15 Acting Career Comeback Stories

Some of the world’s biggest actors and actresses today were out of the limelight for a while. Child stars who disappeared for decades before making it big for good, actors who fell from grace and fame due to addiction or other personal issues who came back bigger, better and healthier than ever, is what we’re talking about here.  And while it’s not just specific to the acting industry, we’re only talking actors here. The list would get entirely too long if we added celebs from every other industry. Read on to find out which actors have the best acting comeback stories in their careers.

(Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

Neil Patrick Harris

You might remember NPH as the adorable and super-duper smart child doctor on the hit 80s/90s show Doogie Howser, M.D. He was Doogie Howser most of his life, even after the show ended. And then he was still, “that kid that played Doogie,” and that’s about it. It wasn’t until the early 2000s when he starred in the film Harold and Kumar go to White Castle and that role led him to his role as Barney in How I Met Your Mother that he became a comeback kid. Now he’s one of the most popular actors on television.

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for The Smith Center)

Robert Downey Jr.

He was the kind of actor we all knew and loved. He’s handsome and he’s good at his job. Unfortunately, he spent the better part of a decade – the early 2000s – doing everything but helping his career. He was abusing substances such as drugs and alcohol. He was in and out of rehab like it was the Starbucks drive thru during Pumpkin Spice season, and he was arrested for some crimes we’re sure we’d never commit. In 2008, however, he was offered a half million dollars for the role of Iron Man. In 2012, he was offered $50 million for The Avengers. Now he’s everywhere and better than ever.

(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Vanessa Williams

We loved her on Ugly Betty and she was divine on Desperate Housewives. However, when her career began in 1983, it ended just as quickly. She rose to fame after being crowed the first ever African-American Miss America just before she had to give up the crown thanks to photos that were leaked of the then 20-year-old beauty queen. No one heard from her again until the late 80s when she reemerged as a pop singer. At that point, she began winning awards, starring in film and television and becoming one of the most famous actresses in the world.

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Alec Baldwin

There’s something about verbally abusing your daughter in a voicemail that will put a damper on your career. That’s precisely what happened to Alec Baldwin in 2007. The actor, who gained popularity and fame in the 80s and 90s in movies such as Beetlejuice and The Hunt for Red October, became a hated man after that particular voicemail, left for his young daughter, was released to the media. Fortunately for the temperamental star, he made his big comeback with a role in the hit comedy 30 Rock with Tina Fey, winning Emmy’s for his role.

(Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images For AFI)

Martin Lawrence

There was a time when he was one of the most famous actors on television, but then he had a small little issue in the mid-90s. After being arrested in the middle of the street while waving a gun around in the middle of Los Angeles, he also checked himself into rehab and spent a few years working on Martin. Many people forgot all about him until he made his big comeback starring in movies such as Big Momma’s House and Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins. His career was back and better than ever after that.

(Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

Drew Barrymore

She comes across as the biggest sweetheart in the history of Hollywood, and she’s fabulous in everything she does. Remember when she was in ET as a child? Well, after that, things didn’t work out for her for a while. She was in rehab by the time she was 14 and didn’t really come back for a few years. She was able to overcome her addictions and her substance abuse, thankfully, so that she could become everyone’s favorite Adam Sandler movie love-interest in some of his most hilarious movies. And let’s not forget she’s one of Charlie’s Angels.

(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

John Travolta

He’s an interesting actor. People aren’t really sure what to think of him and his strange religious affiliations and friendships, but he’s a very talented actor. After starring in amazing movies such as Grease and Saturday Night Fever, he went on to star opposite Kirstie Alley in the Look Who’s Talking films, which were not very successful. His reputation as an actor went downhill, fast. It wasn’t until 1994 when he was in a little movie called Pulp Fiction that people began to take him seriously again and his fame became what it is today.

