meg ryan cameron diazs return to hollywood after leaving at peak of career

Hollywood isn’t for everyone, even some of its biggest stars.

While many actors and actresses stick around as long as possible, some have chosen to walk away from their profession entirely. 

We take a look at some celebrities who have had a fluctuating career in Hollywood and chose to leave the industry at their career’s peak.


Cameron Diaz stepped away from Hollywood to start a family. (Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images)

Cameron Diaz

Known for her iconic roles in “Charlie’s Angels,” “The Holiday” and “The Mask,” Cameron Diaz was an in-demand Hollywood actress. Nearly a decade ago, she stepped away from the limelight, choosing to focus on expanding her family.

Diaz says that when she turned 40, her priorities began to shift. “I have a lot of great friends and I have a lot of really incredible people who have supported me for so long… I really do believe it’s about the people you have, you know, in your life, that can help you keep things moving. And I had some amazing people and I had other people who were not serving my best interests always, but you don’t have time to figure those things out if you are just going,” she told Kevin Hart on his podcast in 2021.

She ultimately chose to stop making movies and prioritize her family and other ventures. “When you do something at a really high level for a long period of time… when you’re the person that’s sort of delivering on this one thing… everything around you, all parts of you that isn’t that, has to be sort of handed off to other people,” she shared. “Every aspect from finances to just the management of just me as a human being,” she says were not in her control.

Benji Madden in a black leather jacket smiles with wife Cameron Diaz in a white blazer

Cameron Diaz married Benji Madden in 2015. They welcomed their daughter Raddix in 2019. (Donato Sardella/Getty Images for Revolve)

She married musician Benji Madden in 2015 and the couple welcomed their daughter Raddix, in 2019, via surrogate.

“It’s just a different time in my life now. Now I’m here and this is the most fulfilling thing that I’ve ever done in my life. [To] have a family and be married and have our little nucleus of a family. It’s just completely the best thing,” Diaz previously told Yahoo! Finance. “So I can’t give… I don’t have what it takes to give making a movie what it needs to be made. All of my energy is here.”

Although she insists she’s still done with acting, Diaz did make an exception this past year, filming the upcoming picture “Back in Action” with Jamie Foxx.

Daniel Day-Lewis

Daniel Day Lewis speaks on stage and holds a microphone wearing a black sweater

Daniel Day-Lewis announced in 2017 that he would be retiring from acting. (John Phillips/Getty Images for Universal)

Daniel Day-Lewis stunned Hollywood when he shared via a representative his decision to retire from acting in 2017. After four decades in the business, Day-Lewis was done at 60 years old. Known for his method acting, the Brit was lauded for his work, garnering three Academy Awards.

Months after announcing his retirement, the star spoke with W Magazine at length about what provoked him to leave the acting world after his final project. “I knew it was uncharacteristic to put out a statement.… But I did want to draw a line. I didn’t want to get sucked back into another project. All my life, I’ve mouthed off about how I should stop acting, and I don’t know why it was different this time, but the impulse to quit took root in me, and that became a compulsion. It was something I had to do.”

“Before making the film, I didn’t know I was going to stop acting,” he shared of “Phantom Thread.” Day-Lewis admitted that he and director Paul Thomas Anderson “laughed a lot before” making the movie, but things changed after production. “Then we stopped laughing because we were both overwhelmed by a sense of sadness. That took us by surprise. We didn’t realize what we had given birth to. It was hard to live with. And still is,” he said of the historical drama. 

Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis on the carpet at the "Phantom Thread" premiere

Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis appear on the carpet for the “Phantom Thread” premiere. (Jim Spellman/WireImage/Getty Images)


Day-Lewis said he chose not to see “Phantom Thread,” a choice that directly impacted his decision to quit acting. “But it’s not why the sadness came to stay. That happened during the telling of the story, and I don’t really know why.” At the time of the interview, Day-Lewis said he didn’t “feel better.”

“I have great sadness. And that’s the right way to feel. How strange would it be if this was just a gleeful step into a brand-new life. I’ve been interested in acting since I was 12 years old, and back then, everything other than the theater – that box of light – was cast in shadow. When I began, it was a question of salvation. Now, I want to explore the world in a different way,” he said of pursuing other things. 

Since retiring, the former actor has only been spotted in public on a few occasions. 

