Whatever Happened to the Most Famous Child Actors in Hollywood?
Some child actors become powerful big-screen players in Hollywood as adults, while others fade into obscurity, sometimes never to make a film or TV show again.
These child stars charmed audiences from the very beginnings of their careers. In several cases, we’ve watched them since they were toddlers. But what happened behind the scenes as these child actors grew up? Read on to find out.
Probably the most famous child star of all time, Shirley Temple captivated Depression-era audiences with her adorable smile, tight pin curls and songs like “On the Good Ship Lollipop.” She started her career at the young age of three in 1932 and was such a success, she alone pulled 20th Century Fox out of an economic slump. President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right.”
Soon after, the popular, non-alcoholic drink called the Shirley Temple came into being.
What Happened to Shirley Temple?
Shirley retired from movies at just 22 years old.
In her later years, she turned her focus to politics, becoming a U.S. delegate in the United Nations General Assembly and an ambassador to Ghana.
You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing Macaulay Culkin in the early 1990s.
With hits like “Home Alone,” “Home Alone 2,” “Uncle Buck” and “My Girl,” he was the it kid actor in Hollywood. But by 1994, after a string of box office bombs — remember “Richie Rich?” — he decided to quit acting and lead a normal life in New York City.
What Happened to Macaulay Culkin?
Culkin stayed out of the public eye until the early 2000s, when he began appearing in indie films like “Party Monster”and “Saved,” and he’s been creating on his own terms ever since. One of his latest endeavors is a Goop-like podcast called “Bunny Ears” — and he’ll be a member in the cast in the latest season of Ryan Murphy’s “American Horror Story.”
He and actress Brenda Song also welcomed their first child together in April 2021.
Daniel Radcliffe shot to stardom due to one role, that of the titular boy wizard, Harry Potter.
After eight Potterfilms shot over a decade, the pressures of fame had gotten Radcliffe.
What Happened to Daniel Radcliffe?
Radcliffe became an alcoholic as he worried about uncertainty about life would bring after his turn as the larger-than-life-character.
Now 31 and sober, he continues to act in independent films, on TV and on Broadway.
Much like Shirley Temple, Mickey Rooney was box-office gold in Depression-era Hollywood. At just 18 months old, he began his career in vaudeville, then moved to silent films.
But it wasn’t until 1937 that he became a bona fide star, thanks to his performance in the “Andy Hardy” films, which made him a household name. In 1939, he was awarded a special juvenile Oscar.
What Happened to Mickey Rooney?
He kept working into adulthood but had his share of problems that many child stars face as adults, including alcoholism and several upended marriages.
Despite a career of more than 80 years, he died broke, due to elder abuse and financial mismanagement by family members.
Judy Garland was born into a troubled family, and by the time they moved to California from Michigan in 1926, her parents' marriage was all but over.
Her mother brought her and her sisters to vaudeville and film auditions where they often performed as the Gumm (and Garland) Sisters, but it was only Judy that got a contract with MGM in 1935.
What Happened to Judy Garland?
With her burgeoning fame came an eating disorder and a diet pill addiction (the studio felt she was too overweight). By 1937, she was making two films at once on top of going to school and singing practice. In 1939, she became a film legend with “The Wizard of Oz.”
While she had continued success throughout the 1940s and 1950s with movies such as “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “Easter Parade” and “A Star Is Born,” she was a lifelong addict who died from an accidental overdose at the age of 47 in 1969.
With his recent turn in “Joker,” Joaquin Phoenix is a Hollywood A-lister; however, long before he became the toast of the town, his brother, River Phoenix, was well on his way to stardom. River was born to a missionary family who lived with a religious organization called the Children of God in Mexico, Texas and Venezuela, and he and his siblings became street performers to help the family survive.
After leaving Children of God and moving to California, River began taking parts in commercials and TV, and his breakout role came in the 1986 coming-of-age film, “Stand By Me.”
What Happened to River Phoenix?
He continued making his mark on Hollywood in films like “Running on Empty” and “My Own Private Idaho.”
But his success was short-lived — he died of a drug overdose on Oct. 31, 1993, at just 23 years old.
Jackie Coogan was one of the first well-known child actors in Hollywood and starred in silents alongside the legendary Charlie Chaplin, who made the little boy his sidekick in “The Kid.” Coogan quickly became a household name — dolls, figurines, records and even food were branded with his likeness.
In the 1920s, it was estimated that he made $4 million (about $70 million today).
What Happened to Jackie Coogan?
When he turned 21 and was ready to receive his earnings, he found that his mother and stepfather squandered nearly all of it. When he sued to get the remainder of the money, all he had left was $35,000. Regardless, Coogan went onto a successful career in television (he later played Uncle Fester in the “Addams Family”).