(Photo by Caroline McCredie/Getty Images)

Patrick Dempsey

Did you know McDreamy had to make a Hollywood comeback? Many people don’t. As a matter of fact, however, he was a star in the 80s. He was an actor in romantic comedies such as Can’t Buy Me Love and Loverboy. Unfortunately, he started making small appearances on small television shows and people forgot all about him. Fortunately, he made a pretty big comeback in a pretty popular television series called Grey’s Anatomy (perhaps you’ve heard of it?) and now he’s so famous he doesn’t even need his real name. Say McDreamy and people know exactly what you’re talking about.

(Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

Tom Cruise

Well, he’s another interesting one. He was one of the most famous actors of the 80s and 90s and the man every woman was in love with. Then he began attacking people such as Brooke Shields for being proactive enough to admit she had Postpartum Depression and going on and on about Scientology. Just when things couldn’t look any worse for him, he jumped on Oprah’s couch, had a baby with Katie Holmes, married her and ended up winning Golden Globes in new movies. He also managed to become a kind of love/hate actor because of his weird beliefs and Katie Holmes brave and secretive exit from his life.

(Photo by Chris Frawley/WBTV via Getty Images)

Ellen DeGeneres

So she’s not so much an actress anymore as she is a majorly popular talk show host and comedienne. However, she did have a great comeback (as evidenced by the popularity of her amazing show). The host used to have her own comedy show called Ellen. However, people stopped watching it when she came out. The show was cancelled and we didn’t really see her again for years. That’s until she was offered her own daytime talk show in 2003. Since then, she’s become one of the most famous faces in the world – people love her!

(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Betty White

Seriously, do you ever remember not loving her? She was the hottest actress in the world for about 20 years in the 70s, 80s and 90s and then she kind of just disappeared. We loved her on the Mary Tyler Moore Show and Golden Girls, but then she went away. Thankfully, she came back bigger and better than ever in 2009 after playing Sandra Bullock’s pretend fiancé, Ryan Reynolds, grandmother in The Proposal. Now she’s got her own prank show and a hit comedy called Hot in Cleveland.

(Photo by Brian To/Getty Images for The Lifeline Program)

Ben Affleck

He burst onto the scene along with his bromance bestie, Matt Damon, in 1997 when he won an Oscar for Good Will Hunting. It was his first major attempt in Hollywood, and it was a good one. However, the rest of his career wasn’t so hot. I mean, he stayed in the news thanks to his high-profile relationships (Bennifer, anyone?) and his marriage to Jennifer Garner and their ability to keep having kids – oh, and his terrible movies such as Gigli. However, he was not considered amazing by any stretch of the imagination. That is, until he won an Oscar for Argo in 2012, which he directed. Now he’s back on the A-list.

(Photo by Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images)

Jason Bateman

It’s not easy for an actor who was a child star to break free of that stigma, but that’s exactly what Jason Bateman was able to do with his career. The famed actor was big in shows in the 80s, and then he was gone for more than a decade. He came back in the new millennium and blew critics away with his amazing performance on the hit show Arrested Development and his Golden Globes. He’s since gone to star in several major motion pictures and is now a very popular actor.

(Photo by Francois Durand/Getty Images)

Mickey Rourke

For the most part, he is someone that was long thought of as a subpar boxer without much to go on. He wanted to be a famous actor, but he had some problems choosing good roles. He even turned down the roll of Butch Coolidge in Pulp Fiction, and he enlisted the help of a plastic surgeon that may or may not actually have been a plastic surgeon at some point. It wasn’t until he received an Oscar nomination for his role in The Wrestler just a few years ago that he was able to make his successful comeback a reality.

(Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Mayim Bialik

You know her from The Big Bang Theory, but did you ever wonder if you were just imagining the fact that you recognized her from somewhere else? If you did, you were right; she’s recognizable. She was the best teen character ever in the early 90s: Blossom. When the show ended, we never heard from her again. That is, until 15 years later when she took on a role in the highest-rated sitcom CBS has to offer. Now she’s an Emmy nominee several times over.

(Photo by Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images)


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