Actors Who Quit Hollywood In A Blaze Of Glory

For many people, the idea of being a working, recognized, well-compensated Hollywood actor is a dream gig worth chasing to the grave, existing somewhere near the pinnacle of American achievement. That's the dream, anyway. The reality can be a lot darker. You don't hear much about the actors who got a taste of that good life and ended up throwing it away. These once-well-known thespians pushed their lives, their careers, and sometimes the law to the limit, going out in a blaze of glory, whether they liked it or not. Let's take a closer look at the real-life stories no cinematic screenplay could hope to touch.

Amanda Bynes breaks down

This Nickelodeon wunderkind was one of the most promising young comedic actors of the '90s. She stole the show on Nickelodeon's variety series All That (1994-05) and landed her own program, The Amanda Show (1999-02) at a remarkably young age. Her manic energy and comedic chops attracted a large fanbase, and though her first forays into film weren't all-time classics, there was plenty of potential attached to her name. Then, in 2012, things got really strange, really fast. 

It started with an inexplicable string of hit-and-runs and ballooned into a series of incidents characterized by off-putting tweets and bizarre behavior, from barricading herself inside a clothing store fitting room to using gasoline to start a fire in a residential neighborhood. The saga ended in 2014 with compulsory hospitalization

According to her representatives in 2016, Bynes is not suffering from a mental illness (despite what has been frequently reported); their alternative explanation for her behavior is marijuana use. Whatever the cause of her extended, very public breakdown, by most accounts, she seems to have she's leveled out in recent years, living a low-key life away from the spotlight studying fashion merchandising and design.

Corey Haim loses it all

Corey Haim, the young actor who starred opposite Corey Feldman in Joel Schumacher's 1987 vampire story The Lost Boys, became trapped in a disastrous cycle of drug addiction shortly after the film's release. By age 16, he seemed to have lost it all. His demise has been linked to widely-reported allegations of molestation that claim Haim was victimized as a child by a Hollywood higher-up.

According to one friend quoted by People, Haim "got a million second chances in life" but was never able to correct course from his fall from grace. One of those second chances, the A&E series The Two Coreys (2007-08), fizzled as a result of his allegedly erratic behavior. One of the most dramatic moments in the show was an on-camera blow-up between the two child stars; Feldman consequently refused to promote the series. Haim never got another shot in Hollywood, despite taking out a full-page ad in Variety in 2008 all but begging for some work. He died at age 38 in 2010 from pneumonia.

Taylor Momsen quits acting, becomes rock star

Taylor Momsen, the hard-partying wild card and former star of Gossip Girl (2007-12), reportedly quit Hollywood on her own terms and at the top of her game. Following her exit from the CW's hit series in 2011, she peaced out of Tinseltown and took her talents to the stage as the lead singer and rhythm guitarist for a rock band called The Pretty Reckless. It's a career move that seems to have stuck. "I think when I quit," Momsen told Entertainment Weekly in 2015. "Everyone thought I was crazy, and now it's three number ones later, so they were wrong."

Dave Chappelle flees show and country

Comedian Dave Chappelle's abrupt departure from the mega-influential Chappelle's Show and from the country in 2005 is one of the most notorious flameouts in showbiz history. Not only did Chappelle leave behind his namesake program during its third season, he also gave up what was reported to be at least a $50 million payday to do it. 

The unexpected departure sparked a storm of rumors about the nature of his disappearance that persisted for years. Rumored reasons ranged from a crack addiction to a mental breakdown. Even Chappelle's longtime creative partner, Neal Brennan, was unable to track down the young comic or explain why he'd fled the biz just as his bright career was raring to go supernova. Chappelle's departure from his show presaged a hiatus from public life that lasted years, prompting "Where's Dave?" discussions that persisted until his return to television with two stand-up specials on Netflix in 2017. Many thought Chapelle was never coming back, but that's the funny thing about American lives—despite what F. Scott Fitzgerald says, sometimes they do have second acts. Too bad about that third season of Chappelle's Show.

