Hollywood’s Greatest Comeback Kids

Even in today’s cynical times, celebrity comeback stories continue to draw interest. Something about faded stars lifting themselves out of obscurity and back into the public eye just begs to be discussed and read about. Some smile at these rare displays of redemption, while others (perhaps most) relish the opportunity to predict more falls from grace in the future. Whichever reason you have for caring about celebrity comeback stories, these thirteen are sure to pique your interest.

Britney Spears

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Britney Spears may not the best example of what humanity has to offer, but there is something inspiring about her comeback story. After losing her kids in divorce court, shaving her head Mr. Clean-style,and checking in and out of rehab more times that one can count, Spears has re-emerged to mostly positive reactions for her new music and warm public support. It appears as though her drug troubles are behind her. And, only time will tell.

Robert Downey, Jr.

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After enduring what Wikipedia describes as “five years of being trapped inside the revolving door of substance abuse, arrest, rehab, and relapse”, Robert Downey Jr. shocked us all by embarking on a successful quest to recover from drugs and resurrect his acting career. It was a long road from the cocaine-and-hooker-fueled days of Downey’s past to his recent critical and commercial successes in Tropic Thunder and Ironman, both of which released in 2008.

Mickey Rourke

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Rourke is often remembered for mediocre professional boxing, and some back-alley plastic surgery. After he decided the left fighting to focus on acting full-time, it seemed he would not be able to ecreate his earlier 1980’s film success. After laboring in mostly obscure and minor roles throughout most of the 90’s (and famously turning down the part of Butch Coolidge in Pulp Fiction), Rourke burst back onto the mainstream film scene with a strong showing in 2005’s Sin City. Most recently, he received an Academy Award Nomination for Best Actor, for his role in The Wrestler.

Jason Bateman

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Child actors often have a tough time hanging around as adults, unable to distance themselves from the youth role they became known for. So you can understand if nobody really expected Jason Batemen of “Silver Spoons” and “The Hogan Family” fame to have much staying power after the 80’s. But Batemen has silenced all critics, breaking the childhood acting curse by starring on Fox’s immensely popular “Arrested Development” and taking home Golden Globe awards in the process.

John Travolta

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When John Travolta was starring in unforgettable classics like Grease and Saturday Night Fever, nobody imagined a day when he would need to make a “comeback.” Alas, that day came in 1989 with the release of the massive flop Look Who’s Talking. And if it weren’t for his career-saving role in as Vincent Vega in 1994’s Pulp Fiction, Travolta might still be best remembered for his dance moves. Fortunately for him, he has added a number of well-grossing mainstream films to his resume since then and remains a popular (and strange) actor to this day.

Rob Lowe

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Celebrity falls from grace come in many shapes and sizes; while some stars burn out due to lackluster performances and box office turnouts, others are driven from the big screen by problems in their personal lives. Rob Lowe is a case in point, squandering his success in 80’s brat pack classics like St. Elmo’s Fire when sex tapes were released showing Lowe having sex with a sixteen year old girl. While such scandals are usually enough to seal one’s fate, Lowe has triumphantly re-established himself as an almost A-List celebrity, recently having starred in “Brothers & Sisters”, and “The West Wing”.

Mariah Carey

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Mariah Carey nearly veered off the road of relevancy forever when her semi-autobiographical film Glitter bombed so hard that it made The Core look respectable by comparison. When the accompanying soundtrack album was dismissed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as “an absolute mess” and her father passed away in 2002, many wondered if Carey would ever return to prominence as a major celebrity. By 2007, however, she had risen from the ashes to drop her 11th studio album and began a happy marriage the much-younger Nick Cannon.

Paula Abdul

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Until “American Idol” burst onto the scene, Paula Abdul was just the latest in a long line of 80’s has-beens with no real place in current entertainment. (Skeptics need only remember Abdul’s dreadfully unsuccessful”Get Up and Dance!” workout video from 1995.) But sitting beside Simon has given the ex-pop star a new lease on celebrity life, allowing Abdul to bask in the reflected glory of up-and-coming talents. Unfortunately, her driving skills are still about as bad as that workout video. Did we mention how bad that was?

Patrick Dempsey

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After winning many a woman’s heart in hit 80’s romantic comedies, Loverboy, and Can’t Buy Me Love, Patrick Dempsey transitioned to mostly TV series acting on shows like ”Will & Grace” and cameo appearances on “The Practice”. This resulted in a somewhat diminished presence and popularity, and it wasn’t until Dempsey landed the role of Dr. Derek Shephard on “Grey’s Anatomy” that he regained his status as a household name.

Ellen DeGeneres

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If there were a book on how to succeed in entertainment, it would certainly contain a chapter on not coming out of the closet on your own TV show. But that’s exactly what Ellen DeGeneres did in 1997 on her sitcom “Ellen”, causing her ratings to drop faster than The Boogeyman emptied theaters a few years ago. While she has recovered enough to star on her own moderately successful “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” since 2003, this has more to do with the world being even more politically correct than it was in 1997 than any redeeming value of that show!

Mel Gibson

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2006 was not a good year to be Mel Gibson, who was arrested for drunken driving and then proceeded to vent anti-Semitic hate speech that included such politically correct gems as “Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.” He also called a female officer, “sugar tits”. But Gibson rebounded about as well as could be expected, taking to the screen wit his subtitled self-produced film Apocalypto and parlaying it into a $121 million global box office draw.

Tom Cruise

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Between Cruise’s nutty Scientology beliefs and his attacks on Brooke Shields for her support of anti-depressants, Tom Cruise’s image had taken quite a beating by the time 2005 rolled around. Then there was the couch jumping episode on Oprah’s television show for housewives. But in a strange turn of events Cruise did not let these things derail his career, becoming co-head of United Artists studio and taking home a Golden Globe for his role in ridiculously funny Tropic Thunder.

Winona Ryder

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Winona Ryder’s prospects went from bad to worse when she followed up the abysmal should’ve-gone-straight-to-DVD flops Lost Souls and Autumn in New York, by stealing from a high-end Beverly Hills botique in 2001. A lesser actress might have foundered on the rock of this scandal, but Rider regrouped well enough to ride Adam Sandler’s coat tails to a $171 million box office draw for Mr. Deeds and is set to appear in May 2009’s Star Trek.