hathaway

As a child in the late 1970s, Noah Hathaway starred in "Battlestar Galactica" (both the movie and the TV series), but he's most famous for his role as Atreyu in the 1984 cult classic "The NeverEnding Story." A fall from his horse while filming the movie at the age of 12, however, left him with physical problems that followed him throughout his life. Today, he's hosting a GoFundMe page to help pay for the massive medical bills he incurred from a spinal fusion surgery to fix lingering problems he says originated from the horse incident.

Sarah Michelle Gellar

Golden Globe nominee Sarah Michelle Gellar had a huge run in the 1990s on both the big and small screens with hits like "I Know What You Did Last Summer," "Cruel Intentions," "Scream 2," and, most famously, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." In 2015, she launched organic baking startup Foodstirs, and two years later she published her very own cookbook called "Stirring Up Fun With Food."

Jeff Cohen

In 1985, Jeff Cohen became a child star when he played one of the most memorable roles from one of the most memorable movies of the decade: Chunk from "The Goonies." Today, he's a partner in Cohen Gardner LLP, the law firm he co-founded in 2002.


Taran Noah Smith

As a child star who gained fame during eight seasons on 1990s sitcom "Home Improvement," Taran Noah Smith spent much of his youth on a set designed to look like a construction site. Although his acting resume stops in 1999, the year "Home Improvement" ended, Smith apparently learned a trick or two from his days in Hollywood. In 2017, Smith was seen among the volunteer group Burners Without Borders in Corpus Christi, Texas, performing construction and repair work in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.  

Soleil Moon Frye

Soleil Moon Frye has a long list of acting credits, but none more recognizable than her childhood role as "Punky Brewster," which ran from 1984–1988. Although she never gave up acting, Frye launched a successful passion project in 2007 that continues to this day. Her lifestyle brand The Little Seed is an eco-friendly child's boutique apparel company.

Kirk Cameron

As a child star in the 1980s, Kirk Cameron grew up on the set of "Growing Pains," the show that made him famous. Even as the show was still in its original run, Cameron began moving toward Christianity, and at the age of 20, he declared himself a born-again Christian and has since focused most of his entertainment career on religious-themed content. Today, he sells courses, workshops, and lectures on Bible-based approaches to family, marriage, and parenting.

Melissa Gilbert

Melissa Gilbert has nearly 80 acting credits spanning more than a half-century, but none more significant than her role as Laura Ingalls Wilder on "Little House on the Prairie." She also showed an interest, however, in politics. In 2016, Gilbert attempted to flip a reliably Republican congressional seat in Michigan, but dropped out of the race when an old injury worsened and rendered her unable to continue the campaign.

Tiffany Darwish

Tiffany Darwish sung her way to 1980s pop superstardom with her mega-hit "I Think We're Alone Now," which she promoted with massive success through her 1987 shopping mall tour. Screaming teens packed America's malls to catch a glimpse of the pop queen and Tiffany's self-titled debut album sold 4 million copies. Her fame faded quickly, however, and by 2012, Tiffany was the owner of a Nashville fashion shop, Tiffany's Boutique, which closed in 2015.

Joey McIntyre

Former New Kids on the Block heartthrob Joey McIntyre swerved from entertainment with an interesting second career later in life. McIntyre is the host of a popular podcast that focuses on, of all things, moving. It's appropriately titled "The Move Podcast."

Peter Ostrum

Peter Ostrum just might be the most successful one-hit wonder in Hollywood history. As a child in 1971, he played the lead role of Charlie in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory"—and then he never acted again. He went on to pursue his true calling and became a large-animal veterinarian in Upstate New York, an occupation he holds to this day.   

Rick Moranis

The notoriously media-shy Rick Moranis rose to fame as a comedic icon with starring roles in movies like "Strange Brew," "Spaceballs," "Ghostbusters," and "Honey I Shrunk the Kids"—and then, without explanation, he walked away from acting almost entirely. In later interviews, he explained that he didn't quit acting; he just put all of his creative energies into being a stay-at-home dad after his wife died of breast cancer.

Karl Malone

During his nearly 20-year career, NBA legend Karl Malone was known as The Mailman because he delivered on the court. The Hall of Famers performance earned him two MVP titles, 14 visits to the All-Star Game, 11 first-team spots, and two Olympic gold medals. Malone recently shifted gears and put his talents into his cigar business, Legends Cigar and Vape, which he owns with his daughter in Ruston, La.

Wayne Gretzky

The reason that Wayne Gretzky is nicknamed The Great One is because many NHL fans consider the former Oilers and Kings center the greatest hockey player of all time. Today, however, the 1980s and 1990s superstar is enjoying success in a much different profession. Gretzky Estates is the only winery and whiskey distillery in Niagara, Ontario, Canada, and visitors there can tour, sip, and, of course, skate on the property's ice rink.

