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Disney Stars Whose Careers Tanked After Their Shows Ended

Some former child stars who got their start with Disney have gone on to have incredible success as adult actors and musicians, as we've seen with Justin Timberlake, Zendaya, and Ryan Gosling, attaining a rarefied level of super-stardom; while others' adult careers have limped along. Some Disney stars have even drifted into obscurity. A job starting with the entertainment giant Disney might seem like a golden ticket to the A-list, and it certainly can be the foundation of a solid career, as proven by the myriad of stars who started at Disney. But, if history has proved anything, making the leap from child star to adult success is never guaranteed and often hard-won.

The lure of the glamorous life of industry parties is too much for some adolescent stars. We have watched many achieve success as adults, only to have their careers jeopardized by their personal struggles, as we saw with Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan in the early '00s. Growing up is hard, and doing so in the limelight isn't always kind. 

The formula for success is nebulous, and how we define success is a moving target. The truth is, many Disney child stars experienced more professional success as children than other entertainers will experience throughout an entire lifetime. There are as many reasons for adult careers in entertainment that failed to achieve the success of their Disney alumni as there are actors. Let's explore some of these Disney child stars stories.

Orlando Brown

Orlando Brown found early success with his role as 3J on "Family Matters," but he is best known for his role as Raven's best friend, Eddie Thomas, in Disney's "That's So Raven." After the Disney series wrapped in 2007, Brown's career has gone downhill, despite getting a role in 2015's "Straight Outta Compton" and pursuing a not-so-successful career in rap.

In 2016, Brown released a freestyle video with the lyrics, "It's like Raven aborted my baby." Symoné never responded, and weeks later, in an interview with "VLADTV," Brown recanted the statement, saying it was figurative, not literal. Most believe Brown's career struggles and personal problems are because of his very public battle with addiction and mental health. According to Entertainment Weekly, that same year, Brown was arrested for domestic battery, obstruction of justice, and drug possession in California.

The following year, it was announced that "That's So Raven" would get a reboot, with Raven Symoné starring in "Raven's Home." Orlando Brown was not asked back. According to People, in 2018, Brown was arrested for an outstanding warrant in Las Vegas after failing to appear in a Los Angeles court for his 2016 charges. Hopefully, things will turn around for the star. In September 2020, Brown told Christian Post, "I can tell you that I'm okay. I'm alive. I was in an unsafe position and it has been shaky but at the end of the day all I can tell you is I'm okay and I'm graduating and I will be getting married." In 2021, Entertainment Tonight reported that Brown attended and graduated from an inpatient recovery program through Rise Discipleship in Texas.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Lalaine Vergara-Paras

Lalaine is best known for her role in "Lizzie McGuire," playing Miranda Sanchez. When "Lizzie McGuire" ended in 2004, Lalaine took several minor roles, and she pursued a career in music that didn't take off, failing to gain the popularity of her co-star Hilary Duff. Like many child stars trying to make the leap to adulthood, Lalaine struggled with substance abuse. As reported by TMZ in 2007, Lalaine was arrested for methamphetamine possession. As part of her sentencing, she was required to attend rehab, having her criminal record expunged after completing treatment.

This was exactly what she needed, as she shared with HuffPost, "After I got arrested that was like a slap in the face that I needed to turn my perspective around." After her recovery, Lalaine starred in 2009 thriller "Royal Kill," but it didn't do well at the box office. She had a small blink-and-you-miss-it part in the 2010 movie "Easy A," but her acting career didn't pick up after attaining sobriety. She later toured with an indie band, Vanity Theft, playing bass. Although Lalaine's career trajectory differs greatly from her "Lizzie McGuire" co-star Hilary Duff, it seems like she is at a much better place in her life.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Jake Thomas

Jake Thomas is best known for his role as Matt McGuire, Lizzie McGuire's little brother. After "Lizzie McGuire" ended, Thomas continued acting in small TV roles, but hasn't been a show regular since playing Jason Stickler in Disney's "Cory in the House." Thomas has continued working, securing roles in minor films and shows like "Criminal Minds" and other procedural dramas, but these are mostly single episode gigs. It looked like things might turn around for Thomas when he played Finn Avery in six episodes of "Storytellers" in 2013 and 2014, but he has since continued taking on minor roles.

