Every once in a while, an actor will come on the scene with impact, impressing everyone with a powerhouse debut performance. But sometimes a great freshmen performance fails to lead to a good follow up, and the person who made the impressive debut starts to fade from the scene. It’s always sad when such potential is unmet. Here are 10 actors who started with a bang but faded with a whimper.
Heather Donahue (The Blair Witch Project-1999) She came on the scene in a big way, starring in the low-budget hit film that became such a sensation and started the ‘hand-held-camera’ style of film making (Used in Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield and others). She seemed poised to be the new Jamie Lee Curtis, the horror film “it girl”. She got a lot of offers to do other horror films but turned them down, in order to prevent type casting. Since then, she’s done a number of TV appearances, most notably in the Spielberg mini-series Taken (2002) on the Sy-Fy channel, as well as a few short-films and a handful of minor film roles. Surprisingly, she gave up acting in 2008 to grow medical marijuana on a California farm instead.
Rochelle Davis (Played Sarah in The Crow—1994) A young actress with potential, she became so traumatized by the death of Crow co-star Brandon Lee—who died from a gunshot wound when a live round was fired from a prop gun—that she never worked in film again. (Except for a small role in 2009’s Hell House.) She’s had a tumultuous life since then, getting into some legal troubles. Her mother blames the trauma of Lee’s death for Rochelle’s troubled history.
Jaye Davidson (Played Dil in The Crying Game -1992). Technically, he could be considered a two-hit wonder, since he also appeared in Stargate in 1994. Nevertheless, Davison is best remembered for his Oscar nominated performance as the transsexual Dil in the Crying Game. However, after Stargate, Davidson suddenly and surprisingly quit the business and took back the job he had before The Crying Game, which was working as a fashion assistant in London. He currently works doing big-name fashion shoots for vogue and other top magazines.
Haing S. Ngor (Played Dith Pran in The Killing Fields-1984) Ngor was the perfect choice to play the Cambodian assistant to NY Times Correspondent Sydney Schanberg in the Vietnam drama. Ngor himself had been a prisoner of the Khmer Regime in Vietnam, so he knew first-hand how horrible the situation was. He won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this film. He was the first non-professional actor since Harold Russell in 1946 (more on Russell later) to win an Oscar, and only the second Asian Actor to win one at that time. After that, he had several TV acting credits and a few more minor film roles. Perhaps his accent and the lack of well-written roles for Asians limited his chances to land more film work. He wrote a best-selling autobiography about his terrible experiences in Vietnam. Ngor was shot to death in 1996. The investigation into his death never turned up the culprit.
Peter Billingsley (Played Ralphie Parker in A Christmas Story - 1983) He knocked it out of the park as the kid who wanted a Red Rider B.B. Gun for Christmas in the beloved holiday classic A Christmas Story. But despite having appeared in so well-loved a film, he never managed to recapture that success and his acting career slowly faded out. He eventually switched his focus to producing and has worked behind the scenes on such films as Iron Man and The Break-Up.
Danny Lloyd (Played Danny Torrance in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining -1980). Despite the success of the film, Lloyd did not enjoy the experience and decided that he didn’t want to act for a living. He finished his schooling as a science major. He currently teaches biology at a community college in Kentucky.
Ted Neely (Played Jesus in Jesus Christ: Superstar—1973) The movie was profitable and became a cult favorite, leading to similar religious-themed musical films like Godspell. Neely should have ridden on a wave of popularity from this. Instead, he faded out. He did a few TV appearances, in shows like Starsky and Hutch and the Man from Atlantis, but by the 1980s, he was no longer acting. He tried his hand at composing music for a time.
Peter Ostrum (Played Charlie in the film Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory-1971) He was offered a studio contract but he and his family agreed that he should pursue a more secure line of work. He is currently a large animal veterinarian in Lowville, New York.
Harold Russell (Played Homer Parrish in the Best Years of our Lives-1946) Like Ngor, Russell was a man who experienced what he acted. He lost his hands in World War Two. When the film was being cast, director William Wyler really wanted an actual handicapped person to play the role of the disabled Parrish. When Russell auditioned, he blew everyone away and instantly got the part. He won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Sadly, there was little work after that for an actor with no hands, so he didn’t act again for almost 40 years. He did some TV appearances in Trapper John MD and China Beach in the 80s. Russell passed away in 2002.
Maria Falconetti (Starred as the eponymous Joan in The Passion of Joan of Arc-1928). Her magnificent acting in this film is generally regarded by film historians as the single best performance of the silent era. It was ranked # 26 on Premier Magazine’s ‘Best Film Performances of all Time' list. The noted film critic Pauline Kael has praised it as the single greatest performance ever in the history of film! (Sound or silent.) The French-born Falconetti was undoubtedly extraordinary in this film, displaying the angst of the doomed Joan. However, she didn’t enjoy the experience. She was a comedic stage actress and preferred to return to doing comedy on stage. The heavy drama of playing Joan was just no fun for her. Other than one prior short film (Le Clown), this was her one screen appearance. She returned to the stage immediately after and never followed up this incredible performance.
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