The ‘80s came and went in the blink of an eye and, when they left, they took all of the actors we came to know and love with them. We can’t help but wonder what happened to our favorite faces from way back when. These are the first five “forgotten” actors we have picked.
Michael J Fox
Fox’s first feature film roles were Midnight Madness (1980) and Class of 1984 (1982), credited in both as Michael Fox. Shortly afterward, he began playing “Young Republican” Alex P. Keaton in the show Family Ties which aired on NBC for seven seasons, 1982–89. At its peak, the audience for Family Ties drew one-third of America’s households every week. Fox won three Emmy awards for Family Ties, in 1986, 1987, and 1988. He also won a Golden Globe Award in 1989. In January 1985, Fox was cast to replace Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly, a teenager who is accidentally sent back in time from 1985 to 1955 in Back to the Future.
His role in Family Ties, as well as his acting in Teen Wolf and Back to the Future, Fox became a teen idol, one of the “50 Greatest Teen Idols.”
Fox went on to play several dramatic roles in the films The Secret of My Success (1987), Casualties of War (1989), Doc Hollywood (1991) and The American President (1995), amongst others. But it wasn’t until he was cast as the lead character in the American sitcom, Spin City. The series was a huge hit and later garnered Fox a Prime Time Emmy Award. However, due to the progression of his Parkinson’s Disease at the time, the actor departed from the show after the end of the fourth season. Fox lending his voice to Stuart Little, Stuart Little 2, Stuart Little 3: Call of the Wild, Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Marcel Maggot from The Magic 7 (2009).
Fox created The Michael J. Fox Foundation, to help advance every promising research path to curing Parkinson’s disease, including embryonic stem cell studies.
Haim landed his first big-screen appearance in the American film Firstborn (1984), Secret Admirer (1985), Murphy’s Romance (1985) and a starring role in the Stephen King film Silver Bullet. The next year, his role in the made-for-TV-movie Lucas (1986), earned Haim his first critical acclaim: a nomination at the Young Artist Awards. Haim also had his first encounter with drugs and alcohol around this time. In 1987 Haim featured role in Joel Schumacher’s vampire film, The Lost Boys, which also starred Kiefer Sutherland and Corey Feldman. The film was a popular hit received by most critics, made over $32M at the U.S. box office, and is regarded as a ’80s classic. The performance earned Haim another Young Artist Award nomination, as Best Young Male Superstar in a Motion Picture.
In 1988, Haim starred in two more widely released popular movies, the comedy License to Drive and the horror film Watchers. Haim and Feldman next appeared together in the film Dream a Little Dream (1989), which was another fan favorite.
His problems with drugs were growing, Haim began to lose his core audience. His performances suffered, and his film career in the 1990s declined into direct-to-video releases as his habit ruined his ability to work.
On March 10, 2010, Haim was found unresponsive in an Oakwood, California, apartment. He was then rushed to a Burbank, California, hospital, where he was officially declared dead. He was 38 years old.
In 2011, Feldman claimed that a “Hollywood mogul” who abused Haim was to blame for his death. The 2013 memoir by Corey Feldman, Coreyography, details the sexual abuse he and Haim suffered as young actors in the film industry; during the filming of Lucas.
At 15, Phoenix had a significant role in Rob Reiner’s popular coming-of-age film Stand By Me (1986), which made him a household name. Phoenix teamed with Harrison Ford for the 1989 box office hit Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which was directed by Steven Spielberg. Tackling much more weighty material, Phoenix co-starred with Reeves in Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho (1991). The film was a moderate financial success, grossing over $6.4 million in North America, which was above its estimated budget of $2.5 million. Phoenix received several awards for his performance in the film, including the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the 1991 Venice Film Festival, Best Male Lead from the Independent Spirit Awards, and Best Actor from the National Society of Film Critics.
Although Phoenix’s movie career was generating most of the income for his family, it has been stated by close friends and relatives that his true passion was music. Phoenix was a singer, songwriter, and an accomplished guitarist.
On October 30, 1993, Phoenix was to perform with his close friend Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers onstage at The Viper Room, a Hollywood nightclub partly owned at the time by actor Johnny Depp. At some point during the evening, Phoenix took a cocktail of drugs and became seriously ill. He was helped outside and began to have seizures. His brother Joaquin called 911 while his sister Rain tried to help Phoenix who was lying on the sidewalk. When the ambulance arrived, paramedics worked on resuscitating the young actor at the scene. Their efforts failed, and they transported him to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center where he was declared dead.
In 1984, Nelson starred in his first “real” movie, the teen comedy, Making the Grade.
Nelson roles in John Hughes’s The Breakfast Club (1985) and Joel Schumacher’s St. Elmo’s Fire (1985) – and his affiliation with the Brat Pack – a group of young actors who helped define the decade, that made Nelson a star. In 1986 Nelson provided the voice of Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime in The Transformers: The Movie and teamed up with Breakfast Club alumna Ally Sheedy for the third time. Unfortunately, response to other movies wasn’t nearly as positive. It received negative reviews and all tanked at the box office.
But when the 80’s ended, the Brat Pack actors found themselves scrambling. Just five years later when the Pack was entering their 30s, they were collectively dealing with irrelevance. By 1990, Nelson was reduced to TV movies.
In 1991, Nelson had a minor comeback when he appeared in a supporting role in Mario Van Peebles’ crime drama, New Jack City. Reviews were mostly positive and the movie was a hit at the box office. But Nelson became somewhat relevant again.
Nelson role was then reduced to TV guest appearances and straight to video roles. Reprised his role as Rodimus in Transformers: Animated and voiced Ben 10,000 and Eon in Ben 10 Omniverse.
Nelson played a pivotal role in the final season of Nikita.
Eric Stoltz had a minor role in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which introduced him to the writer and director of the film, Cameron Crowe. Crowe took a shine to Stoltz, promising him a role in all of his future films. With that, Stoltz was able to continue his Hollywood career, appearing in Crowe’s next four films. (The Wild Life, Singles, Say Anything…, and Jerry Maguire.)
Originally cast as Marty McFly for Back to the Future in late 1984, he was replaced after about a month of filming when Michael J. Fox (the director’s first choice for the role) agreed to divide time between the movie and his television sitcom Family Ties.
In 1985 Stoltz, garnered attention for his portrayal of Rocky Dennis in the biographical drama film Mask, which earned him the nomination for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture.
During the 1990s, Stoltz went back and forth between stage, film, and television. appeared in a wide variety of films from mainstream fare like Some Kind of Wonderful to independent films like Pulp Fiction, Killing Zoe, and Kicking and Screaming. On television, he had a recurring role as Helen Hunt’s character’s ex-boyfriend on Mad About You (five episodes, 1994–1998), spent a year on Chicago Hope (1994), and did some TV and cable movies
In 2010, he portrayed Daniel Graystone in the science fiction television series Caprica and became a regular director on the television series Glee.