Thomas joined the cast of the "Lizzie McGuire" reboot, but after filming two episodes, and what has been attributed to creative differences, Hilary Duff announced the reboot wouldn't be happening in 2020. Thomas talked about the reboot cancellation on Instagram, saying, "I'm bummed you all don't get to see how Matt grew up. He was pretty chill. Still a bit of a cocky a**hole, but a good dude. Lived large. Spoke fluent Japanese and was a total Elon Musk fanboy." Although Thomas' career trajectory doesn't match Hilary Duff's, you never know what projects will come his way in the future!

Amy Bruckner

Starring as Phil's mischievous little sister, Pim Diffy in Disney's "Phil of the Future" brought Amy Bruckner into the spotlight. Bruckner took other roles after her time as a cast member on the show ended, including the role of Bess in the 2007 "Nancy Drew" film, and a voice part in "American Dragon: Jake Long" from 2005 to 2007. She has worked little as an actor since. Something completely understandable considering she took a break from acting, attending NYU, as reported by HuffPost

After graduating from college, she backpacked through Europe, deciding to return to acting in 2014, making "The Assault" and then "Trust" in 2017, but Amy Bruckner hasn't been in front of the camera since. In 2018, Seventeen reported Bruckner had gotten engaged to her longtime boyfriend. It looks like Bruckner wound up going to law school at UCLA, and according to her LinkedIn profile, these days she is an associate at a firm in Los Angeles.

Raviv Ullman

Once known as Ricky Ullman, Raviv Ullman is an Israeli-American actor who once had a starring role in "Phil of the Future" as Phil Diffy in the Disney channel original series. After "Phil of the Future" ended in 2006, Ullman continued working, securing minor roles in film and television. In 2008-09, Ullman had a recurring role as Kip in "Rita Rocks," and continued being cast in minor roles. Although Ullman now acts on the stage, his screen work never took off. As reported by Forward, as of this writing, Ullman is working on a documentary about the Dakota Access Pipeline.

He also has a podcast that grew out of Friday Shabbat dinners, called "The Study" where he studies the Torah, having lively discussions with friends. His adult screen acting career might not be as impressive as some of his Disney alumni, but it seems like Ullman enjoys the variety of work he is doing. But you never know what might happen with all these reboots? Ullman has expressed being open to a reboot of "Phil of the Future" on Instagram as reported by E! saying "I wouldn't be the one to put the breaks on it. I'd like Phil to come back and help save the planet from environmental ruin."

Matthew Lawrence

Matthew Lawrence had his first lead role in Disney's "Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad," parlaying that into a supporting role on the popular series "Boy Meets World," as Jack Hunter. He also starred in "Brotherly Love," with his real life brothers Joey and Andy. Lawrence even starred as one of Robin Williams' children in the film "Mrs. Doubtfire" making it look like Matt might make the leap from a career in television to film. Although he continues to take supporting roles in both film and television, nothing has approached the level of his success he experienced in the '90s as a child actor. He is still best known for his role on Disney's "Boy Meets World" which ended back in 2000.

Lawrence reprised his role of Jack Hunter in Disney's spin-off "Girl Meets World," and had a role on his brother's show "Melissa and Joey." Although Matt has consistently worked, none of his films or television roles have been high profile. As a Disney alum, this might feel like a disappointment, but Matthew seems happy. Lawrence's personal life is going great. He got married to his long-time love Cheryl Burke, of "Dancing With the Stars" in 2019. As People reported, they married in May at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar, an iconic hotel in San Diego. With the number of roles Matthew has taken in the last few years, he might be on the verge of a comeback?

Cody Linley

As a teenager Cody Linley enjoyed success in several roles on multiple Disney series including "That's So Raven," and as Jake Ryan, Miley Cyrus' boyfriend, in "Hannah Montana." Linley had been working for almost a decade before he landed the role of Jake Ryan on Cyrus' Disney series. While he has made appearances in the "Sharknado" movie series and released a single "Breathe," Linley hasn't experienced the level of success as an adult many of his Disney cohorts have. 

While Linley continues to work as an actor, taking minor supporting roles in film and television, the number of parts have dwindled over the years, and none have been as high-profile as his super famous Disney alumni. Linley has branched out though, becoming a coach for aspiring actors with his website, Acting With Cody. According to his website, Linley is also a faculty member in Texas, at Cathryn Sullivan's Acting Studio.

