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Why Steve Guttenberg doesn't make many movies anymore

How does a guy go from being one of the defining movie stars of an entire decade to virtually falling off the pop culture map? Just ask Steve Guttenberg. He earned his first professional credit in 1977, when he was just 19, and has film and television credits listed for 2018. That's a span of 41 years — an incredible feat in any business, let alone the fickle entertainment industry. Still, there's no denying we don't see him as much — or in anywhere near the same light — as we did during the peak of Guttenberg's box office success.

In the 1980s, Guttenberg rode high on a wave of top-grossing movies. He's perhaps best known for starring as Carey Mahoney in the bawdy Police Academy franchise, but he also starred in fundamentally '80s offerings like Cocoon, Three Men and a Baby, and Short Circuit.

Since then, the frequency and relative quality associated with his projects have changed tremendously, and his profile has faded along the way. Missing this '80s icon at your local cineplex and wondering whatever happened to him? We've rounded up the real reasons you don't hear from Steve Guttenberg anymore.

Playing it safe

Guttenberg rose to prominence as a star in the Police Academy franchise, playing the essentially good-hearted goofball Carey Mahoney in the first four installments of the long-running series. It was a role well suited for Guttenberg's seemingly innate ability to play charming, quintessentially '80s slackers who stepped up when they really had to; unfortunately, Academy also typified his filmography in other ways — specifically its low standing in the critical community

Overall, while Guttenberg's box office peak included a number of highly regarded critical successes like Diner, Cocoon, and The Bedroom Window, for the most part, he became known for playing affable guys in lightweight comedies like Short Circuit, Three Men and a Baby, and the Academy movies — not exactly the type of thing that sends casting agents running for the phone demanding to have an actor. He also appeared in a number of ensemble pieces, so although he was definitely a familiar quantity for audiences at the time, he wasn't solely responsible for their success.

Hanks for the memories

Tom Hanks offers a perfect example of how Guttenberg wasn't the only '80s breakout star with everyman appeal. Hanks' first big vehicle, Bosom Buddies, was a two-season sitcom that started in the Fall of 1980. In 1984 Hanks landed the mermaid romantic-comedy Splash — a smash hit rom-com that Guttenberg auditioned for as well.

While it's believable that a casting director in 1985 might be calling for a Tom Hanks or a Guttenberg type in almost the same breath, Hanks zigged when he could've zagged, taking risks and broadening his repertoire to include dramas like Nothing In Common and Punchline while continuing to play to his base with big hits like Big. It's a case study in how Guttenberg could have avoided being pigeonholed in the types of featherweight comedies he became known for, and although it involved a lot of risk — Hanks spent a good deal of the '80s teetering between a real breakout and sinking his career on stuff like Joe Versus the Volcano or Turner and Hooch — it had the overall effect of showing off his range, and paid tremendous dividends in the end.

More homebody than Hollywood

While celebrity gossip culture is bigger than ever and often features "leaked" videos and illicit social media posts to up the ante, celebrities have always made use of — and been plagued by — the ever-present Hollywood rumor mill. It can generate interestend a career, or put an entertainer's ambitions on ice until they can be resurrected in an epic redemption arc. The trouble is, the celebrity in question has to have something worth gossiping about. Guttenberg has never had any major scandal. He was never one to show up on the red carpet with a rotation of popular starlets. He doesn't routinely stumble out of places where he shouldn't be in a debauched state. There are no stints in rehab in his past, and even his run-ins with TMZ are downright delightful.

By all accounts, Steve Guttenberg is a nice, normal guy, which is almost unfortunate in a way. Since he hasn't exactly exhibited the acting range of some of his peers, setting tongues wagging about his personal life could have given him that extra edge.

'80s ubiquity

Steve Guttenberg is arguably the most 1980s of movie stars. He racked up a sizable list of back-to-back big-screen outings throughout the decade. However, like any bygone era, the 1980s can be a polarizing decade. There are '80s films that are remembered fondly and seen as important additions to the pop culture landscape even today, like Back to the Future, Coming to America, Goonies, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Ghostbusters. Unfortunately, the Police Academy series that put Guttenberg on the map isn't as memorable or as highly regarded as other screwball comedies from that era, like Fast Times at Ridgemont High or Airplane! Since the work he's best known for hasn't stayed relevant — or found a way to recapture the zeitgeist in our current meme-loving culture — it's probably harder to convince casting agents that he could be a cool throwback choice for a new project, a la former head Goonie Sean Astin in Stranger Things.

