It’s a sad fact of life that some people just peak early. For many of us, this peak happens either during or after high school and balances out as we age. This is not the same for celebrities. For celebrities, those early peaks can be both a blessing and a curse.
Every single one of these celebrities, be they actors, artists, or musicians, experienced an initial burst of popularity that made their careers. Unfortunately for many of them, that popularity soon waned, driving many towards a much more difficult adulthood…
Molly Ringwald’s first major acting role was as Molly in the NBC sitcom The Facts of Life. Her teenage years saw her popularity spike to unseen heights after she appeared in three of famous director John Hughes films. Her popularity has waned over the years but she has recently gotten a role on the CW teen drama Riverdale.
Former teen idol Rob Lowe had an awful lot of good publicity during the 1980s. A member of the Brat Pack, Lowe’s drop off in popularity occurred following a 1988 sex tape scandal and a really bad performance at the 1989 Oscars. He has since revitalized his career by playing City Manager Chris Traeger in the sitcom Parks and Recreation.
To say that the former teen idol’s popularity has “dropped off” some is a bit of a fallacy. Sure, Ms. Spears no longer receives the same attention of acclaim as she did in her formative teenage years, but with a Las Vegas show, a continued presence in the tabloids, and her own brand of perfume, Britney Spears isn’t doing too badly, all things considered.
Anthony Michael Hall
Like Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall is an American actor whose starring roles in a number of popular John Hughes films in the 1980s. The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Weird Science made his young career, but he never really saw the same success coming into the late 1990s or 2000s.
Shannen Doherty made a lot of waves when she got the role as Brenda Walsh on the hit ‘90s drama Beverly Hills 90210. This was not due to her particularly stunning performance, but by allegedly how difficult she was to work with. She had trouble getting work until she signed on to play Prue Halliwell in Charmed from 1998 to 2001…when she was let go for allegedly being difficult again.
David Cassidy’s role as Keith Partridge in the ‘70s musical-sitcom The Partridge Family led him to become one of the first true teen idols. Cassidy was a good looking actor, singer, songwriter, and guitarist. It was the perfect storm for teen idol’s status, but he never reclaimed the same popularity as an adult. Sadly, he passed away in November of 2017 at the age of 67.
Winona Ryder’s eye-opening performance in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands, not to mention her role in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, made her the teen idol of the 1990s. She took a break in the early 2000s after her notorious shoplifting arrest but found a new life for her career as Joyce Byers in Netflix’s Stranger Things.
Corey Haim, along with a number of other ‘80s stars made up what many refer to as the Brat Pack. But his role beside fellow teen idol Corey Feldman in the Lost Boys sparked the beginning of the end for his career. Pigeonholed and then abandoned by Hollywood, Haim got into drugs later in life and never truly got free of them before he died of pneumonia in 2010.
At the height of his fame as a teen idol, River Phoenix was absolutely on top of the world. Though his acting career began at 10, it was in his teens that he really came into his own. Sadly, despite his star potential, his career was never to reach any greater heights. In 1993, Phoenix collapsed and died of combined drug intoxication following a drug overdose at the age of 23.
Matt Dillon’s in 1979’s Over the Edge distinguished him as a real actor but it was his subsequent roles that placed him in the realm of the other teen idols of the day. Following his role as Dallas in The Outsiders, Dillon became a member of the Brat Pack. Unfortunately, though he has worked consistently since then, he has yet to reach that same level of notoriety.
Lindsay Lohan is an unusual feature on this list, mainly because of her “popularity” as it were, hasn’t exactly waned over the years. Lohan’s roles in fan favorites The Parent Trap and Mean Girls made her an unabashed star, but her own bad behavior in her teens made her a bit of a media pariah and she never again achieved the commercial success of her youth.
If you were young in the 1990s, then you knew who Alicia Silverstone was. Her starring roles in Clueless and Blast from the Past made her a household name but unfortunately, by the time she signed up to play Batgirl in Batman and Robin, her star power had begun to wane. She’s had parts over the years, but none were nearly as successful as her turn as Cher Horowitz.
Brooke Shields became a model almost from the start and she gained critical acclaim at the tender age of 12. She continued to model and act well into her teenage years but retired from the limelight in the 80s when she left to attend Princeton University. She eventually returned to acting, but never quite captured the public’s imagination as she did when she was a teen.
