19 celebrities who made victorious career comebacks

  • Some stars leave the spotlight and return later for victorious comebacks.
  • This includes actors like Winona Ryder, who was hiatus from Hollywood following drug and theft scandals, but is now known for her “Stranger Things” role.
  • Singers like Kesha and Shania Twain have also had career comebacks.
  • Visit INSIDER.com for more stories.

The careers of celebrities can be tumultuous.

Some stars leave Hollywood of their own accord, others disappear after worrying public incidents, and some fade after scandals. When that happens, returning to the spotlight isn’t always easy. Some never do. But that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.

Here are 19 celebrities who have had career comebacks.

Editor’s Note: A warning that this article contains descriptive language that could be triggering for anyone struggling with or recovering from substance abuse.


“Stranger Things” marked Winona Ryder’s comeback after a hiatus from Hollywood following drug and theft scandals.

Emma McIntyre/Getty ImagesWinona Ryder attends the Screen Actors Guild Awards in 2018.

Winona Ryder’s career was in full swing during the late ’80s and ’90s. From classics such as “Beetlejuice” and “Heathers” to “Edward Scissorhands” and “The Age of Innocence,” Ryder was keeping busy. But in 2001, the actress was arrested on charges of shoplifting and being in possession of illegal prescription drugs and her career stalled.

She spoke with Time about how a brief break from acting following the incident affected her career.

“I took some years off, and I didn’t realise that was very dangerous in terms of my career,” she said. “I was constantly being told, ‘You have to keep working so you stay relevant.’ When I was ready to come back, I was like, ‘Oh, where did everyone go?’ A lot of actors have ups and downs. I think mine were – people might see them as awful – but I learned, and I appreciated the time away.”

Now with “Stranger Things,” she’s a leading lady once more.


Robert Downey Jr. was arrested multiple times in the ’90s and did a stint in rehab, but now he’s a leading man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Neilson Barnard/Getty ImagesRobert Downey Jr. attends the premiere of Disney and Marvel’s ‘Avengers: Infinity War.’

Robert Downey Jr.’s career took off in the ’80s, and he eventually earned an Oscar nomination for 1992’s “Chaplin.” But his successful trajectory hit a snag after a string of run-ins with the law and time in rehab.

In 1996, authorities caught him with an unloaded gun, heroine, and cocaine in his car. A few months later, he was cited for trespassing after passing out inside his neighbour’s home. He was arrested multiple times, spent time in prison, was in and out of rehab, and was written out of “Ally McBeal.” But Downey Jr. has been sober since around 2003, and his career has picked up.

He played Sherlock Holmes in two movies, he earned an Oscar nomination for “Tropic Thunder,” he’s been dominating the box office as Iron Man since 2008, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down.


After a string of worrying public incidents in 2007, Britney Spears rose again and her career is now better than ever.

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty ImagesHonoree Britney Spears attends the 29th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in 2018.

Britney Spears was a pop icon with five albums under her belt when her life began to spiral. Spears lost custody of her children to ex-husband Kevin Federline and was in the public eye for a string of incidents – including shaving her head in public, driving with her son on her lap, and attacking paparazzi with an umbrella. Spears was admitted to UCLA Medical Center’s psychiatric hospital in January 2008.

She was released five days later and then released her sixth album, “Circus,” later that year to positive reviews and chart-topping success. Since then, she has held a Las Vegas residency and released three more albums. She was honored with GLAAD’sVanguard Award in 2018 for her support of the LGBTQ+ community.


Kesha overcame a restrictive record deal and legal battle to launch her comeback album, “Rainbow.”

Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty ImagesKesha attends the 2018 Billboard Music Awards.

After five years without a new album, Kesha released “Rainbow,” her third album, in 2017 to praise and celebration. The powerful album was the result of a years-long legal battle with Dr. Luke, her producer, over allegations of sexual assault and physical and emotional abuse. She was stuck in a five-record contract and couldn’t release music outside of the label.

