Why ’80s Star Phoebe Cates Left Hollywood and Never Looked Back

Celebrities face a lot of pressures. The job may look glamorous and full of joy, but the truth is that the work of living your life in the spotlight — not to mention managing grueling filming and performance schedules — takes quite a toll.

Many people who are poised for long-term success choose instead to shift their attention elsewhere. Those who choose to walk away when they’re at the peak of their careers definitely leave fans puzzled, but taking a closer look at their path can help make sense of those difficult choices. 

One of those stars is Phoebe Cates. She was a rising star who captured audience attention in several films in the 1980s. Just as she was poised to really grow her popularity, she vanished from the scene. 

Phoebe Cates was in many classic ’80s films

Jennifer Berghaus, Phoebe Cates and Ivana Callahan
Jennifer Berghaus, Phoebe Cates, and Ivana Callahan | BEN GABBE/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

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Phoebe Cates was born in New York City in 1963, and she was well on her way to a successful film career that began in 1982. She landed a role in the now iconic Fast Times at Ridgemont High. She had a very memorable bikini drop scene in the film, and her performance there helped launch her into several other teen roles.

In 1984, she had a substantial role in the popular film Gremlins and its 1990 sequel. 

Most notably, Cates landed the starring role alongside Rik Mayall in the 1991 film Drop Dead Fred. In it, Cates plays Lizzie Cronin, a young woman who has to deal with the hijinks and chaos of her childhood imaginary friend. The film has received praise as well as a dedicated fandom for its fun exploration of serious themes about finding one’s self and place in the world. 

These iconic roles mean that many people still watching the nostalgic films recognize Cates’ face today, but they’ll probably wonder why they haven’t seen her recently. 

Phoebe Cates left Hollywood the 1990s

Shortly after her appearance in Drop Dead Fred, Cates fell off the map completely. She had a few more roles in films, but by 1994, she was out of the acting business.

While plenty of celebrities fade away over time, Cates dramatic disappearance at the height of her career was definitely noteworthy. What happened to her? She made a choice to focus on her family instead. 

Cates was only 17 when she started acting, and by the time she exited from the scene, her priorities and focus had shifted. In 1989, she married fellow actor Kevin Kline.

According to Country Living, by 1991, they had a growing family as they welcomed their first child, a son named Owen. In 1994, they added their daughter Greta, and this is around the time that Cates stopped appearing in films. 

Kline did an interview with Playboy in which he talked about their plan to balance working parenthood. They had agreed to alternate acting roles so that one of them was always available for the children. Speaking in 1998, Kline explained, “whenever it’s been her slot to work, Phoebe has chosen to stay with the children.” 

In 2001, Cates briefly came back to the screen for The Anniversary Party, a film co-written by Cates’ previous co-star Jennifer Jason Leigh. That brief appearance seems to be an exception, though. Cates stepped back out of the spotlight. 

Phoebe Cates shifted her focus to fashion

Instead of returning to the pressures of Hollywood, Cates instead opened a fashion boutique in New York. According to Travel and Leisure, her Madison Avenue shop, Blue Tree, earns high praise for its quirky collection of clothing and household items. 

These days, Cates’ kids are grown and starting to explore the world of entertainment for themselves. Her focus on her boutique has helped her grow a successful career.

Daughter Greta Kline, who performs as a musician under the name Frankie Cosmos, explains that neither of her parents really focused on fame as part of their family culture: “I didn’t really understand how fame works until I’d gotten my own little taste of it. Now I’m thinking more about what it means to be in the public eye. My parents really weren’t ever, like, into celebrity culture.”