Contrary to popular belief, not all child actors end up as failures. Although many drift out of acting after not being offered enough roles when they enter their teens, there are numerous examples of successful child actors who decided on a different profession on their own and have become successful at it. Here are fifteen such examples who gave up acting young, and have thrived in other endeavors since.
1. Fred Savage
After starring in The Wonder Years and The Princess Bride, Savage has had a successful directing career. He stood behind the camera for various episodes on Modern Family, 2 Broke Girls, Phil of the Future, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Boy Meets World, as well as producing several of the shows he directs.
2. Jonathan Ke Quan
Jonathan made his name as Short Round in Indiana Jones and Data in The Goonies during the 1980s before getting into stunt work. He famously coordinated the stuntmen in X-Men and The One, as well as getting involved with editing and cinematography.
3. Mara Wilson
Little Mara is unforgettable for her roles as Matilda in the film of the same name, and as Nattie in Mrs. Doubtfire. Perhaps suprisingly, she followed up acting by becoming an acclaimed author! She wrote an off-Broadway show called Sheeple after which she signed a deal with Penguin Books and released her first book, (K) for Kid, in 2016.
4. Mayim Bialik
She played the quirky lead in Blossom and nowadays plays neuroscientist Amy on The Big Bang Theory. What’s incredible is that she has had a doctoral title for a decade now, getting a Ph.D. in neuroscience back in 2007!
5. Josh Saviano
Josh, who played Paul from The Wonder Years became a lawyer and is already a partner in the NYC-based law firm Morrison Cohen LLP.
6. Shirley Temple
Perhaps the most famous child actor of all time, Shirley was America’s sweetheart during the 1930s becoming the number one box office star at age 7. Her hits include the film Bright Eyes featuring her signature song “On the Good Ship Lollipop.” By her teens, she wasn’t getting roles that often and she used her popularity to turn to politics. She was appointed as representative to the UN by President Nixon, an ambassador to Ghana by President Ford and an ambassador to Czechoslovakia by President Bush Sr. Temple passed away in 2014 aged 85.
7. Ron Howard
Ron Howard is living proof successful child actors can have successful adult careers. The Oklahoman went from being Opie on The Andy Griffith Show and Richie on Happy Days to becoming an Oscar-winning director. He directed Splash, A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, The Da Vinci Code, and if that was not enough, he also narrated one of the cult classics of American television, Arrested Development.
8. The Olsen Twins
The twins appeared on Full House (and in millions of homes around the world when they were just 9 months old). During their late teens, they seriously dedicated themselves to fashion and their brand has since become worth millions. They have been recognized with various awards and accolades, including the CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year.
9. Jenny Lewis
Jenny Lewis starred alongside Fred Savage in The Wizard and in Troop Beverly Hills, as well as being on the much-loved TV series Brooklyn Bridge. As she got older, Lewis turned her attention to music, becoming the singer of the indie-rock band Rilo Kiley. Today, she tours and records as a solo artist.
10. Peter Billingsley
The kid who everyone noticed in A Christmas Story has since become a successful Hollywood director and producer. Peter has produced side-splitting films such as Elf, The Break Up, Four Christmases and he also directed Couples Retreat.
11. Peter Ostrum
Ostrum’s life is a fascinating story of following one’s dream, even if it means turning down fame and fortune in the process. He was Charlie Bucket in the original Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory when he was twelve, the success of which resulted in him being offered a three-film deal. Peter turned it down, however, and instead focused on caring for the horse his family had just bought. This would become his lifelong passion as he became a veterinarian.
When Aubrey Drake Graham played Jimmy Brooks on Degrassi: The Next Generation in the early 2000s, it was hard to believe the Canadian was destined to become one of the most influential rappers of all time. Since his debut release in 2007, Drake has had several platinum-certified albums and holds various Billboard chart records.
13. Jeff Cohen
Jeff Cohen, who we met as Chunk from The Goonies is, believe it or not… an entertainment lawyer! The Californian is running his own firm, Cohen & Gardner LLP.
14. Jason Zimbler
A young Zimbler played Ferguson on Clarissa Explains It All, but somewhere along the way, he picked up a knack for computers and today he works as a software designer for HBO.
15. Danica McKellar
Danica initially became famous as Winnie from The Wonder Years, but as she got older she combined her love of performing with her passion for a usually stigmatized subject: maths. She has published several books which encourage teenagers to have confidence when doing mathematics and that the process, contrary to popular belief, can be fun. Her book Math Doesn’t Suck became a New York Times bestseller.