Adam Lamberg

Adam Lamberg is best known for his role, David "Gordo" Gordon on "Lizzie McGuire." Lamberg had been acting for six years before he got his break, playing Gordo on the Disney series that launched Hilary Duff's career. Unlike his famous co-star, Adam Lamberg has drifted to obscurity, only having two acting credits after the Disney series ended. After "Lizzie McGuire" finished in 2004, Lamberg went to college, first studying at UC Berkley, getting a Bachelor's degree in geography (an achievement in itself), and then gaining a Master's degree from Baruch College, as reported by Bustle

It looks like Gordo's smarts were reflected in Lamberg's real life. After getting his Master's degree, Lamberg landed a job as a development associate in New York City at the Irish Arts Center. It looked like things might turn around for Lamberg's acting career when it was announced he would join the cast of the "Lizzie McGuire" reboot, but it was canceled in 2020.

Sterling Knight

Sterling Knight had already been working, landing minor roles before he got his big break as Chad Dylan Cooper on Disney's "Sonny with a Chance" with Demi Lovato. The show wasn't a success after Lovato left the series, but Knight continued working, still playing Chad Dylan Cooper on "So Random!." In 2009, Knight was cast in the role of Alex in the Zac Efron flick, "17 Again," but this supporting role didn't lead to bigger roles. 

Knight continued taking small parts in television and film, but nothing has garnered much attention. He has landed recurring roles on a few TV series including "Melissa and Joey" and "In the Rough" in 2017, but, according to IMDb, he hasn't worked since. In an interview with Sneak Peek in 2019, Knight said, "I'd love to be a superhero." So maybe someday he will make his comeback in tights!

Steven Anthony Lawrence

Steven Anthony Lawrence is best known for his role as Bernard "Beans" Aranguren, the obnoxious neighbor who would come over in "Even Stevens," starring Shia LaBeouf. Lawrence had already been working as an actor for a few years before he landed the role of Beans. After "Even Stevens" ended in 2003, Lawrence landed roles in several films, including "The Cat in the Hat," "Cheaper by the Dozen," and "Kicking & Screaming," but his roles dwindled soon after.

Unfortunately, his acting career has taken a different trajectory than his former co-star LaBeouf. Lawrence continued taking minor roles, but nothing substantial or high profile as the years wore on. In 2015, Entertainment Tonight reported Lawrence was working in a mall in California as one of Santa's helpers. Lawrence has since landed several supporting roles, including the part of Stanley in the new TV series "Bad Therapist," which is in pre-production, as of this writing. Maybe he's about to make his comeback?

Mitchel Musso

Mitchel Musso started acting when he was just eight years old, and in 2009 he released his debut album. Despite his early success, Musso found fame for his role as Oliver Oken in Disney's "Hannah Montana." This role turned into a leading role On Disney's "Pair of Kings." During this time, Musso was juggling a music and acting career. But after a drunk driving arrest in 2011, his career suffered, reportedly leading to him to lose his role in "Pair of Kings." As reported by E! Musso accepted a plea deal getting 36 months of probation but no jail time.

It isn't unusual for Disney to distance itself from stars who experience legal troubles; a criminal record doesn't exactly square with the squeaky-clean image associated with this entertainment giant. But it seems Musso got back into Disney's good graces as he has since done voice work for "Phineas and Ferb" and "Milo Murphy's Law." It looks like things might turn around for Musso, as in 2021, he landed the role of Chase Wolfson in the TV series "The Rise."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Jennifer Stone

Not every child actor who doesn't become a massive adult star is because of poor life choices or even a slow slide into obscurity. Jennifer Stone, best known for her role as Harper Finkle in "Wizards of Waverly Place," has continued acting after the Disney series wrapped. Despite shifting her focus to becoming a college student, deciding to study psychology, Stone has still landed acting gigs. Yet, as reported by Deadline in 2013, Stone was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. This diagnosis changed her life. She switched majors, opting to study to become a nurse.

During summer break, she filmed "The In-Between" before going back to classes in the fall of 2019. Stone has since graduated and is working at an ER in Burbank, California. As you can imagine, starting her nursing career during the pandemic has been a little crazy as she told Deadline, "I try to stay really focused during those 12 hours to be as effective and helpful as I can and then just decompress when I get home."

It looks like Stone has signed on for a new acting project, playing Sloane in "The Perfect Night," which is reportedly in pre-production. When compared to her "Wizards of Waverly Place" co-star Selena Gomez, Stone's career trajectory couldn't be different. It might be tempting as a former Disney child star to compare your career in the entertainment industry to those who achieved stratospheric super-stardom, but it sure seems like Jennifer Stone has her head on straight.