Rip Torn breaks into a bank

Veteran actor Rip Torn, whose career included memorable roles in Men in Black (1997) and 30 Rock (2006-2013), shot himself in the foot, figuratively, when he forcefully broke into a bank, literally. Torn was arrested at the age of 78 when police encountered him inside the Litchfield Bankcorp building in Salisbury, Conn., armed with a gun and drunk as a skunk in 2010. Charged with burglary, criminal mischief and trespass, and a pair of firearms-related offenses, the incident did a good deal to drive nails into the coffin of the actor's lengthy career, which had already been sullied following a string of DUI arrests. Though the actor never faced hard time for the offenses, his career on screen has not recovered. It's hard to hold the episode against him, considering no one was hurt, and the fact that he entered rehab shortly after—we just wish there was camera footage of this astoundingly bizarre performance.

Dana Plato commits armed robbery

Though Rip Torn did break into a bank while drunk, reportedly believing it to be his own home, you have to give him credit—at least he stopped shy of felony robbery. Dana Plato, who played main character Kimberley Drummond on the ensemble sitcom Diff'rent Strokes between 1978 and 1986, took that particular ball and ran wild with it. As her career declined following her exit from the show, she developed a drug addiction so severe that "it would take me a good five days to sober up and go to work," she told the E! Network (via People) in 1998. Plagued with family and financial troubles and unable to find acting work, she posed for Playboy in 1989 and worked a gig at a drive-thru clothing cleaner in Las Vegas. 

In an effort to make some quick cash, Plato made the remarkably ill-advised decision to rob a video store at gunpoint in 1991. She was instantly recognized by her victim and arrested only 15 minutes after the crime had been committed. Robbing a place is already a pretty big risk, but if you've been on TV weekly for years and you still want to give it a whirl, ditch the gun and wear a mask. Though Plato inexplicably continued to land minor roles following the arrest, she never returned to the level of fame she experienced on the sitcom.

Stacey Dash makes a hard right turn

Actress Stacey Dash was best known for her role in the beloved '90s comedy Clueless (1995), but as the years went on and her celebrity fizzled, she shifted her priorities from acting to politics, making headlines as some sort of Ann Coulter-lite provocateur. Though Dash claimed bias against her right-wing views was responsible for her waning wattage in Hollywood, her role as a talking head for conservative media has since fizzled too. Her two-year stint at Fox News ended when her contract was not renewed. During the course of those two years, Dash used the platform to bemoan the existence of Black History Month, single out Muslims with inflammatory rhetoric, and insult transgender people. Her legacy has since consisted of a widely-broadcast, very confusing Oscars joke (Oh, and Sharknado 4), so at least she's going out on her own terms.

Brad Renfro gets high, steals yacht

Brad Renfro, known for roles in The Client (1994), Apt Pupil (1998), and the graphic novel adaptation Ghost World (2001) is another child star turned drug addict who met an early end. Director Larry Clark called the actor's addiction "one of the worst cases" he'd ever seen. Though Renfro was previously arrested for possession of cocaine and marijuana, his most notable criminal escapade came in the summer of 2000, when the actor, along with a friend, attempted to steal a $175,000 yacht from its dock in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The pair was caught almost immediately. The yacht crashed into the dock because the guys failed to untie the vessel. Renfro was subsequently arrested for violating probation and picked up again in a Skid Row drug sting. He died in 2008 of a reported heroin overdose at age 25.

