Just like real stars, there is an expiration date for every celebrity out there. If you are lucky, pop culture allows you a gradual and comforting decline in popularity as you exit the limelight. But for other celebrities, the journey into mediocrity and obscurity comes all too fast. Here are 13 former stars who all hit their initial stride with no problem, yet couldn’t stop themselves from falling down that mountain of talent just as they had reached the peak.
1. Orson Welles
There was a time when Orson Welles was, for all intents and purposes, the greatest celebrity in all of Hollywood. He wrote, directed, produced and starred in Citizen Kane, regarded by many as the greatest film ever made. Yes, he was more popular than Carrot Top. And then he ended up playing a disembodied robot head.
What lead to Welles’s downfall is hard to pinpoint, although it may have been in a bottle somewhere. After Kane, his career had many ups and downs, from self financed films that took years to complete and in many cases were never completed, to Touch of Evil, another masterpiece that netted him critical praise, despite him saying the studio took it from him.
In time, Welles became a spokesperson for Carlsberg beer and Masson wines, complete with leaked footage of him as a somewhat drunken monster on set for one of the commercials. One of his final roles was as Unicorn, a planet-eating robot in the animated Transformers movie, arguably one of the most shameful roles an auteur could ever be forced into.
2. Steve Guttenberg
In the 1980s, Steven Guttenberg was pure comedy gold. He made Police Academy, the funniest movie about a police academy ever, and that even includes Police Academy 6. He also had Cocoon and Three Men and a Baby going for him, making three popular comedy franchises, not to mention Short Circuit and a slew of others.
At the height of his career he began focusing more on stage work and through the 1990s he was seen less on screen. Many of his movie roles were family films like Zeus and Roxanne and Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus, several of which were made for TV films, also known as “the actor’s graveyard.”
Since that time he’s managed to make a direct to DVD film that starred Jessica Simpson and a few guest spots on shows like According to Jim and Veronica Mars. On the upside, he was immortalized in song on an episode of the Simpsons some years back, so he’ll always have that going for him.
3. Corey Feldman
One half of the oft-maligned Coreys, back in the 1980s’ Corey Feldman was the equivalent of the Jonas Brothers today. Movies like Stand By Me, The Goonies and The Lost Boys seemed to secure Feldman’s place as a huge star. And then the 90’s happened.
Feldman, now hitting his 20’s and apparently also hitting drugs, found the prime rolls drying up. He was left with voicing ninja turtles and a string of direct to video features along with the odd TV guest spot. By the year 2000, he was appearing in Troma released pictures like The Toxic Avenger IV as a gynecologist, credited under the name Kinky Finklestein. Joke or not, that’s a rough spot to be in.
After a reality series featuring himself and Corey Haim that exposed pretty much every dark, nasty corner of who he is, he’s had a bit of a resurgence in popularity, though his acting remains firmly a part of the direct to DVD market.
4. Nicolas Cage
Ahh, Nicolas Cage. Arguably still one of the biggest movie stars in the world, his career has baffled critics and fans alike for years. For every Leaving Las Vegas in his repertoire, he puts out a Wicker Man. For every Adaptation, there’s a Ghost Rider. And throughout all of them, no one has been able to figure out what’s happening with his hair.
In his personal life, Cage inexplicably bought 15 separate homes, including a castle and a $7 million island as well as 22 cars and a dinosaur skull. The IRS has been hounding him for millions owed in back taxes ever since and he’s mired in a few lawsuits to boot. As he and a variety of bizarre hair pieces continue to make films, each one a potential landmine filled with either awesome or suck that we’ll never be able to figure out until we actually see the movie.
While Cage is still one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood and is generally considered a decent bet for Blockbusters, movies like Wicker Man, Knowing, Bangkok Dangerous and others can’t be ignored.
5. Scott Baio
Like Corey Feldman, Scott Baio was a teen heartthrob back in the 80’s who, in modern times, found himself a renaissance on trashy reality TV. Somewhere in the middle everyone forget he existed.
