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What happened to the cast of Dead Poets Society?

Fueled by poetry and led by an actor known mostly for goofball comedy, Dead Poets Society was an unlikely hit. More than 30 years after its premiere, it remains an inspiration, beloved of fans worldwide. 

All the themes of the 1989 classic still ring true today: The beauty of art, the wildness of the teenage spirit, and the cultivation of the urge to seize the day are as relevant to modern viewers as they've ever been. The heavier subject matter also connects with anyone who has ever felt trapped in their life. The cast shines with particular brightness: Here is a film in which every actor is at his best, burning with talent, ambition, and total faith in the material. As a result, one can't help but wonder what happened to the cast who so inspired us to chase our dreams. Some you'll recognize from other movies and TV shows, some stepped back from the limelight, and some ended up taking paths no one could have predicted — but all of them changed us forever with their refusal to let life pass them by. 

Robert Sean Leonard as Neil Perry

The bulk of Dead Poets Society's angst comes from its lovable lead, Neil Perry, played by Robert Sean Leonard. Since playing Neil, Leonard's life has been chock-full of work. In 1992, Leonard joined his friend Ethan Hawke and several other actors to form Malaparte, a theater company which ran for several years. He also maintained a large presence in the entertainment world, appearing in dozens of different projects across TV and film since the '90s. There is one role, however, that stands out from the rest.

In 2004, Leonard was cast alongside Hugh Laurie in the iconic television show House. As Dr. James Wilson, Leonard became an essential part of the show dynamic, scoring him nominations for a SAG and a People's Choice award over the course of the series. The versatile actor maintains a large presence in theater as well, winning a Tony Award for his 2001 performance in The Invention of Love.

Despite maintaining a busy work schedule, Leonard keeps himself out of the tabloids and values his privacy. He briefly dated Gwyneth Paltrow in 1994, and married his wife, Gabriella Salick, in 2008. Today, he balances work with raising two young daughters.

Ethan Hawke as Todd Anderson

In the final moments of Dead Poets Society, shy Todd Anderson musters up all his courage to stand tall atop his desk in an act of thrilling defiance. It's a triumphant moment that left us all feeling warm inside, thanks to a young Ethan Hawke's skill. One of the most prolific members of the cast, Hawke's post-Poets success is vast and varied.

The young star continued to work throughout the '90s, most notably in 1994's Reality Bites, 1995's Before Sunrise, and 1997's Gattaca. Hawke was nominated for his first Academy Award for 2001's Training Day, and went on to be nominated many more times for acting and writing. You might also recognize Hawke from The Purge and his appearance in the 2016 remake of The Magnificent Seven

The dashing thespian has four children through two marriages and keeps himself busy with philanthropy and activism when he isn't acting. While he dips his toes into politics should questions arise, he has made it clear that his main focus is on art.

Josh Charles as Knox Overstreet

A large chunk of Dead Poets Society's story is Knox's pursuit of a cheerleader named Kris from a nearby public school. She is spoken for, but the lovestruck teenager persists, implementing his newfound passion for poetry in attempts to win her love. The hopeless romantic is played by Josh Charles, another Poets alumni who has gone on to have great success in the world of entertainment.

You might recognize Charles as the despicable T.J. McCabe in 2003's S.W.A.T. or as the equally deplorable Detective Fowler in 2005's Four Brothers. Despite a few years of being typecast as a villain, the versatile actor has displayed an ability to shift genres by appearing in Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The actor has been nominated for several awards for his role as Will Gardner in The Good Wife and was also nominated for a Critics' Choice Award for a role in Inside Amy Schumer in 2015.

Through the '90s and into the '00s, Charles dated Sheryl Crow, Jennifer Connelly, and Ashley Judd before meeting his wife, ballet dancer and author Sophie Flack. The two married in 2013 and have two children. He maintains an active social media presence on both Twitter and Instagram. By the looks of things, the actor seems to enjoy his life as a father and is soaking it up for all it's worth.

Gale Hansen as Charlie Dalton

One of the wilder members of the Dead Poets Society is Charlie Dalton, played by Gale Hansen. The student who would become known as Nuwanda is aloof and walks down whichever path he finds most appealing in any given moment. The lovable jester brings a large amount of heat down on the group when he publishes an article demanding girls be admitted into the school. His true virtue shines through when he refuses to give up his friends while being paddled by the headmaster. Charlie might be rebellious, but his soul is brave and strong.

Hansen had a few minor roles through the '90s, including a co-starring role alongside Rob Lowe in The Finest Hour. The actor then stepped behind the scenes and now quietly cultivates projects as a studio executive. Hansen is currently the head of story and development at Fortunate Falls Studios as well as an acting coach in Los Angeles. His active Twitter account gives the clearest glimpse into his current life, one full of passion, politics, and art. Nuwanda lives on.

Allelon Ruggiero as Steven Meeks

Throughout all the ups, downs, and desk-standing of Dead Poets Society, quiet, geeky Steven Meeks is reluctant to join the ranks. Eventually he plays along, mostly finding joy in the liveliness of those around him. Throughout most of the film, Meeks is distracted by the custom radio he is building with Gerard Pitts. Judging by a teacher's reaction to its construction, this is a very naughty thing to do that the school seeks to squash. Actor Allelon Ruggiero delightfully portrays the nerdy club member as he experiments with anti-authoritarianism, science, and friendship.

Ruggiero later had small roles in the films 12 Monkeys and Fallen and appeared in an episode of Law & Order before pulling back from acting in 2004 for almost a decade. Most recently, you can see Ruggiero in an episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, as well as the short film Melting Pot and the series Trent & Tilly.

