Celebrities Whose Careers Miraculously Rose From the Dead

This comeback crew pulled off the impossible.

By: Benjamin H. Smith

Today is Easter Sunday, the day a majority of Christians around the world mark resurrection of Jesus Christ, in whose sacrifice the world was redeemed of sin. Fortunately for him, in life he was a carpenter, not an actor or singer, because the entertainment industry is far less forgiving, and you usually only get one shot at success before your career is left for dead. There are however a few select celebrities whose careers miraculously recovered from total ruin, even after committing some rather egregious sins of their own. So in the spirit of Easter, check out our list of entertainers whose careers have risen from the dead and even one who may have actually risen from the dead himself.

  • Robert Downey Jr.


    Everybody’s favorite man in iron almost lost it all due to drug and alcohol addiction in the 1990s. His 1996 arrest for possession of heroin, cocaine and a .357 Magnum handgun was the beginning of a very public battle with his bad habits which led to two separate prison sentences, a 6 month bid in Los Angeles County jail and a year long stay at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison. After his release from the latter and yet another arrest in 2001, Downey fully committed to recovery and the subsequent years saw him slowly restore his reputation as an actor with several television appearances and parts in indie films before his 2008 breakthrough role as Tony Stark in Iron Man. His work in the Marvel Studios franchise has made him a genuine mainstream movie star and one of Hollywood’s most in demand actors.

  • Mickey Rourke

    ”] Rourke was one of the most exciting young actors of the early ‘80s, playing hunky, big-hearted tough guys in such movies as The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984), 9½ Weeks (1986) and Angel Heart (1987). And then…well, he just got kinda weird. His bad reputation preceded such bad movies as Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and bad ideas like starting a boxing career at the age of 39, which resulted in injuries that led to bad plastic surgery. Thankfully though, he eventually returned to acting, and went on to win a Best Actor Golden Globe Award for his portrayal as down on his luck professional wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson in Darren Aronofsky’s 2008 drama The Wrestler, and also starred as Whiplash in Iron Man 2.

  • Neil Patrick Harris

    Much like the fictional medical prodigy he played on Doogie Howser, M.D., Neil Patrick Harris displayed remarkable talent at an early age. This eventually led to his starring role on the above-mentioned TV series as the teenage physician that balances a medical career with life as a normal high schooler. Sadly though, when the show was cancelled in 1993 after 4 seasons, Harris struggled to be taken seriously as a grown up actor. That all changed in 2005 when he landed the role of rascally womanizer Barney Stinson on the long running hit TV show How I Met Your Mother. Since the show has been off the air he has stayed busy hosting the 2015 Oscars, the first openly gay man to do so, cultivating a Broadway career and was recently cast as the villain Count Olaf in Netflix’s television adaptation of the A Series of Unfortunate Events novels.

  • Paula Abdul

    Throughout the 1980s Paula Abdul’s star was on the ascent. She went from being a Los Angeles Lakers cheerleader to choreographing tours for The Jacksons, including sister Janet, and eventually became a pop singer herself with an impressive run of #1 singles. By the mid ‘90s though her solo career hit a wall and she found herself back behind the scenes again working as a choreographer. With the 2002 inaugural season of American Idol however, she stepped back into the limelight as one of the show’s three judges and became the requisite good cop to Simon Cowell’s bad cop. Since then she has become ubiquitous with TV talent shows, appearing on such series as The X Factor and So You Think You Can Dance among many others.

  • Drew Barrymore

    Born into a famously dysfunctional family of actors, a movie star at age 7 and in rehab by 14, Drew Barrymore is the poster child for why you shouldn’t raise your children in Hollywood. She melted hearts as the precocious younger sister in the 1982 blockbuster E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, but just a few years later she was experimenting with drugs and alcohol, attempted suicide and spent 18 months in a mental institution. She eventually got her life together and after her performance in 1998’s The Wedding Singer became the go-to actress for that lovable girl next door. She has also become a successful Hollywood producer for such films as Charlie’s Angels and Fever Pitch, both of which she also starred in.

  • Mike Tyson

    Few stars have fallen as hard as Iron Mike, though in his case we’re talking about him literally hitting the mat after getting knocked out. And in many ways that first knockout he received in 1990 at the hands of Buster Douglas seemed to mark the beginning of a long downward spiral for the boxer. Tyson’s fall from the top included jail time for rape, a $3 million dollar fine and boxing ban for biting a chunk off Evander Holyfield’s ear. He eventually saw his dreams of regaining his championship beaten to dust after his loss to Lennox Lewis, whose children he had threatened to eat. And then in 2009 he made the cameo to end all cameos, playing himself to hilarious effect in The Hangover. Subsequent television and movie guest appearances and the Adult Swim animated series Mike Tyson Mysteries have gone a long way to rehabilitating the former “Baddest Man on the Planet”’s public standing but hey, don’t get him mad.

  • Rob Lowe

    In 1988 actor Rob Lowe nearly saw his entire career go up in smoke thanks to a relatively new phenomenon: the now all too common celebrity sex tape. The video showed him doing the nasty with a 16-year-old female fan, and that coupled with audiences growing tired of him and his fellow “Brat Pack” compatriots left his movie career on life support for the next 10 years. Besides the occasional cameo, usually making fun of himself, he was yesterday’s news until discovering the many opportunities of network television. Starting with The West Wing in 1999, and including memorable roles on Brothers & Sisters and Parks and Recreation, Lowe has become one of the best known actors on TV, sex tapes be damned.

  • Pee-wee Herman

    Few things are as unbecoming for the host of a children’s television show than getting caught masturbating inside a pornographic movie theater. Yikes. Unfortunately, that’s what happened to the nerdy host of Pee-wee’s Playhouse in 1991. The bust led to a nearly 10 years of self-imposed exile from the public eye for Pee-wee Herman a.k.a. comedian and actor Paul Reubens. While the actor has made a number of well received cameos and played supporting characters over the years, none of them can compare to the excitement generated by his just released Netflix original movie, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, which was co-produced by Judd Apatow.

  • John Travolta

    In many ways, John Travolta perfected the modern idea of the career rebirth. Though the television comedy Welcome Back Kotter and the movies Saturday Night Fever and Grease had made him a 1970s movie star and sex symbol, his career stalled out in the ‘80s. But when Quentin Tarantino cast him as Vincent Vega in 1994’s Pulp Fiction, a star was rebranded and reborn. After Pulp killer movie roles started pouring in, from his Golden Globe winning performance in Get Shorty to a turn in drag in the musical Hairspray, and he can currently be seen as O.J. Simpson lawyer Robert Shapiro on the television series American Crime Story.

  • Tupac Shakur

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    So far we’ve been talking about entertainers whose careers died but only one has actually died and ACTUALLY CAME BACK FROM THE DEAD! That’s right Tupac Shakur! Rumors of his resurrection started soon after his death with the release of the enigmatic album The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, but seeing is believing and on April 15, 2012 thousands of people saw Pac perform at the Coachella Music Festival with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre. So OK, maybe it was only a hologram of him, but that’s just because he couldn’t get out of Cuba in time for the show, given that’s where he’s been kickin’ it the whole time.