Washed up, burned out, hooked on drugs, broke, lonely and all-but forgotten. The plight of a former child star is more often than not quite tragic. Fortunately, however, some former child stars are able to break free from Hollywood before the damage can be done.
When you take a moment to stop and think about it, you’ll realize that the vast majority of the most iconic and memorable entertainers of the 1970s were actors who were minors when they became household names.
From films like Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory to decade-defining sitcoms liike The Brady Bunch, the enterntainment industy as we know it during that era simply wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for the many contributions of talented young stars who brightened up our screens with their smiling mugs and wholesome dispositions.
But despite achieving fame at such an early age, more than a few of these stars ultimately made the difficult decision to leave Hollywood behind once their youth had faded. And really, this makes a lot of sense. Acting as a kid is completely different than choosing to pursue a career in show business as an adult.
The notoriously cutthroat entertainment industry is infamous for clinching it’s greedy claws into fresh-faced actors and actresses before chewing them up and spitting them out like a piece of bubblegum that had been thoroughly depleted of all it’s flavor. Not only that, but frequently the young, impressionable people that end up gaining widespread fame and attention aren’t cut out for it from the beginning.
Keep watching to learn about the most famous examples of former child stars from the 1970s who went on to discover that their real passions lay elsewhere.
Facts Verse Presents: 70s Child Stars Who Left Hollywood and Never Looked Back
As the youngest Brady son, Bobby, Mike Lookinland was one of the most beloved stars of the iconic 70s sitcom The Brady Bunch. The now-62-year-old former child star was only eight when the show made its debut on network television. When the series ended, Lookinland’s acting career pretty much ended with it.
While it’s true that he did later reprise his role for a handful of Brady-related projects such as The Brady Bunch Movie and A Very Brady Christmas and he even ended up playing himself in the 2003 comedy film Dickie Roberts: Child Star, he hasn’t done much else onscreen since.
In 2019, Lookinland gave an interview with the Salt Lake City-based outlet Deseret Media. In that candid discussion, he explained that after he had moved to Utah at 17, his entire life’s trajectory dramatically changed. Eventually, he decided to leave acting behind to start his own business manufacturing concrete countertops.
As of 2022, he is stilll running the company he helped get off the ground, Just Add Water. In fact, he’s even introduced one of his sons, Scott, to the business, ensuring that it will live on even after he’s gone. Lookinland and his beloved wife, Kelly Wurmuth, also have another son named Joe, although it’s unclear what field he wound up in.
In that interview, Lookinland expressed gratitude that he was able to leave Hollywood behind unscathed. He told the outlet he never really set out to be an actor, but lo and behold, he ended up appearing on one of the most popular shows of all time. Looking at many of the other former child stars out there who ended up getting into serious trouble in their 20s, he said that it was a miracle that he and his Brady Bunch co-stars made it through the transition to adulthood without ending up all screwed up.
Murphy and her fraternal twin Diane portrayed Tabitha Stephens on the ABC supernatural sitcom Bewitched from 1964 to 1972. Erin took the role over entirely when she and Diane’s looks began to diverge.
After Bewitched ended following an eight-season run, Murphy decided to take some time off from acting to attempt to have a more ‘normal’ childhood. That being said, she’s never quit acting completely.
Today, Murphy is an acting coach, producer, make-up artist, and occasionally even a stunt double. She is also an entrepreneur and co-owner of Slim Chillers, a company that makes a line of lo-cal frozen vodka martini popsicles.
Throughout the 2000s and 2010s, Murphy made appearances on a handful of reality shows, including Rupaul’s Drag U and Hulk Hogan’s Celebrity Championship Wrestling. Most recently, she appeared in a 2021 episode of To Tell the Truth.
Ostrum’s role as Charlie Bucket in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory saw him sharing the screen with the late comic legend Gene Wilder. The role was both his first and last acting gig. Instead of sticking around Hollywood trying to nab another role, Ostrum, who was just 14 when he made his film debut, decided to walk away from Tinsel Town for good.
After witnessing a Veterinarian treat one of his family’s horses, he decided that he wanted to pursue a career in veterinary medicine instead of chasing fame and fortune in the entertainment industry. While watching that vet care for the equine, he noticed that he really seemed to enjoy what he was doing for a living.
Ostrum’s father had been a lawyer, but Ostrum really didn’t know what that profession actually entailed. And although he had found some success with Willy Wonka, he still had no clue what he wanted to do with his life until he had that eye-opening experience with the veterinarian. Seeing someone making a living from doing something that they really seemed to love sparked something inside of him that he couldn’t simply ignore.
