Being a child star is not easy. You’re almost never afforded a real, legitimate childhood, and in far too many cases it’s later discovered you’ve been forced into a job you hate by overbearing parents who just want to make as much money off of you as possible.
Just ask Macauley Culkin about that one. And then, as soon as you start to grow up and you’re no longer cute, people just toss you aside and go find the next precocious 6-year-old who can make a live studio audience laugh.
But there are some child stars who find sustained success, and even manage to stay sane despite the utter insanity of their young lives. Here are some former child stars who completely reinvented themselves.
Perhaps the most famous child star of all-time, Shirley Temple started finding it difficult to get work on screen the older she got. So what did she do? Well, she went into public service, serving as a US Ambassador to the United Nations, Ghana, and Czechoslovakia.
A lot of people forget this, but Kurt Russell wasn’t always the wise-cracking tough guy we know and love from movies like Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China. Before that, he was a child star for Disney but was able to reinvent himself into the badass we know and love today.
Speaking of former Disney stars. Did you know that Ryan Gosling was on the Mickey Mouse Club as a kid? His costars included Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera, but Gosling would eventually break out as one of the most sought after leading men in Hollywood.
10Jackie Earle Haley
Most famous for playing Kelly Leak in The Bad News Bears films, Jackie Earle Haley fell pretty much completely off the map for a span of about 25 years. That is until he emerged as a dramatic force to be reckoned with as a child molester in Little Children, a role that would garner him an Oscar nomination.
9Neil Patrick Harris
One thing that Neil Patrick Harris has never had to reinvent about himself is his infectious personality, but when he was a kid starring as Doogie Howser, he had an image of being a clean-cut, polite, brainy kid. Then came a memorable cameo in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and suddenly, an entirely new career path opened up.
After starring in My Girl and its unfortunate sequel, Anna Chlumsky fell off the map in Hollywood for quite a while. Fortunately for us, she burst back into the spotlight with a star-making performance in the show Veep, for which she’s received three straight Emmy nominations for her brilliant, vulgar comedic performance.
Maybe the most successful child star of all-time, Ron Howard has never stopped working since he first appeared as Opie on The Andy Griffith Show. But it was when he turned to the world of directing that people saw a whole new side of Opie, and he’s become one of the most respected directors in the world.
Like Howard, Fred Savage’s reinvention came when he stepped behind the camera. The star of The Wonder Years has become one of the most respected sitcom directors in Hollywood and is one of the go-to directors for shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, before returning to his own starring role in The Grinder.
We’re not entirely sure if this is a “successful” reinvention or not at this point, but there aren’t many child stars who have completely shattered their previous image as much as Miley Cyrus. The former Hannah Montana jettisoned her Disney image and has become one of the most risqué performers in the world.
You probably didn’t realize that Joe Pesci was a child star, did you? When he was a kid, Pesci was a regular on a little known variety show, before becoming your typical, struggling actor. It’s amazing to think that a happy little child star would eventually become a terrifying little mobster in so many great movies.
These days, Drake is known for being one of the most famous and highly regarded rappers in the world. But believe it or not – and unless you live in Canada, you might not know this – he began his fame as a wheelchair-bound student on the show Degrassi: The Next Generation.
Going back in time a little bit, you might not recognize Jackie Coogan’s name but you know who he is. The former child star – who starred alongside Charlie Chaplin in The Kid – would later find success in a much different role: that of Uncle Fester on The Addams Family.
We’ve already had two Jackies on this list, so what’s one more? Jackie Cooper was one of The Little Rascals when he was a kid, but unlike most of his costars there, he continued on with a successful acting career, most notably playing Perry White in the Christopher Reeve Superman movies.