More importantly, because of his story, the 1939 California Child Actor's Bill, also known as the Coogan Act, became law. It stated that any money earned by a child actor is the property of the minor child and their employers must set aside 15 percent of their salary into a "Coogan account" to be guarded until the actor turns 18.
Haley Joel Osment
Haley Joel Osment's first onscreen appearance was in a Pizza Hut commercial in 1993, but his natural talents led him to film at just 5 years old. His first major role was in “Forrest Gump” as Gump’s son, Forrest Jr.
And in 1999, he was cast in the movie that made him a star, “The Sixth Sense,” in which he delivered the now iconic line, “I see dead people,” and was even nominated for an Oscar.
What Happened to Haley Joel Osment?
Other roles followed in blockbusters such as “Pay It Forward” and “A.I. Artificial Intelligence,” but as he got older, the work began to dry up. He moved to New York, went to college and moved on to Broadway and indie films, which he still does today.
In recent years he’s been seen on TV in shows such as “What We Do in the Shadows” and “The Boys.”
Drew Barrymore was born into a Hollywood acting dynasty that goes back before silents to the stages of the 18th century. Her first job was in a dog food commercial at 11 months old. She became a household name at the tender age of 5 after taking a role in the Steven Spielberg blockbuster, “ET: The Extraterrestrial.”
But Barrymore not only inherited her family’s acting chops, she inherited their many addiction issues. By the time she was 12, she was in rehab, and a suicide attempt followed. In her mid-teens, she legally divorced herself from her parents, and for a few years, the work dried up.
What Happened to Drew Barrymore?
While her partying continued well into her 20s, she made it back to the silver screen, started her own production company and starred in films such as “The Wedding Singer,” “Scream” and “Never Been Kissed.”
Married and divorced a few times now, Barrymore has mellowed. She’s a mom, has been drug free for several years and now hosts a talk show, “The Drew Barrymore Show.”
Emma Watson was just nine years old when she was picked to play Hermione Granger, best friend to boy wizard Harry Potter.
Watson said she "struggled" with being a young star, so after her turn in the Potter franchise, she became a full-time student at Brown University.
What Happened to Emma Watson?
After graduating, Watson continued working in big-budget movies like the live-action “Beauty and the Beast.” Stories abound that she has retired, but she has recently taken to social media to put them to rest.
"Rumours about whether I'm engaged or not, or whether my career is 'dormant or not' are ways to create clicks each time they are revealed to be true or untrue," she wrote. "If I have news — I promise I'll share it with you."
Multiple Oscar-winner Elizabeth Taylor got her start as a child actor and never stopped working.
Just a few years after she and her family moved to Los Angeles from London in 1939, she made her movie debut with a minor role in “There's One Born Every Minute,” but she was dropped from her contract after a year. Can you imagine?
What Happened to Elizabeth Taylor?
MGM snatched her up, and she became a teen sensation after appearing in “National Velvet” (1944). In the early 1950s, she transitioned into a well-respected adult actress, starring in such classics as “Giant,” “Cleopatra” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and became a Golden Age icon.
Of course, she was famously married eight times, which kept the press entertained to say the least.
By the time Jodie Foster played a pre-teen prostitute in “Taxi Driver,” she was already a seasoned actress, having already appeared in a dozen TV shows and movies. Her debut was on “The Doris Day Show”in 1969. She was so convincing in “Taxi Driver,” that she won her first Oscar nomination. (She has since won Oscars for roles in “The Accused”and “Silence of the Lambs.”)
What Happened to Jodie Foster?
Today, Foster calls her “Taxi Driver” role an important one in portraying child sexual exploitation.
“I’m really proud of it. Those girls existed, those girls exist, and female sexual slavery is something that we need to discuss … Sometimes, I can’t believe that I was so young. When I look back and see the movie, it was surprising that I was only 12 years old. But yeah I’m proud of it,” she recently told Yahoo Entertainment.
Tatum O’ Neal
At just 10 years old, Tatum O’ Neal won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1974 for her role in “Paper Moon” (starring against father Ryan O’ Neal) and still ranks as the youngest Oscar winner ever.
In her next film, she played a lightning-fast pitcher on a Little League team in the “Bad News Bears.”
What Happened to Tatum O’ Neal?
She then went onto star in other, less successful films but became more well-known as a “wild child” who partied with the likes of Cher and Michael Jackson at clubs like Studio 54.
While she’s had addiction issues over the years, she’s mellowed out and has returned to acting, with a recurring role in the TV show “Rescue Me” and with roles in films like “The Assent” and “Troubled Waters.”