A Renaissance Gute

Steve Guttenberg hasn't let the grass grow under his feet — in fact, he hasn't even limited himself to chasing acting roles. In 2012 he published The Guttenberg Bible, a memoir about his first decade in Hollywood that found the actor recounting anecdotes from the start of his career, including the days he'd sneak onto the Paramount lot when shows like Mork and Mindy, Happy Days, and Little House on the Prairie were in production. In his memoir, he recalls bluffing his way all over the lot with made up personas he referred to as his improv. In 2014, Guttenberg added to his list of published works with a children's book entitled The Kids from D.I.S.C.O. He's also made a habit of using his celebrity for a good cause, supporting charities such as the Lymphatic Education & Research Network. Between all that activity, he's also found his way back to the stage: in late 2011, he starred in a Broadway production of Relatively Speaking

​The Guttenberg Effect

In the 1989 Simpsons episode "Homer the Great," Homer joins a Masonic order called the Stonecutters, whose initiation song famously includes a line taking responsibility for making Steve Guttenberg a star. The joke is funny not just because Guttenberg was ubiquitous, but because there was always this air of inexplicability too. He even starts off his memoir talking about an agent who told him he wasn't talented or attractive enough to make it in Hollywood. To add insult to injury, he also called Guttenberg's name ridiculous. It clearly didn't stop him — his confidence and charm offensive on Hollywood casting agents and the viewing public was ultimately effective. Guttenberg's style of easygoing charm can be a bit of a double-edged sword, however, if that's where actor's appeal rests. It's possible that filmgoers found themselves looking back at Guttenberg's films struggling to recall movies that — with a few notable exceptions — packed a negligible emotional punch.

Playing off his persona

Guttenberg didn't stop when his prospects started to dry up after a decade of immense success. What does a multi-franchise-leading actor do when Hollywood no longer calls on him to lead? Well, if you're Steve Guttenberg, you pivot in new directions and embrace new avenues for work. In the '90s, he booked plenty of guest roles in film and television. In 2008, he did the requisite stint on Dancing with the Stars. In 2015 he starred in Lavalantula, one of Syfy's updated B-movie homages that sprang up after the surprise ratings success of Sharknado. His character — clearly a tongue in cheek version of himself — was an action star past his prime named Colton West who became an unlikely real-life hero when he had to face an outbreak of giant fire-breathing spiders. In a full circle moment, fellow Police Academy alum Michael Winslow joined him, and the next year they reprised their roles in the sequel, 2 Lava 2 Lantula. That same year, he made an appearance in Sharknado: The 4th Awakens. Of course.

The passage of time

Four decades is a long time to do anything. In a profession as cutthroat and fickle as show business, having any sort of career for 40 years is even more admirable. Sure, Guttenberg might not be booking choice roles in big-budget blockbusters, but he still works. He seems to have a pretty drama-free, peaceful life. Rather than rail against the '80s properties that made him famous, he embraces them fully. He has nothing but glowing things to say about his co-stars then and now, and has fun with his public image. It makes sense that a man who was at his busiest three decades ago would slow down to kill a few lava spiders and indulge in interviews talking about his heyday. What works for him is that there's never an air of bitterness, and he never seems like he's trying to distance himself. He appears to be proud of and happy about his career, and who can argue with that?

The Guttenfuture

As he approaches his 60th birthday, Guttenberg still has plenty of years left to entertain the masses. With the near constant drumbeat of sequels and reboots coming out of Hollywood and the nostalgia that the '80s tends to generate, is it so far-fetched to anticipate the Three Men and a Baby threequel, Three Men and a Bride, that Guttenberg's former co-star Tom Selleck mentioned on The Talk in 2013? Brooklyn Nine-Nine has steadily charmed audiences weekly for years. With its menagerie of quirky misfit cops, is it so out of pocket to hope for a resurgence of Police Academy with an updated sensibility and a passel of new, young recruits that the old gang has to whip into shape? Black Mirror recreated the Boston Dynamics robots as relentless killing machines — someone could turn them into adorable pals for a new Short Circuit. In a reimagined Cocoon, Guttenberg could play Walter, the Brian Dennehy character with a twinkle of charm and an amiable smile. Get on it, Hollywood — you just haven't been the same since Steve Guttenberg was a regular presence at the cineplex.