Charles in Charge, which can still probably be seen somewhere in the world every hour of every day, was his biggest break, following on his success as Chachi in both Happy Days and its short lived spin off, Joanie Loves Chachi. He pulled out about 12 seasons of television as either Charles or Chachi, a longer run than many stars ever get to have.
After Charles ended, he had a run on Diagnosis Murder which, being on CBS and starring Dick Van Dyke, was likely only seen my your grandmother. Things took an even more grim turn after that through the late 90’s with a string of guest spots in shows you’ve never heard of like Can’t Hurry Love, or wish you’d never heard of like The Nanny.
While it seemed like Baby Geniuses 2 would be Baio’s death knell, he had a turn around in the Ron Howard produced Arrested Development which was awesome.
Rather than try to parlay his short stint into more sustainable fame, Baio elected to appear in a VH1 reality show about himself, which is generally a sign that an actor has given up on having any sort of a career ever again. It kept him in the public eye, but only in the most minimal and desperate sort of way.
6. Kevin Costner
In many ways, Costner’s career parallels Orson Welles’, only at an accelerated, insane pace. Costner came out of the gate huge with movies like the Bodyguard and Robin Hood that had a lot of appeal for female audiences and tried to capture some male interest as well. He was the handsome, romantic lead but he was manly and gruff at the same time.
Some small early roles lead to his starring role in The Untouchables, an excellent movie with an awesome cast that paved the way for the later roles that made Costner a name actor. Toss in Field of Dreams, JFK and Bull Durham and that was more than half a dozen huge films under his belt, including the Academy Award winning Dances with Wolves. And then 1995 happened.
In 1995, Costner made Waterworld, what was then one of the most expensive movies ever made and a horrible mess of a film that few people enjoyed and critics pretty much despised. Costner quickly followed this with the Postman, a movie even less well liked that played like the most ill-conceived vanity project anyone had ever seen.
3000 Miles to Graceland and Dragonfly slowed his career to a crawl and he’s been making far fewer major studio releases ever since. It wasn’t until Mr. Brooks, a full 10 years after the Postman, that he really got any notoriety for a role again, and even that was marginal at best.
7. Jean Claude Van Damme
At one time, Van Damme was the coolest thing in martial arts movies. The kung-fu film (yeah, he doesn’t do kung-fu, but nevermind that) has always had a niche market from Bruce Lee through Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Steven Seagal and Van Damme. And while some martial artists persevere thanks to acting ability and an onscreen charm, not everyone has it and, as such, their movies start taking the inevitable turn towards the direct to DVD market.
Van Damme was likeable enough at first with films like Bloodsport, Kickboxer and TimeCop, but somewhere in there he started doing the splits and yelling in every single movie, playing his own twin in no less than 3 films and he made Street Fighter. Based on one of the most popular video games of all time, Street Fighter was actually pretty much just Bloodsport all over again and it seemed like a no brainer. No brains was what audiences got, in one of the worst written and acted movies of all time.
Things went from bad to worse as Van Damme started acting opposite luminaries like Dennis Rodman and Rob Schneider. In fact, just after 1998’s Knock Off which featured Van Damme and Schneider as blue jean counterfeiters (no, really) he fell from box offices completely and hit the DVD market with a vengeance.
Van Damme was offered role in the upcoming, guaranteed-to-be-massively-successful Stallone movie The Expendables, which has brought together nearly every 80’s action icon out there, but he turned the role down. Go figure.
8. MC Hammer
Rap music exists today thanks to MC Hammer. That’s a statement that’s hard to back up, but there’s no doubt that Hammer had a huge influence of making the genre go mainstream back in the 1990s. His bubblegum version of the music, catchy and family friendly as it was, brought rap to the suburbs and off the streets where it had languished for some time. Along with Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer made rap something your mom could like.
U Can’t Touch This was MC Hammer’s hugest hit and it carried him through a handful of albums, movie appearance and even his own cartoon series. He was on top of his game and apparently totally incapable of dealing with it.
Hammer ended up spending millions he didn’t actually have and filed for bankruptcy. He secured his legacy as an icon of celebrity excess and his reputation in the music industry is often as the butt of jokes, despite the contributions he made to the art form.