Meg Ryan in a black dress soft smiles on the carpet

Meg Ryan recently shared why she chose to step away from acting for a significant period. (Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

Meg Ryan

After commanding the big screen for years with films like “When Harry Met Sally” and “Sleepless in Seattle,” actress Meg Ryan chose to step away from Hollywood.

In 2018, Ryan told Gwyneth Paltrow her desire to step away from acting stemmed from wanting to discover more of herself. “I didn’t really aim to be an actor,” she said at the Goop Health wellness summit, per “Entertainment Tonight.” “I was a journalism major at school, and a curious person, and I wanted to go back out into the world and figure out who I was – am – in relation to other things and other people and other environments.”

She reiterated that statement in a cover story with People magazine in October.

“I took a giant break because I felt like there’s just so many other parts of my experience as a human being I wanted to develop,” she said, which included being a mother to her son and daughter. “It’s nice to think of it as a job and not a lifestyle. And that is a great way of navigating it for me.”

Ryan made a return to her craft this year. Her newest film, “What Happens Later” with David Duchovny, was released last month. 


Joe Pesci in a suit with a black hat and black lensed sunglasses on the carpet

In the past 30 years, Joe Pesci has appeared in a handful of movie and TV projects. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Joe Pesci

Revered actor Joe Pesci says he moved to Hollywood in the 1970s, having started acting at 5 years old. “Everybody who goes out [to Hollywood] has this dream about becoming a movie star, getting their picture on the cover of a magazine, driving a Rolls Royce – myself included,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 1994. “It wasn’t until I came back (East) – till I quit – that I realized I just wanted to be a working actor, and I wound up being successful.” 

“You lose any drive and self-confidence you have. That’s the worst thing you can do to an actor. So yeah, I quit, I walked away from it.” Pesci said he moved to Las Vegas and lived with his friend, where he “worked for a mason, mixing cement and carrying blocks,” then he went to the Bronx where he was “managing an Italian restaurant and singing at tables.”

For the next two decades, he was in high demand, despite being out of California, starring in movies like “Goodfellas,” “Home Alone” and the “Lethal Weapon” franchise. Since making the fourth installment in 1998, Pesci has only appeared in a handful of movies. In 2019, he reunited with Robert De Niro in “The Irishman,” also starring Al Pacino.

“I’m not into that Hollywood stuff. I don’t need to go to parties anymore. It kills my whole night,” Pesci said when he originally left the limelight. “When I was trying to get somewhere, I went to all the parties, trying to meet people who could get me a part. Now people are trying to meet me so I can introduce them to somebody who can get them a part.”

Gwyneth Paltrow in a red dress with roses smiles demurely

Gwyneth Paltrow has appeared in a handful of television shows and movies over the years, although her predominant focus is her company, Goop. (Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images)

Gwyneth Paltrow

Coming from a prominent Hollywood family, Gwyneth Paltrow started in the industry at a young age. By 27, she had won her first Academy Award for her portrayal of Viola de Lesseps in “Shakespeare In Love.” A decade later she would launch her wellness newsletter Goop, which would materialize into the burgeoning lifestyle brand it is today.

“I think that when you hit the bull’s-eye, when you’re 26 years old and you’re a metrics driven person who, frankly, doesn’t love acting that much as it turns out… I sort of felt like, well, now who am I supposed to be? Like, what am I, what am I driving toward?” she told Bruce Bozzi of her identity as an actress.

Gwyneth Paltrow in white smiles and looks to her left with mother Blythe Danner in a vibrant salmon jacket and her father Bruce in a black coat

Gwyneth Paltrow poses with her parents, her director father Bruce Paltrow and actress mother Blythe Danner. (Gregg DeGuire/WireImage/Getty Images)


“Part of the shine of acting wore off, you know, being in such intense public scrutiny, being a kid who’s like living every breakup on every headline, like being criticized for everything you do, say and wear,” Paltrow explained. “It’s so transitory. You’re always all over. It’s hard to plant roots. I’m such a homebody.”

‘If you compound those things with the fact that like, you know, to be totally candid, I had a really rough boss for most of my movie career at Miramax,” she said referencing disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein, “You’re like, ‘I don’t know if this is really my calling.’ So I’m still trying to parse out what came from what and… how my life changed course.”

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