“Don’t call it a comeback, I been here for years.” — Betty White, “Mama Didn’t Say The Quote About Balls”
There’s nothing greater than watching a phoenix rise from the ashes of self-imposed exile, provided it’s not a zombie (River) or a rapper (Joaquin). Someone you might not have even realized how much you missed until you suddenly felt their absence like a tiny bald fat hole in your hearts. Death takes plenty into his sweet embrace; generally being a giant asshole takes even more. But, occasionally, a person realizes — for whatever reason — that their heart’s just not in it, and they need to walk away.
Sometimes you just need to step away from the plate. Sometimes your priorities aren’t in order, or you’re just feeling the pressures of fame. Sometimes you just don’t feel like you’re playing at the top of your game, and that it’s time to turn it in. Sometimes you’re going through personal struggles, health issues, bereavement, misery, woe, or there’s a knot in your throat you just can’t swallow. Sometimes, it’s just not fun anymore. For whatever reason, a time comes when you feel the need to pack it in.
Many actors have chosen to gracefully bow out of the limelight rather than die in the glare of the public eye. This is usually a pretty excellent choice sometimes brought about by the aforementioned reasons — it means you get to go out in the top of your form. You don’t end up a withered joke, an unwelcome guest at the party who just won’t leave, that skeevy old coot still trying to pick up cheap thrills at the bar. You go out a hero. A lot of times, people don’t even realize you’ve left.
There are a few actors and actresses that I kind of wish would have a renaissance, that would find that perfect role or perfect reason to come back. Because sometimes, you just miss it. Sometimes, it feels good to come back on stage and stand before the throngs and bask in their adoration. To be part of something that makes you feel special and loved and gives you that indescribable thrill. Like Henry Winkler on “Arrested Development,” or Chevy Chase on “Community.” Or sometimes you’re just reminded of why the fuck you walked off in the first place. Only time can tell. Just ask Joe Pesci.
Below are seven actors who still linger in our hearts, but who chose not to return to the screen. And I’m not talking about “Whiggety-Whiggety-Whatthefuck Joaquin Phoenix or Amanda “From Nickelodeon to Gimme My Nickel” Bynes. I mean honest to God retired. Who knows what the future holds? Perhaps they’ll find a reason to step back, to return to applause and the adoration of million. Perhaps they’ll squash their inner demons, make peace with whatever destroyed them on the inside. Or maybe they’ll just start playing baseball.
Last Major Role: The Jackal (1997), Sneakers (1992) A fortunate occurrence for many black actors and actresses is that they tend to receive more roles the older they become. Call it the “Wise Negro” stereotype that perpetuates Hollywood, but the general public takes comfort in seeing old black people in half-glasses waxing intellectual. Sidney Poitier could most easily return, but he’s choosing instead to sit out his twilight days with his grandchildren, writing inspirational books. He’s established himself nicely as being upper echelons of authority — the stern lieutenant or chief of police, a cabinet member or major political figure.
Last Major Role: Welcome to Mooseport (2004), Runaway Jury (2003): A recent interview on the 10th anniversary of The Royal Tenenbaums had the cast reminiscing about what a spectacular bastard Gene Hackman was. He sounded no more exacting than many of the actors who were in vogue during the 1970’s. Wes Anderson at least got the pleasure of feeling the protective warm embryonic embrace of Bill Murray standing atop a boulder. But Hackman always played stern sons of bitches. He was an amazing villain — even when he was playing good guys he was a fucking bad guy. I couldn’t tell you what it’ll take to get Hackman back, but I feel like it’s going to take a miraculous script in the hands of a veteran director.
Last Major Role: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), Finding Forrester (2000): One can’t be certain if Connery “retired” or was put out to pasture. Connery had an amazing run in the 1990’s and 2000’s where he would, in the words of Nick Cave “crawl over fifty good pussies just to get to one fat boy’s asshole.” He passed up roles in Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Matrix, Die Hard: With A Vengeance, and Jurassic Park to play instead in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and The Avengers. He’s said that it would take something extraordinary to bring him back — and he managed to dodge the crystal bullet that was [REDACTED] and the [REDACTED] — so it sounds like he’s making smarter choices. I’d like to see him get super fat and pull the late career Marlon Brando insanity, but Connery appears content to lend his voice to some animated features.
Last Major Role: “Will & Grace” (2002-3), “Something Wilder” (1994-5): His is a sad tale. My fiancee and I met him at his book signing here in L.A for My French Whore. Understand, my future wife watched Young Frankenstein pretty much once a day, every day for the entirety of three school years when she was a child. Meeting him was magical. He still carries this warm charisma, even though he looks terribly ravaged by age. When Gilda Radner’s candle was snuffed in 1989, it took much of the gleam off Wilder. Now that his own cancer is in remission, he’s taken to writing, which he does wonderfully. I’d actually adore reuniting the Three Amigos against Wilder as a charismatic version of Gene Hackman villain — sort of an elderly Willy Wonka.
Last Major Role: The Anniversary Party (2001): I didn’t realize Phoebe Cates wasn’t making movies anymore. But like Kerri Green, she only exists for me in the 1980’s. I tried rattling off her movies. Basically it was Gremlins and the sequel, Fast Times at Taking Off Red Bikinis While Judge Reinhold Spanks It In A Pirate Hat, and Drop Dead Fred. The problem Cates faces is the one that all actresses over 37 in Hollywood face, unless they’re fat or defying gravity — nobody wants middle-aged ingenues. Personally, I don’t see why, if only because Meg Ryan’s face. She could easily pass for a Disney kid’s mom — she’s got that spritely quality.
Last Major Role: “The Chris Isaak Show” (2002), Kiss of the Dragon (2001): In 2003, the Pacific Coast Highway tried to kill Bridget Fonda, as it had done with RDJ and Nick Nolte in previous years. She sustained severe neck and back injuries, and then on painkillers, decided to marry Danny Elfman. Since then, she hasn’t done any work, whether because of complications from her injuries or because she’s happy rolling in the proceeds of that Oingo Boingo beat. Fonda was one of the original ass-kick-chicks, even when we weren’t confusing her with Jennifer Jason Leigh. I don’t think age would be a factor either, because while she was an ingenue/heroine, she had the quality that would carry someone like a Kim Basinger or a Michelle Pfeiffer (who’s still working and is going to be in the new “Dark Shadows.)
Last Major Role: Big Bully (1996), Little Giants (1994): Oh, Canada. Yet another funny man who lost the spark when his wife was taken by cancer. Moranis retired after the last Honey, We Shrunk Something movie in 1997, though he has done some voiceover work. He only intended for it to be a sabbatical, but he really enjoyed the lack of pressure. Perhaps now that his kids are grown, he might make a glorious comeback — pleaseGhostbusters3pleaseGhostbusters3itwouldbebetterthanaBillMurraycameoinZombieland — but it’s hard to fault the man for enjoying the relaxing nature of not being in the spotlight. Plus, he can watch as his fellow funnymen falter in their autumnal periods. Hopefully he falls on the spectrum slightly behind Murray but ahead of Dave Thomas, and nowhere near Reitman, Ramis, or Akyroyd.