Michael J. Fox
Once upon a time, Michael J. Fox was one of the most sought after faces in young Hollywood. His iconic role as Marty McFly in the Back to the Future trilogy and portrayal of Alex P. Keaton made him a recognizable star. Unfortunately, his early diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease put a bit of a halt on his career. Today, the 57-year-old actor is mostly known for his work on his own Parkinson’s charity.
Kirk Cameron is perhaps best known for his role as Mike Seaver on the ABC sitcom Growing Pains. His equally-famous sister, Candace, also starred in a sitcom at the time as well, as DJ Tanner in Full House. Kirk had a few parts in movies over the years, but they were mostly lampooned by critics. Eventually, he chose to focus on his faith as an Evangelical Christian.
An American singer, dancer, actor, and former teen idol, Donny Osmond has done just about everything one can do in the entertainment industry. He and his four elder brothers gained fame as the Osmonds in the mid-1960s and even though that fame eventually faded, he managed to squeeze back into the public eye by hosting a talk show with his sister Marie in the early 2000s.
Sarah Michelle Gellar
The original Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sarah Michelle Gellar was, at one point, the “it girl” of the ’90s. She was on magazine covers, in movies, and had a hit TV show, but it seemed that once Buffy had run its course, she sort of fell out of the spotlight. She has since chosen to focus on family matters, with the occasional acting gig in between.
Scott Baio first appeared on the scene as Fonz’s cousin Chachi on the ultra-popular sitcom Happy Days. Almost from the start, Baio’s emergence rocketed him into teen stardom. His popularity continued into the early 90s when he landed a leading role on the show Charles in Charge. Eventually, Baio’s star came crashing down when allegations of sexual misconduct arose.
Child actor Willie Aames was pretty popular among kids in the 1970s for his roles on Gunsmoke, the Wonderful World of Disney, and the Waltons. His career continued to move steadily into the ‘80s when he got a starring role opposite fellow teen idol Scott Baio on Charles in Charge. Sadly, Aames has been fighting alcoholism, drug abuse, and bankruptcy since the series ended.
John Cusack began acting in the early 1980s and had a starring role in Cameron Crowe’s directorial debut, Better off Dead. He saw a bit of commercial success as a leading man in the ‘90s and early 2000s, but never truly reached the level of superstardom that his charisma and talent dictated. That said, he has spoken publicly about how happy he is to be semi-retired.
Though Tracey Gold also starred on the 1980s sitcom Growing Pains with fellow teen star Kirk Cameron, she is perhaps more well-known for her famous battle with anorexia nervosa. The former child star developed the eating disorder in response to the high demand to remain skinny amidst her famous peers and it got so bad that it almost killed her. Still, she defeated it and even starred in a TV movie about the struggle to show the dangers to other impressionable kids.
Victoria “Tori” Spelling is the daughter of producer Aaron Spelling and it was because of her well-connected father that she received her first role as Donna Martin on the ‘90s sitcom, Beverly Hills 90210. Though she has since left acting, she has written several books on her struggles and even became an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church Monastery.
As half-brother to fellow teen idol David Cassidy, Shaun Cassidy spent much of his teen years trying to reach the same heights as his older brother. His most famous roles included starring in The Hardy Boys Mysteries and the few hit records in the ‘70s as well. In the ‘80s, he ended up on Broadway and the West End of London, but never truly found the same level of success he had in his youth.
Jennifer Love Hewitt
Former teen idol Jennifer Love Hewitt started out as a singer and dancer on the kids’ television show Kids Incorporated. She gained national fame when she joined the drama Party of Five and starred in horror classic I Know What You Did Last Summer. She had a string of commercial success in movies, music, and television in subsequent years, but never reached the same level of fame.
Corey Feldman is the other half of the famous “Two Coreys.” The 1980s made Feldman a teen idol and fairly wealthy, but like all things, that eventually had to come to an end and his fame waned liked so many others. Some years later, Feldman was among a number of former teen stars who accused many individuals in a supposed Hollywood Cabal of sexually abusing young stars in exchange for fame and money.
If you haven’t seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, then you should. This coming-of-age teen movie was actor Matthew Broderick’s first and most famous role and though he starred in a number of other films over the years, he seemed to find the most success on Broadway. He and fellow child star Sarah Jessica Parker have been married since 1997.