Richard Simmons vanishes at home

An unlikely mystery for the ages: fitness guru Richard Simmons enters his California home in the Hollywood Hills one day in 2014 and, to the confusion of many, seemingly never steps outside again. The once-ubiquitous human bolt of energy quietly hangs up his glittery leotards and vanishes. That would be the end of the story, except people have started asking questions

Richard Simmons' exit from public life has unwittingly sparked a cottage industry of Simmons speculation, despite assurances from the man himself that he is "not 'missing." He even asked his fans, through People magazine, "Aren't you sick of hearing and reading about me?!" Evidently not. Questions about Simmons' life have fueled a successful podcast, all manner of conspiracy theories, and seemingly endless media inquiries about why he doesn't want to be in the spotlight anymore. The answer is probably simple—the man is retirement age, after all—yet the mystery endures. It's a strange and weirdly fascinating anticlimax to a decades-long career.

Edward Furlong charts a path to disaster

Edward Furlong's best-known role was as '90s-era haircut John Connor in 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day . He plays the teenage incarnation of humanity's future savior, but following his turn in the massively-successful T2, Furlong's life became tumultuous. Just three years after the hit film, one director claimed the young actor was "clearly on a path to disaster." It's a prediction that held true.

Growing up famous with the dueling pressures of both business and family, Furlong turned to drugs and drink, racking up multiple arrests over a period of years for drug possession, assault, and the theft of lobsters from a supermarket. "Hollywood f***ed me up, man!", he told People in 2006. Although in that same interview he said he had turned his life around, his subsequent actions suggest differently, including more than one arrest stemming from domestic turmoils. Gone are the days of sharing the screen with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Edward Norton. His most notable work in recent years was a minor role in a poorly-received Star Trek fan film.

Lauryn Hill starts doing the Lauryn Hill thing

It's hard to exaggerate the impact of Lauryn Hill's titanic solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, on late '90s culture. It sold millions of copies, earning critical accolades and five Grammys. Some of its songs even worked their way into the rotations of some church choirs. Combined with her work as one of The Fugees, and her small but well-received roles in Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993) and King of the Hill (1993), the star seemed poised to become a multi-media superstar by the start of the millennium. But within a few years, it all fell apart. 

Hill is now known more as a flake than as a musician, making headlines—consistently—for being late to her own concerts, reneging on engagements, not showing up for fans, and generally doing what has come to be known as the typical Lauryn Hill thing. It used to be that meant "move you to tears with her music," not "cause you to rage-tweet after getting ripped off." 

Grace Kelly ascends to royalty

Finally, a happy story—and it may well be the single most glamorous career change in Hollywood history. Grace Kelly, an actress whose fame has endured to this day due in no small part to her roles in classic Alfred Hitchcock movies such as Rear Window (1954) and To Catch a Thief (1955), transcended her status of film royalty to become actual royalty when she met and married Prince Rainier III of Monaco after they crossed paths at the Cannes Film Festival in 1955. 

Her ascension to Monaco's aristocracy was an international story, which media outlets the world over ate up like candy for months. Her marriage essentially ended her acting career, although she did briefly consider returning to work with Hitchcock in 1962 for his critically-acclaimed film Marnie (The lead role ultimately went to actress Tippi Hendren.) Beloved in the United States and Monaco, Kelly remained married to the head of state for the remaining 26 years of her life until her death in 1982.

Jack Gleeson, a master villain, exits on top

Oh, how we wanted this kid to die. This monstrous psychopath, this petty cretin. Game of Thrones' most-loathsome adolescent king, Joffrey Baratheon, deserved a thousand forms of retribution by the time his reign ended—ask anybody. A truly talented actor in the field of being bad, Jack Gleeson served as a magnet for millions of viewers' hatred week after week over the course of the show's first four seasons. When he finally did exit the series, Gleeson made a surprise announcement — not only was he leaving the show, the actor, 21 at the time, said he was done with acting, period.

Gleeson went out on top. He was evil and he loved it, and although we never would've admitted it at the time, we loved him for it too. His final scene—spoilers, obviously!—gave the people what they wanted in all its brutal, choking, purple glory. 

Gleeson has not quit acting entirely. He has taken on some stage roles, but he seems to have declined to chase celebrity, taking no film or TV roles since his departure from the Iron Throne.