Jon Stewart

Starting in 1996, comedian Jon Stewart changed the way news was delivered to the masses in the era of the 24-hour media cycle through his wildly popular and scathingly satirical fake news institution "The Daily Show." After retiring in 2015, Stewart and his wife Tracey converted a 12-acre farm into a haven for abused animals. The refuge has since become part of the Farm Sanctuary network.

M.C. Hammer

Shortly before the arrival of Vanilla Ice, the rap world was consumed with "U Can't Touch This," the single that took M.C. Hammer from a moderately successful rapper to a global phenomenon. Like his contemporary Mike Tyson, M.C. Hammer's downfall in the early 1990s was very swift, very public, and plagued by dreadful financial mismanagement. The man who brought parachute pants to the masses, however, rebounded, regained some of his fame, launched a fairly successful comeback, and, perhaps most surprisingly, was ordained as a Christian minister.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is one of the greatest basketball players in history, retiring in 1989 as the highest-scoring player of all time and the title of the man who pioneered the sky hook. A cancer survivor, Abdul-Jabbar spent much of his retirement as an activist, philanthropist, and political commentator. But lately, his writing has taken center stage. On top of writing or co-writing 14 books, he joined The Hollywood Reporter as an editor, columnist, and celebrity interviewer in 2017. He will also contribute to the upcoming reboot of "Veronica Mars."

Ariana Richards

Between her starring roles in "Tremors" and "Jurassic Park," Ariana Richards spent much of the 1990s trying to avoid being eaten by monsters on screen. As an adult, however, she pursued a different kind of art. She's now a painter who specializes in individually commissioned works of art.

Carmen Electra

Model, singer, actress, and onetime wife of Dennis Rodman, Carmen Electra is now reportedly dating "Star Trek" actor Clifton Collins, Jr. —but that's not the only change she's experienced since her days as an A-lister. A former exotic dancer, Electra transitioned from show business to the fitness industry in the 2000s when she began releasing aerobics videos and eventually an entire pole-dancing kit for alternative workouts.


Karyn Parsons

Although she starred in "Major Payne" in 1995, Karyn Parsons' biggest claim to fame was her role as Hilary Banks in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." Thanks to a successful 2017 Kickstarter campaign, however, she is now the founder and executive director of Sweet Blackberry, which tells the forgotten stories of important African-Americans as animated children's tales.

Andrew Shue

In the 1990s, Andrew Shue played heartthrob Billy Campbell on primetime soap opera "Melrose Place." The show, more or less, was the end of Campbell's run, but in 2009, he embarked on a completely new venture when he co-founded CafeMom. A full decade later, the site remains one of the biggest mommy blogs in the world.

The Olsen Twins

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen are now in their 30s, but in the early 1990s, they were perhaps the most famous twins in the world. The pair were the adorable show-stopping duo in the sitcom "Full House," but when they grew up, they didn't gravitate back to Hollywood. Instead, they launched what has become a highly successful fashion brand called The Row.

Kelly LeBrock

A sex symbol comparable to few others in the 1980s, Kelly LeBrock was the leading lady in movies like "Weird Science" and "Hard to Kill" with Steven Seagal, who eventually became her husband and father of her three children. When the couple divorced, LeBrock abandoned Hollywood for what she called in an interview with Closer Weekly, "the wilderness." To shield her children, she spent 24 years living off the grid in Southern California with no television.

Kevin Bacon

From "Animal House" to "Footloose" to "JFK" to "Mystic River," Kevin Bacon has starred in some movies that went on to define the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and beyond. He also, however, enjoys a career as a successful musician. Bacon and his brother Michael make up the acclaimed and successful rock duo The Bacon Brothers.

Kristi Yamaguchi

Kristi Yamaguchi captivated the figure skating world when she struck gold at the Olympics in 1992. Today, her lifestyle apparel brand Tsu.ya caters to active women and moms, and she donates a portion of the company's proceeds to her Always Dream Foundation, which promotes childhood literacy. Along those lines, Yamaguchi has also published several successful children's books, the storylines of which revolve around ice skating.

Kurtis Blow

At the age of 20, Kurtis Blow became the first rap artist ever to sign a record deal with a major label. A hip-hop pioneer from the art form's earliest days, Blow lays claim to a laundry list of rap firsts, including first gold record, first national commercial, first video, and first millionaire. Today, however, he uses his stage skills in a different way—as a minister and inspirational public speaker.

Freddie Prinze Jr.

In 1997, two years after his debut role on "Family Matters" in 1995, Freddie Prinze Jr. was propelled to stardom with a role in "I Know What You Did Last Summer." Today, he's reimagined  himself as a chef and author of his very own cookbook, titled "Back to the Kitchen: 75 Delicious, Real Recipes (& True Stories) From a Food-Obsessed Actor"

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