The legal battle has not ended, but she’s touring, performing, and making music once again.


Neil Patrick Harris broke out as a child star in “Doogie Howser, M.D.” but his career stumbled until a quick cameo in “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle” changed perceptions and brought him into the forefront.

Michael Loccisano/Getty ImagesNeil Patrick Harris attends The 77th Annual Peabody Awards Ceremony in 2018.

Teenage Neil Patrick Harris broke out as the star of “Doogie Howser M.D.” in the early ’90s, but he couldn’t mimic the success in the years that followed.

Finally in 2004, he made a cameo as a fictionalized version of himself in the stoner comedy “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.” He followed that up with the role of Barney on “How I Met Your Mother,” which earned him four straight Emmy nominations, and his career has boomed.


Martha Stewart went from business mogul to prison and is now the host of a TV show with Snoop Dogg.

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty ImagesMartha Stewart attends the 2018 Time 100 Gala.

With a successful catering company, a series of best-selling books, and a magazine, Martha Stewart was a business mogul worth millions. But all of that came crashing down when she was charged with insider trading and found guilty on all counts, including charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy. She served five months in prison.

After she got out of prison, Stewart managed to work her way back as a popular personality and make her company profitable once again. She even has a show with Snoop Dogg, “Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party,” on VH1.


Nicole Richie was best known for “The Simple Life” before a series of arrests dominated headlines. Now, she’s turned to acting and designing.

Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty ImagesNicole Richie attends WE Day California in 2018.

Nicole Richie spent some time in rehab before filming “The Simple Life,” a reality show with Paris Hilton. The show rocketed the two to stardom the girls had never had before.

That all abruptly came to an end when Richie was arrested after driving down the wrong side of the highway and failing a sobriety test. She was sentenced to four days in jail and three years’ probation for the incident.

She is now married, has two kids, launched a successful fashion line, and starred on the NBC sitcom “Great News” until its cancellation in 2018.


Matthew McConaughey’s comeback in Hollywood was dubbed the McConaissance.

Matt Sayles/A.M.P.A.S via Getty ImagesMatthew McConaughey attends the 90th Annual Academy Awards in 2018.

Matthew McConaughey broke out in Hollywood thanks to “Dazed and Confused.” But by the early 2000s, he was being typecast in romantic comedies. But in 2013, McConaughey’s rise began again in what The New Yorker writer Rachel Syme dubbed the “McConaissance.”

He was nominated for an Emmy for “True Detective,” won an Oscar for “Dallas Buyers Club,” and starred in “The Wolf of Wall Street.”


Dave Chappelle is making movies and doing stand up comedy again after walking away from his famous Comedy Central show.

David Livingston/Getty ImagesDave Chappelle attends the Netflix FYSEE Kick-Off in 2018.

Chappelle was a well-known actor and comedian through the ’90s and was the star of his own sketch show on “Comedy Central.” But when “Chappelle’s Show” was supposed to be heading into its third season, Chappelle walked away in 2005. He popped up to occasionally perform stand-up, but he largely stayed out of the spotlight.

He starred in “Chi-raq” in 2015, his first movie role in almost 10 years. Then he made his “Saturday Night Live” hosting debut in 2016, which was followed by four specials released on Netflix in 2017. He won a Grammy in 2018 for his first two. He also starred alongside Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in “A Star Is Born.”


Drew Barrymore hasn’t exactly been out of the spotlight, but her career has had its ups and downs.

Christopher Polk/Getty ImagesDrew Barrymore in 2018.

Drew Barrymore broke out as a child actor in “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” but her early teens were troubled. She spent two stints in rehab – one for drug and alcohol abuse and the other for a suicide attempt – all before she was 15. Because of her reputation, she struggled to find work.

In an interview with Movieline when she was 17, the actress said, “I had two, three years of casting directors telling me I’d never work again in this town … That s–t- only made me angrier, made me put that much more into my work … And, through pure ambition, ‘I showed those sons of b—es that I can do it.’ Success is the best revenge in the world. And I’m back.”