Dylan Kussman as Richard Cameron

After Neil's demise, the students struggle to process their emotions. Welton Academy looks for a scapegoat to assign the blame to, and the student they choose is Richard Cameron, played by Dylan Kussman. In order to avoid any repercussions, he absolves himself of all responsibility and places the blame solely on their teacher, Mr. Keating. It's hard to blame him entirely — he's a kid thrust into an utterly unfair situation by adults flagrantly abusing their own authority. But still, you just can't help but scowl at the fearful teenager throwing his teacher under the bus.

Dylan Kussman has continued to play small roles over the years, appearing in The X-Files, Nash Bridges, and Monk. The gruff actor also appears in Jack Reacher and in the George Clooney film Leatherheads. In the past decade he has had continued success behind the camera as well. He helped pen 2017's The Mummy with Tom Cruise and wrote, starred in, and directed the critically acclaimed series The Steps. Kussman recently appeared in Richard Jewel and was working on the series Vital Signs starring Dr. Dre until the show was shelved by Apple executives.

James Waterston as Gerard Pitts

Gerard Pitts might have a rather unfortunate name, but he's played by an actor with a much more familiar moniker. James Waterston is the son of legendary actor Sam Waterston — but despite this pedigree, Waterston the younger has maintained a low profile in entertainment through the years. Waterston was part of the Malaparte theater company alongside Ethan Hawke while studying at Yale. He has also appeared on shows such as Law and Order: SVU, ER, and The Blacklist. Moreover, he has enjoyed a solid career upon the stage, and contributes to Providence Magazine.

As far as his personal life goes, Waterston married his wife Line Lillevik in 2000. Most recently he has appeared in the film Human Capital and the Amazon Video original series Modern Love. One thing is made clear by Waterston's colorful biography: Though Gerard Pitts might be one of the quieter members of the Dead Poets Society, his actor leads a life that is anything but unremarkable.

Norman Lloyd as Headmaster Nolan

The fight against conformity waged by the Dead Poets Society is opposed by Headmaster Nolan, played by Norman Lloyd. Lloyd portrays Nolan to prickly perfection — which doesn't come as a surprise to anyone familiar with his long career. Lloyd began acting in the 1930s, and has taken things nice and slow since Dead Poets Society. This only stands to reason, since Lloyd is 105 years old. You read that right. Lloyd used to play tennis with Charlie Chaplin, survived the Hollywood blacklist, and watched Babe Ruth play in the 1926 World Series. 

Most recently, Lloyd appeared in 2015's Trainwreck and a 2010 episode of Modern Family. He spends most of his time pursuing his love of baseball and mentoring those around him. Those who recognize the knowledge the veteran possesses are blessed with countless stories from his decades of experience, including set stories involving the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles. Indeed, the headmaster of Welton Academy continues to cultivate the younger generation — although his approach is a bit more gentle nowadays.

Kurtwood Smith as Thomas Perry

After being inspired by Professor Keating, Neil Perry discovers his passion for acting. His father, played by Kurtwood Smith, rips apart those dreams, and forces young Neil into a life of study, discipline, and repetition. This stern performance is thanks to the unwavering Smith, who depicts Thomas Perry with ironclad skill. This wonderful character actor has enjoyed a long career in a wide variety of TV shows and movies of every genre stripe.

Smith is likely best known for his performance as Red on That '70s Show. He's also well-known to sci-fi fans — Smith has had a variety of roles across the Star Trek series, The X-Files, and the DC animated universe. Most recently, he appeared on the TV shows Suits and Perfect Harmony. Fans will soon be getting more Smith in a currently untitled Nate Bargatze project. Whatever's in store, it's sure to impeccably portrayed by the wide-ranging actor.

Alexandra Powers as Chris Noel

The object of Knox's affections is Chris Noel, played by Alexandra Powers. While Knox's romantic displays may have bordered on obsessive, Powers helped us feel charmed by the innocence of it all. The actress was on a big rise through the '90s, having majors roles in L.A. Law and 21 Jump Street. She also played Tonya Harding in the TV movie, Tonya & Nancy: The Inside Story. She was on the precipice of big things ... until she dropped out of acting completely. To date, her last role was in 2001's Zigs.

What happened? In the late '90s, Powers became a Scientologist and rose through the ranks to become a member of their prestigious Sea Organization. She married her husband Gavin Potter in 2000, and little has been heard from her since. Rumors have proliferated, of course, but with little to fuel them, Powers has only slid farther into obscurity. As she continues to be absent from Hollywood and maintains zero social media presence, that seems unlikely to change any time soon.

Robin Williams as Professor John Keating

The newest teacher at Welton Academy, Professor John Keating was once a student there himself — and he's determined to make sure the boys he teaches leave his classroom stronger, braver, and more creative people. Robin Williams' performance as the kind-hearted, day-seizing teacher remains one of his most beloved roles.

Williams didn't slow down one bit after the film's release. In the ensuing years, he became the Genie in Aladdin, the titular nanny in Mrs. Doubtfire, and Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. Though he is best remembered as a comedian, he made waves as a dramatic performer time and time again. Williams was never content to do any one thing — for every family-friendly film in his body of work, a la Ferngully, there is a bizarre psychological thriller like One Hour Photo. His death in 2014 at the age of 63 was mourned worldwide: The lights of Broadway were darkened, President Barack Obama made a statement, and spontaneous memorials popped up throughout the world. Williams might not be with us anymore, but the spirit of his work lives on, inspiring us in much the same way Professor Keating inspired his students.