Fans of the Big Bang Theory might remember actress Mayim Bialik’s first hit show in her teens. Blossom was one of the most popular sitcoms of the early ‘90s and it starred not only Blossom herself, but her older brother Joey, played by teen idol Joey Lawrence. His “Whoooah” catchphrase, good looks, and charm garnered him much attention, but his career peaked at Blossom and never truly rose to the same heights again.
Alyssa Milano first gained fame playing Tony Danza’s daughter on the sitcom Who’s the Boss. She continued to act throughout her teen years, eventually landed a lead role as Phoebe Halliwell, one of the three sisters on the hit WB show Charmed, which ran for eight seasons. She hasn’t acted much since then but did release a graphic novel called Hacktivist which has been critically acclaimed.
Dustin Diamond may be a comedian, musician, actor, and director, but most people know him best for playing Samuel “Screech” Powers in a number of Saved by the Bell television shows. He didn’t do much after that, except of course for starring in the self-directed Screech sex tape he eventually released himself.
Many may remember Ally Sheedy as the quiet, quirky teenager Allison in the 1985 coming-of-age dramedy, The Breakfast Club. A member of the Brat Pack, Sheedy got a few other parts throughout the 80s in movies but her teenage fame didn’t really carry her into the new millennium. She has recently come back into the spotlight as a staunch supporter of the #MeToo movement.
Jason Priestley is best known to Generation Xers as the virtuous Brandon Walsh on the television series Beverly Hills, 90210. In those days, Priestly was on the cover of just about every teen magazine one could find. Though he doesn’t act much these days, he does enjoy other hobbies, the most interesting of these being race-car driving.
Another alum of Beverly Hills 90210, Jennifer Garth cut her teeth in the Hollywood of the 1990s. She had a number of small parts following the success of the teen drama but didn’t come back into the spotlight until the early 2000s when she tried her hand at reality TV. She was recently diagnosed with a leaky heart valve, which would require constant monitoring for the rest of her life.
Christina Aguilera had been drawn to fame and music ever since the moment she auditioned on Star Search. From there, she went on to star on the Mickey Mouse Club and eventually became a teen music sensation. Like many teen singers, her career has faced ups and downs, but unlike many of the folks on this list, has never truly waned.
Jason Bateman’s first role on the critically-acclaimed daytime drama Little House on the Prairie, seemed somewhat inauspicious for so talented a child actor. Bateman got a few parts after the series ended, but rediscovered his career as an adult when he landed the starring role in the sitcom Arrested Development, for which he won a Golden Globe and a Satellite Award.
Usher Raymond IV first began his musical career from a fairly young age. He had a flair for showmanship, superb rhythm, and a fantastic voice, so it made perfect sense that he’d be popular right from the get-go. His fame waned only slightly until the early 2000s when his subsequent albums and Michael Jackson-like dance moves garnered him much greater levels of popularity. His career has since slowed some, but he’s still doing just fine.
Claire Danes first emerged on the scene playing Juliet in Baz Luhrmann’s stunning 1996 film Romeo + Juliet. Danes starred opposite fellow teen idol Leonardo DiCaprio and became an instant sensation. Over the years, she’s won a number of Emmys, Golden Globes, and Screen Actors’ Guild awards, and has proven that teen idol status may fade, but talent only grows with experience.
We’re pretty sure that Neve Campbell likes scary movies. Her role as Sidney Prescott in the Scream horror franchise, not to mention her somewhat risque roles in The Craft and Wild Things, made her a media sensation. She fell off the radar for a while in the 2000s but recently re-appeared as LeAnn Harvey on the Netflix political thriller series House of Cards.
James Van Der Beek
Dawson’s Creek star James Van Der Beek was everywhere in the late 1990s. But even though the show ran for six seasons, Dawson himself seemed to flow ever further away from the spotlight. Van Der Beek has had a number of steady parts and cameos over the years, but has never seen the same level of success that he saw as Dawson Leery.
Mark-Paul Gosselaar is most well known for his role as Zack Morris in the teen sitcom Saved by the Bell. In those days, you could find Gosselaar on the cover of every teen magazine, as well as in commercials all over TV. He fell off the radar a bit when the show ended, but eventually proved he had the acting chops to play Detective John Clark in NYPD Blue, and Peter Bash in Franklin & Bash.
Hilary Duff became labeled as a teen idol almost immediately after getting the title role on the Disney Channel show Lizzie McGuire. After a series of similar leading roles in the following years, Duff tried her hand at music. Even though she hasn’t acted all that much lately, she remains the subject of some media gossip, specifically in terms of her relationships.