9. Gary Coleman
There aren’t a lot of stories more tragic than Gary Coleman’s in terms of actors going from highs to lows. As a child on Different Strokes, Coleman was one of the most recognizable and adored personalities on television. A simple catchphrase, “what you talkin’ ’bout Willis?” made him unforgettable. And as the show went off the air, his whole world fell out from under him.
Coleman was getting paid $100,000 an episode at its peak, 75% of which was being lost right off the top to his parents and other hangers-on who were robbing him blind. He eventually sued for misappropriation of his $3.8 million trust fund and won $1.2 million. He ended up filing for bankruptcy in 1999.
After Different Strokes, Coleman never had another hit show and was mostly relegated to a string of cameos or appearances as himself. In his personal life his behavior was erratic and when he did pop up in the news it was often due to legal reasons such as assault charges, or for humiliating reasons such as news that he was working as a mall security guard.
Recent appearances have often been focused on his marriage with allegations of assault (either at the hands of or against Coleman) and, as such, Coleman has become something of an angry and belligerent guest on talk shows when he is hounded by reporters.
10. Emilio Estevez
Part of a family dynasty along with his brother Charlie Sheen and father Martin Sheen, Emilio never really achieved the kind of fame they had. However, for a time in the 1980’s, Estevez was as big if not bigger than Charlie and held top billing in a string of hits such as Young Guns, The Breakfast Club and The Outsiders.
Estevez had his share of bombs in the past, anyone who saw Maximum Overdrive can attest to that, but when he released Men At Work, co-starring brother Charlie and written and directed by Emilio himself, things took a nosedive. Freejack, Loaded Weapon and a string of Mighty Ducks movies made him less and less bankable and there were several periods in which he had no on-camera roles for a few years at a time.
2006’s Bobby, written and directed by Estevez, got a good deal of praise and may signal a future for him behind the camera, but it’s unlikely anyone will forget him running away from evil lawn mowers on camera, or trying to do an impression of Anthony Hopkins for the benefit of Mick Jagger any time soon.
11. Lou Diamond Phillips
Another Young Gun along with Emilio Estevez, through the late 80s and early 90s, Phillips was the go-to guy for any role that required someone to look somewhat ethnic. He played Richie Valens in La Bamba, Chavez y Chavez in Young Guns and Angel Guzman in Stand and Deliver.
After the sequel to Young Guns, Phillips dropped from the limelight into a series of forgettable roles and movies you’re likely not to remember the names of. In the mid 90’s, however, he was nominated for a Tony for his role in The King and I. Since then, he’s had a few notable guest spots on TV shows but his most telling appearance was on the reality show “I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.” Because if there’s one thing we should have learned by now it’s that, once you go to reality TV, your celebrity status is questionable at best.
12. Mark Hamill
Luke Skywalker is probably one of the greatest roles of all time. Not that it revolutionized film acting, but it and the Star Wars films are so iconic, it’s hard to imagine Luke Skywalker not being the biggest star in the galaxy. And what do you know, he’s not.
After the massive success of Star Wars, perhaps in an attempt to avoid typecasting, Hamill did a lot of stage and voice work and is most noted for his roles in animated shows such as portraying the Joker in the Batman series. His forays on screen have been few and far between and, even more than 20 years later, he’s still associated heavily with the Skywalker character which most of his cameo appearances referencing it in some way, such as spots on 3rd Rock from the Sun an in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
13. Mr. T
One of the most easily recognizable actors in the last 30 years, Mr. T is known for his gold chains and Mohawk. His greatest success was as the character BA Baracus on The A-Team and for his role in Rocky III.
After the A Team, T appeared on his own series T and T, a Canadian sort-of crime drama that lasted a couple seasons. From there he spent much of his time doing cameos and voice acting before health concerns, he was diagnosed with cancer in 1995, forced him further out of the public eye. In recent years, T has been seen in his chains less having donated a lot of his property to victims of Katrina victim and most often can be seen doing commercials for things like World of Warcraft and, inexplicably, the Mr. T Flavor Wave Turbo Cooker, which has to be some kind of homage to the George Foreman grill.