Dakota Fanning made her debut on the TV series “ER” when she was just 5 years old, but she became a star when she played opposite actor Sean Penn in the 2001 movie “I Am Sam” as the daughter of his developmentally disablec character.
In 2006, she was named the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences youngest member.
What Happened to Dakota Fanning?
Fanning began taking on more controversial roles as a teen, one of which was as Cherie Currie, the lead singer of the Runaways in a movie by the same name.
In 2019, she played Manson Family leader, Lynnette “Squeaky Fromme” in Quentin Tarantino's “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood” and is currently starring in the TNT drama, “The Alienist: Angel of Darkness.”
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
Twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen found fame as infants playing Michelle Tanner on the successful 1980s sitcom “Full House.”
After the show stopped airing, they continued working (as twins) in several successful TV, film and video projects through their production company, which made them extremely wealthy at a very young age.
What Happened to Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen?
Now in their thirties, the twins have left the entertainment business behind and formed their own luxury fashion label, the Row.
However, their younger sister, Elizabeth Olsen, has continued the family’s legacy in showbiz, especially popular as the Scarlet Witch in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Ricky Schroder skyrocketed to stardom after his film debut in the 1979 movie “The Champ,” in which he played the son of an over-the-hill fighter who gets a second chance in the boxing ring.
A few years later, he became a teen idol due to his starring role in the sitcom “Silver Spoons.”
What Happened to Ricky Schroder?
After a few years outside of the business, he returned to acting with roles in TV’s “Lonesome Dove,” “NYPD Blue” and “Scrubs.”
Today, he spends more time behind the camera, producing war documentaries.
Molly Ringwald found fame in 1980s coming-of-age movies such as“Sixteen Candles” and “Pretty in Pink” under director John Hughes, who made her into a teen icon.
By the 1990s, disillusioned with Hollywood, she turned down roles in blockbusters such as “Pretty Woman” and “Ghost”and made her way to Paris, where she got married. When she returned to the States, she took roles on Broadway, and in TV and indie films.
What Happened to Molly Ringwald?
Ringwald recently reflected on the films she made for Hughes in the #MeToo era.
She told NPR, “I feel very differently about the movies now, and it’s a difficult position for me to be in because there’s a lot that I like about them. And, of course, I don’t want to appear ungrateful to John Hughes, but I do oppose a lot of what is in those movies.”
Anthony Michael Hall
Actor Anthony Michael Hall found fame alongside Molly Ringwald in the John Hughes films of the 1980s.
At 17, he was the youngest cast member to join “Saturday Night Live.”
What Happened to Anthony Michael Hall?
As the 1990s approached, Hall began playing villains in low budget independent films and finally found himself in the Hollywood spotlight once again in the Stephen King-based series “The Dead Zone” in the early 2000s.
He currently has a recurring role in “The Goldbergs.”
Mayim Bialik has been a TV icon since the 1980s. She made her acting debut when she was 11 and shot to stardom just a few years later as the titular teen in “Blossom.”
Since then, she earned a Ph.D. degree in neuroscience from UCLA and went on to co-star in one of the most popular shows of all time, “The Big Bang Theory.”
What Happened to Mayim Bialik?
Now, Bialik is starring in a new sitcom “Call Me Cat,” which premiered in early 2021.
Bialik looks back lovingly on her years as a child actor telling Forbes, “There’s a lot of stories about child actors growing up in environments where there are no boundaries between adults and children. I am really grateful that I had the opportunity to grow up without those kinds of pressures. It was also really nice that there was no social media because everything was just simpler, especially for female actresses.”
Fred Savage rose to fame in the 1990s fan and critical favorite TV series “The Wonder Years.” For his work as Kevin Arnold, he received two Golden Globe and two Emmy nominations.
After the show ended, Savage went back to high school and eventually Stanford University.
What Happened to Fred Savage?
Savage still occasionally appears in films and TV shows, but in recent years, he’s become more comfortable behind the camera, where he often serves as director.
He’s also produced several episodes of TV shows like “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “Happy Endings.”
Neil Patrick Harris
Neil Patrick Harris won critical acclaim for one of his first roles — opposite Whoopi Goldberg in “Clara's Heart” in 1988, and he hasn’t stopped working since.
Soon after, he was cast as TV’s teen medical prodigy “Doogie Howser, M.D.”
What Happened to Neil Patrick Harris?
Harris has seen success in most everything he’s done.
He was a regular cast member on“How I Met Your Mother,” and he’s been the toast of Broadway to the degree that he’s hosted the Tonys four times.
