Celebrity Retirements: The Good, the Bad, the Embarassing

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Actress Amanda Bynes, star of 'tween fairy tales What a Girl Wants and She's the Man, went to Twitter over the weekend to announce her retirement. Her decision to may seem premature—she's just 24, and she's starred in only a handful of major movies—but she's not the first celebrity to declare she's done with show business long before her 65th birthday. Many stars before her have taken early retirement, with mixed results. Here, the three major types of celebrity retirements:

Celebrities who retire and find joy in their non-celebrity life: Probably the best-case scenario for the retiring celebrity, though maybe the worst outcome for fans. The star gets to go out on top with an untarnished legacy, but the public has to deal with the pain of knowing the performer/athlete is still alive, and could be doing great things—but isn't.

Examples:
Dolores Hart: Left Hollywood in 1963 after a string of popular movies (Where the Boys Are, Come Fly With Me) to join the Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut. Her influence on Hollywood did not end when she took on the habit, though—as a member of the Academy, she gets to vote for Oscar winners, and she was part of the inspiration for the movie Sister Act.

J.D. Salinger: Disappeared from the public eye in 1953, fleeing to Cornish, New Hampshire after writing some of his generation's most influential works. He never published again, spending his retirement his time to romancing younger women and attending roast beef dinners at the First Congregational Church in Hartland, Vermont.

Celebrities who retire, do not find joy in their non-celebrity life, and make an embarrassing comeback: Bad for the celebrity (legacy tarnished!), but sort of bad-in-a-good-way for the fan (schadenfreude!).

Examples:
Michael Jordan, baseball/movie star phase: The best basketball player in the sport's history announced his retirement in 1993, in the wake of his father's death. Four months later, though, he was back in the game—a different game: baseball. He eventually returned to basketball and won three more championships, but not before he filmed Space Jam and forever aligned himself with animated dribbling aliens.

Joaquin Phoenix: Said he was retiring from acting in 2008 to pursue his music career. His post-retirement behavior has been bizarre enough to nearly eclipse his fine work in Walk the Line and Gladiator: He appeared strung-out and coherent in a 2009 appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman; his friend Casey Affleck made a documentary about Phoenix, which, according to the Los Angeles Times includes "more male frontal nudity than you'd find in some gay porn films and a stomach-turning sequence in which someone feuding with Phoenix defecates on the actor while he's asleep."

Celebrities who retire, do not find joy in their non-celebrity life, and make a successful comeback: The ultimate win-win for star and fan alike—the celebrity gets the ego boost of knowing he's "still got it," while the public gets to enjoy more of the talented person's work.

Examples:
Jay-Z: Said 2003's The Black Album album would be his last. But he ended up hating his time off from show business—he called it "the worst retirement in history"—and three years later came back with Kingdom Come, which sold 680,000 copies its first week of release.

Daniel Day-Lewis: Quit acting in 1997 after The Boxer to pursue his passion for wood-working, but returned to the craft five years later for The Gangs of New York, which earned him a best actor Academy Award nomination. He threatened to slip back into retirement after Gangs, but went on to make The Ballad of Jack and Rose and There Will Be Blood, for which he won an Oscar.

Michael Jordan, basketball phase: After his stint as baseball player/movie star (see above), Jordan returned to basketball, won three straight NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls, and reclaimed the title of "His Airness". He retired again 1999, only to return again in 2001. His second comeback was not as auspicious as his first, but he still had moments of sheer greatness, including the game where he became the first player over 40 to score more than 40 points in an NBA game.

Which category will Bynes fall into? Who knows, but considering the seemingly endless stream of fresh-faced actresses who arrive in Hollywood every year, eager to capture our hearts and our screens, she may end up in the worst group of all: celebrities who retire and get replaced so quickly, no one even notices.

Presented by

Eleanor Barkhorn is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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