She continued to act, but it was 1998’s “The Wedding Singer” that brought her back to the forefront. She followed it up with movies like “Charlie’s Angels” and “50 First Dates.” Now, she’s the star of Netflix’s “Santa Clarita Diet.”


Paula Abdul was a pop star in the ’80s and ’90s, but her career had some setbacks, until she rose again thanks to “American Idol.”

Jesse Grant/Getty ImagesPaula Abdul attends WE Day California in 2018.

Paula Abdul was best known as a choreographer and pop star in the 1980s and early ’90s. She had six No. 1 singles on the Billboard charts and won a Grammy for “Opposites Attract,” but her music career stalled after an accident left her in pain.

In an interview with Forbes in 2017, the musician said, “I had to leave the music business … I crash landed in a plane when I was on tour 26 years ago. I went through a lot of reconstructive spinal cord surgeries.”

Abdul rose to prominence once again in 2002 as a judge on “American Idol,” which she did for eight seasons. She tried to revive her music career in 2008, and though she had a minor hit, she didn’t mimic the early success she had on the charts. Since then, she’s acted and appeared on multiple reality shows.


Michael Keaton’s career was strong in the ’80s and ’90s, but the velocity didn’t continue through the 2000s until he was cast in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).”

Dia Dipasupil/Getty ImagesMichael Keaton attends the 2018 Vanity Fair Oscar Party.

“Beetlejuice” launched Michael Keaton to “Stardom,” and he followed the Tim Burton film up with Burton’s “Batman.” Keaton kept working – and received praise for movies like “Jackie Brown” – but nothing was quite the same.

Then in 2014, he was cast in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” and earned an Oscar nomination. He followed that up with “Spotlight” and played the villain in Marvel’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”


Shania Twain retired from music in 2004, but came back with an album in 2017 and revealed her diagnosis of Lyme disease.

Gerardo Mora/Getty ImagesShania Twain performs in 2017.

Shania Twain had won five Grammys and was a pop country superstar before she retired from music in 2004. In 2011, she revealed that she had been struggling with dysphonia, a disorder that affects vocal cords. She had to go through voice therapy. In 2017, she revealed that the dysphonia was caused by Lyme disease.

She came back a few times with a Las Vegas show in 2012 and arena tour in 2015, but 2017 marked her major comeback when she released “Now,” her first studio album in 15 years. The album went platinum and hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts.


Rob Lowe was a teen idol, but his career hit a low point before he returned on hit shows like “The West Wing” and “Parks and Recreation.”

JB Lacroix/ Getty ImagesRob Lowe attends the premiere of ‘Super Troopers 2’ in 2018.

Rob Lowe broke out as a teen actor in hit movies like “The Outsiders” and “St. Elmo’s Fire” and was a member of the Brat Pack. But then a sex tape scandal rocked his world. A video surfaced that showed Lowe having sex with two women, one of whom was underage. But because it happened in Georgia, the age of consent was 16, so he didn’t face any charges. Lowe went into rehab shortly after and is now almost 28 years sober.

But his career picked up once again when he was cast on “The West Wing,” which earned him an Emmy nomination. He followed that up with a role on “Brothers and Sisters” and was the beloved Chris Trager on “Parks and Recreation.”


Mandy Moore’s career slowed a bit in the early 2000s, but she’s back and stronger than ever as a star on “This Is Us.”

Dia Dipasupil/Getty ImagesMandy Moore attends the 2018 Paley Honours in 2018.

Mandy Moore burst onto the music scene as a teen and had a hit with her debut single “Candy.” She broke out as an actress with roles in “The Princess Diaries” and “A Walk to Remember,” but things started slowing for her career. She had a few small roles, but nothing stuck.