Frankie Muniz is fondly remembered by millennials in the lead role of the hilarious ’90s sitcom “Malcolm in the Middle.”
Right out the gate, it seemed Munoz was destined for big things — he earned an Emmy Award nomination and two Golden Globe Award nominations for the series and began getting cast in films, such as “Agent Cody Banks” and “My Dog Skip.”
What Happened to Frankie Muniz?
Sadly, Muniz’s career was sidelined after he suffered a series of mini strokes brought on by several concussions. Due to his health issues, he does not remember his time on the show.
He has appeared on a few television shows in recent years and was a contestant on “Dancing With the Stars” in 2017.
Christina Ricci is most remembered for playing “dark” or eccentric characters as a child actor, particularly Wednesday Addams of “The Addams Family.”
But starring roles in “Casper” and “Now & Then” made her a household name.
What Happened to Christina Ricci?
As an adult actress, she has played diverse characters in “Buffalo ‘66,” “The Opposite of Sex,” and “The Lizzie Borden Chronicles,” among others.
She is also an activist and national spokesperson for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
There’s nothing Natalie Portman can’t do! She made her film debut in “The Professional,” starring opposite Gary Oldman at just 9 years old, and has been enchanting audiences ever since.
While still in her teens, she took on the role of Queen Amidala (Luke and Leia’s mother) in the “Star Wars”prequels and went onto win a Best Actress Oscar in the psychological thriller “Black Swan.”
What Happened to Natalie Portman?
In between film roles, she attended Harvard and earned a degree in psychology.
She currently lives in Australia with her husband and two children, where she is about to star in “Poker Face”with Russell Crowe.
Elijah Wood began his career with a bit part in “Back to the Future Part II” and moved from it to a number of big budget films, including“Avalon,” “Radio Flyer” and “The Good Son.”
However, by the mid-1990s, he saw a string of box office failures.
What Happened to Elijah Wood?
Then, he was cast as Frodo in the mega-blockbuster “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and he has worked steadily ever since in a variety of mediums, including independent films, television and doing voice overs in animation.
Brooke Shields has been in front of the camera since she was a toddler, beginning her career as a child model. By the late 1970s, the pre-teen had become the face of Calvin Klein. At only 13, she had also become one of the world’s top models, gracing the cover of fashion magazines all over the world.
Her fame translated into box-office gold as well — starring in teen dramas like “The Blue Lagoon” and “Endless Love.”
What Happened to Brooke Shields?
As an adult, Shields continued acting in the TV show “Suddenly, Susan” (for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe) and had a recurring role on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”
She also still occasionally walks the runway.
You may remember the little girl with the big glasses who wanted to compete in beauty pageants in “Little Miss Sunshine.”
At just 10, Abigail Breslin earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination for the role, which led her to roles in other big films like “My Sister’s Keeper.”
What Happened to Abigail Breslin?
Now in her mid-20s — when did that happen? — she plans to star in the drama thriller “Stillwater” with Matt Damon.
She’s also an outspoken sexual assault advocate and has talked openly about her own experiences and subsquent PSTD diagnosis.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, Lindsay Lohan was the toast of Hollywood, starring in remakes of “The Parent Trap” and “Freaky Friday.”
She then moved onto the teen comedy “Mean Girls,” which made her an A-list star.
What Happened to Lindsay Lohan?
Lohan’s acting career became a classic case of “too much, too young.” In her early 20s, she became unreliable and suffered from addiction issues.
While the “wild child” has been out of the public eye for a few years, she’s set to make a return to acting in a Netflix holiday rom-com later in 2021.
In the 1980s, Gary Coleman was one of the biggest child stars in the world. As the main character of the hit TV series “Diff'rent Strokes,” he was a culture icon who was known for his adorable face and hilarious one-liners.
After the show ended, he continued working doing voiceovers and starring in independent films, but he never reached the heights of his early days.
What Happened to Gary Coleman?
Like Jackie Coogan before him, his parents misappropriated the money he made from the series, and he spent his adult life struggling financially.
Coleman, who had kidney disease throughout his life, died due to an epidural hematoma in 2010.
At just 12, Christian Bale’s first-ever movie was the Stephen Spielberg blockbuster, “Empire of the Sun,” which was released in 1987.
He starred in other youth-oriented films in the early 1990s, most notably the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it paperboy musical “Newsies.”
What Happened to Christian Bale?
Since then, Bale’s achieved the nearly impossible — he’s a rare child actor who has been a sought-after A-lister.
He’s been nominated for Oscars four times (winning Best Supporting Actor for “The Fighter” in 2011.) More importantly, he cemented himself in the public consciousness as Batman.