At 65, Ostrum currently works with the Countryside Veterinary Clinic in upstate New York. He primary works with cows on dairy farms, and as mundane as that might sound to some, he really seems to enjoy it.
Ostrum is married to Loretta Ostrum, and the two have welcomed two children into their fold, Leif and Helenka.
Throughout his musical career, Donny Osmond has put out 18 studio albums, 9 compilation albums, 4 video albums, 1 live album, and dozens of singles. Before he was one of the world’s best-selling solo pop stars, however, Donny found success among his family in The Osmonds, the band that brought fame to all of them.
Later, Donny co-starred on a variety show with his sister Marie. In the 1980s, Donny released his first solo pop album while also making his Broadway debut in a production of Beauty and the Beast. Today, The Osmonds continue to perform together in Vegas, and Donny has since appeared on the 9th season of Dancing With The Stars, which mind you, he won!
In the 1970s, Kerwin was best known for his role on the series James at 15. He also made a handful of appearances on several ABC Afternoon Specials. By the end of the 80s, Kerwin began acting far less frequently. His last major role before leaving Hollywood behind was portraying a mercenary in the 1995 film Outbreak.
In the ensuing years, Kerwin’s life took a few unfortunate detours. After he had become a pastor at Calvary Chapel in Hawaii, he ended up pleading guilty to theft charges after being accused of falsifying documents in order to obtain state funding. In 2010, he was sentenced to five years of probation along with 300 hours of mandatory community service.
Since then, however, it seems as if he has been able to return to the ‘straight and narrow’. In 2019, he told the blog The College Crowd Digs Me that he had been married to a woman named Yvonne Kerwin for the previous 19 years and that they have a large loving family. He also described his experience as a former child star as being a positive one.
After being away from the entertainment industry for more than two decades, it seems as if Kerwin is finally ready to take another stab at acting. Recently in 2022, Kerwin appeared in the David L. Cunningham produced and directed Hawaiian Western historical drama film The Wind & The Reckoning.
While his first major role was appearing in Oliver! in 1968, Lester continued to act throughout the 1970s, appearing in films such as Black Beauty and The Prince and the Pauper. His role in 1977s Crossed Swords would ultimately prove to be his last as a child actor, although he would later appear in a 2011 short titled Metered.
Since leaving Hollywood, Lester has been practicing as an acupuncturist and osteopath. He told the blog “From The Mixed Up Files” in 2020 that he got into the profession after sustaining sports injuries when he was younger.
While he hasn’t completely written off the idea of returning to film and TV in the future, Lester seems to be perfectly content running his business out of a log cabin built on his property in Cheltenham, England.
On NBC’s Little House on the Prairie, Arngrim played the mean girl Nellie Oleson from 1974 to 1982. While that role brought her widespread attention, she apparently didn’t have a very positive experience working as a child actress. Nellie has been ranked among the most hated characters in TV history, and according to Arngrim, portraying her was like, and I quote, “having PMS for seven years”.
Following that role, Arngrim guest starred on a handful of other TV shows. Since then, however, she’s authored several books and has written and performed in a stage production based on her experience and a former child star entitled “Confessions of a Prairie B*tch”.
This now 61-year-old former child star was best known for playing Holy Marshall in the 1970s TV series Land of the Lost. After that show wrapped, she left Hollywood behind. She did later appear in a reality show called TV Therapy and made a few guest appearances in the aughts, but beyond that, she’s steered clear of the limelight.
In 2015, Coleman published a memoir titled Lost Girl: The Truth and Nothing But The Truth, So Help Me Kathleen. In that book, she detailed her experiences living through two abusive marriages as well as her time in Hollywood and making the rounds on the autograph circuit afterward. In 2017, she published a second book, Run Holly Memoir, which specifically focused on her time on the set of Land of the Lost.
Isn’t kind of refreshing to hear about former child stars who didn’t end up completely screwed up? Honestly, it’s a bit depressing to see so many former child actors wind up broke, destitute, or worse, but at least some of them are able to break free from the shackles of stardom and discover their true passions.
Did you know that Peter Ostrum from Willy Wonka ended up becoming a vet and that Erin Murphy of Bewitched fame is now a successful business owner? Share your thoughts on these former child actors and any others that you can think of in the comments section down below. And as always, thanks for watching!