Then she was cast as the voice of Rapunzel in Disney’s 2010 movie “Tangled” and now stars on “This Is Us.” She earned her first Golden Globe nomination for the hit TV show.


Eminem released a comeback album in 2017.

Theo Wargo/Getty ImagesEminem performs at Samsung Galaxy stage during 2014 Lollapalooza.

Eminem scored his first mainstream success with “The Slim Shady LP” in 1999. He won two Grammys off of that album and followed that up with more success – and more Grammys – thanks to “The Marshall Mathers LP” and “The Eminem Show.” He later starred in “8 Mile,” a film loosely based on his own life, and won an Oscar for his original song “Lose Yourself.” But after 2004’s “Encore,” Eminem disappeared for a while.

After cancelling his 2005 European tour, Eminem was treated for addiction to prescription sleeping medication. When his friend Proof was shot and killed, Eminem became depressed.

“I think it kind of hit me so hard,” he told XXL. “It just blindsided me. I just went into such a dark place that, with everything, the drugs, my thoughts, everything. And the more drugs I consumed, and it was all depressants I was taking, the more depressed I became, the more self-loathing I became.”

He came back with “Relapse” in 2009. He disappeared from the music scene briefly after his 2013 album but came back in 2017 with “Revival,” which featured collaborations with BeyoncĂ©, Ed Sheeran, Pink, and more.


As well-known as Ellen DeGeneres is now, her career wasn’t always like that.

Kevin Winter/Getty ImagesEllen DeGeneres presents the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award onstage in 2017.

Ellen DeGeneres‘s career started with her doing stand-up and soon transitioned into acting roles. She rose in popularity thanks to her late ’90s sitcom “Ellen.” A few years into the series, both she and her character came out, but then ratings fell and her career faltered. She returned a few years later for the sitcom “The Ellen Show,” but it was canceled before the season finished airing.

Then 2003 brought a whole new level of success. DeGeneres was chosen to voice Dory in Disney-Pixar’s “Finding Nemo” and launched her own talk show. “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” has won 29 Emmys since its start. She has risen as an icon, taking home nine Teen Choice Awards and 20 People’s Choice Awards. She’s also hosted the Academy Awards, Grammy Awards, and the Primetime Emmys.


Vanessa Williams was faced with a scandal after she was crowned Miss America but went on to have a successful career.

Steven Ferdman/Getty ImagesVanessa Williams attends the New York City Ballet 2018 Spring Gala.

Vanessa Williams was primed for success after she made history as the first African-American woman to be crowned Miss America in 1983. But in July 1984, Williams became the first woman to resign her crown following a scandal involving nude photos that were published in Penthouse magazine without her consent. At the time, Williams told People that she’d hit “rock bottom.”

But that wasn’t the end for Williams. She launched a successful music career garnering 11 Grammy nominations, releasing eight studio albums, and scoring multiple Billboard hits. Her acting career has also fared well. She starred on “Ugly Betty,” “Desperate Housewives,” and was recently on “The Librarians.” To top it all off, she’s been nominated for three Emmys and a Tony.


Christian Slater disappeared from the public eye for a bit but is back on TV.

Emma McIntyre/Getty ImagesChristian Slater attends The Alliance For Children’s Rights 26th Annual Dinner on 2018.

Christian Slater dominated the 1980s and early ’90s. He was a breakout star in “Heathers” and a radio DJ in “Pump Up the Volume.” He was in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” and “Interview With the Vampire.” But he had multiple run-ins with the law: There was drunk driving, trying to board an aeroplane with a gun in his luggage, assault while under the influence, and a later-dropped charge of harassing a woman on the street. In the meantime, he was in a series of quickly canceled TV series and movie flops.

He bounced back with “Mr. Robot” in 2015 and won his first Golden Globe for the role.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, call

SAMHSA’s National Helpline

(1-800-662-4357) to get confidential, free, 24/7 support for individuals and family members facing substance use disorders. The service offers referrals to treatment facilities, support groups, and more.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.