The 1980s provided Hollywood with some inspiring comeback stories: Dennis Hopper, Dean Stockwell, Cher, Sean Connery, Don Ameche, Jodie Foster, Farrah Fawcett, Richard Dreyfuss, Bette Midler, Mia Farrow. And the decade's Ultimate Comeback Kid--John Travolta.
Inevitably, the decade's end also leaves some performers contemplating comebacks. Here are a few that may have you scratching your head, wondering, "What have they done lately?"
JENNIFER BEALS: She welded by day, danced by night--and made torn sweatshirts a fashion craze when she starred in "Flashdance" (1983). Just 18, Beals appeared headed for superstardom. Instead, she headed for Yale--graduating with honors in 1987--and married independent film maker Alexandre Rockwell.
"A lot of people ask me where I've been," admitted Beals, speaking from West Berlin, where she's starring opposite Alan Bates in director Claude Chabrol's "Dr. M." "I don't find it bothersome. It's sort of a natural question. It's not like they're accusing me of mass murder or anything."
Since "Flashdance," she's been seen in only three films: "The Bride" (1985), "Split Decisions" (1988) and the recent flop "Vampire's Kiss."
But next year, she'll be back in director Sam Fuller's "The Madonna and the Dragon." And she's just been set to co-star with Marlee Matlin in the drama "A Reasonable Doubt."
ROBERT BLAKE: A major TV star ("Baretta") in the 1970s, Blake was last seen as a crime-fighting priest in NBC's short-lived "Hell Town" (1985).
"I decided I didn't want to fall over dead like some of my friends . . . so I decided to quit for awhile," he told us. "I felt awful, looked raggedy. I was doing jobs I didn't want, making money I didn't need, working for people I didn't respect."
Now 56, he added, "I'm getting ready to go back, as a matter of fact."
Any projects to announce?
"Talk is cheap. If I do it, you'll hear about it. If I don't, you won't. And that's the name of that tune."
CHRISTOPHER ATKINS: He shot to fame in a loincloth opposite Brooke Shields in "The Blue Lagoon" (1980), but slipped quickly to exploitative roles--like the part of a male stripper in "A Night in Heaven" (1983)--and low-budgeters that "he did for quick money--but shouldn't have," admitted his current manager, Nick Thomas. Then there was the 1983-84 season of "Dallas," which cast him as Sue Ellen's lifeguard lover--"always with his shirt off."
A two-year hiatus followed, with "some time (spent) at a rehabilitation center for alcohol and substance abuse," Thomas said.
Now 28, married, father of two, Atkins recently starred in a feature, "Fatal Charm," as "the boy-next-door--who's not as nice as he seems. . . ." It's due next year, while Atkins looks for more roles "that will allow him to do something besides take his shirt off," Thomas added.
MILES O'KEEFFE: He swung into view as Tarzan, opposite Bo Derek's Jane, in "Tarzan the Ape Man" (1981). Then the muscular actor headed for sword-and-sorcery terrain, starring in a string of mostly European-made pics like "Ator" (1983), "Sword of the Valiant" (1984) and "Iron Warrior" (1987). Plus a dramatic turn in the recent thriller "The Drifter" (1988).
He'll next be seen in "So Cool," an actioner with Lou Ferrigno, due out next year.
"I've been busy working, is all," he said of his career since "Tarzan," unwilling to elaborate.
CHAD EVERETT: "It hasn't been a wonderful decade, but it hasn't been that bad, either," said the one-time "Medical Center" star. "I don't delude myself, but after 30 years in this business, I'm pretty calm about it. I know that it works in cycles and mine is coming around again."
Everett's last series was NBC's "The Rousters" (1983). Since then, there have been a few TV movies and low-budget features. Everett's currently awaiting word from ABC on a possible series pickup of "Thunderbolt Row," a Stephen J. Cannell MOW that garnered good ratings last month (the network ordered six scripts). And he's talking other projects, he said.
MIKE DOUGLAS: Douglas, whose long-running, syndicated TV talk show went off the air in 1981, followed it with a two-year stint on CNN. Since, he's been playing golf and "doing a lot of speaking engagements--town halls, women's clubs, that kind of stuff," said his manager, Kal Ross. A couple of syndication possibilities are in the talking stage, including a five-days-a-week "strip" that would be produced in Canada, formatted "just like the old Mike Douglas show."
Also in the works: An album of Mike singing favorite tunes, to be sold with "heavy TV advertising" and an 800 number, "probably in the spring."
LARRY WILCOX: "You get an enormous feeling of insecurity when you go from making $50,000 a week to nothing."
Wilcox got that feeling in 1982 when NBC's "CHiPs" ended a six-year run. He entered a wide range of business ventures, with varying success. Already a producer with NBC's "Death of a Centerfold: The Dorothy Stratten Story" before "CHiPs" ceased production, Wilcox has produced some 30 episodes of "The Ray Bradbury Theater" for HBO and USA cable so far.
Of his acting career: "I think I mis-marketed myself as an actor. I came off as Billy Bland and people thought I couldn't do anything but ride a motorcycle."
He's developing a long list of potential TV projects, including an already-scripted "CHiPs" reunion movie he expects to produce for NBC next year. And he stars in Aaron Spelling's upcoming two-hour movie, "Rich Men, Single Women," for CBS.
ERIK ESTRADA: He doesn't mind stepping back into his old "CHiPs" boots for the planned TV reunion movie. "I like Ponce, I miss him." But Estrada laughingly admitted he's fought his series image--"the guy with teeth"--since the show ended, and now purposely looks for "bad man roles."
Estrada co-starred in "True West" Off-Broadway when the series finished, then headed to Europe, acting in foreign movies and playing the celeb tennis circuit. He's since kept busy with low-budget independent movies ("Twisted Justice," upcoming), episodic TV and TV movies.
"It's been tough," he admits, but he's edged back into the big time, playing an attorney in Golden Harvest's $22-million "Show of Force," with Robert Duvall and Amy Irving. It's due next year.
IRENE CARA: A member of the cast of "Roots: The Next Generation" (1979), Cara was 21 when she became a standout in "Fame" (1980). Three years later, she won an Oscar for writing the title tune to "Flashdance." She also won a Grammy as best female vocalist in 1984. But acting-wise, things declined: the same year, she co-starred with Tatum O'Neal in the lurid actioner "A Certain Fury."
Then, "Busted Up" (1986) and "Caged in Paradiso" (1988).
Her career lately has been mostly musical: a 1987 album for Elektra, "Carasmatic," and a teaming with Freddy Jackson for the song, "Love Survives," from the animated movie "All Dogs Go to Heaven."
But 1990 could be her comeback year as an actress: her rep claims that contracts will soon be finalized for what will be "the biggest role of her life." A source tips us it's the long talked-about film bio of Josephine Baker.
ERIN MORAN: Joanie Cunningham for a decade ending in 1984--first on ABC's "Happy Days," then "Joanie Loves Chachi"--Moran is currently out of acting. "She's been working on music with her husband (Rocky Ferguson)," said her business manager. "That's about it."
MARTIN HEWITT: "I'm a working actor--I'm just not working a lot." In fact, admitted Hewitt, now 32, he spends more time at carpentry.
An unknown when he was cast as Brooke Shields' obsessed boyfriend in "Endless Love" (1981), he's since starred in a handful of low-budget features. Aiming now for small, meaty roles, he played the up-tight fiance of a Southern belle in "Two Moon Junction" (1988), and a young priest in a two-part episode of ABC's "Father Dowling Mysteries."
"I'm not box office," Hewitt acknowledged. "I can't get leads in quality films. But I am holding out for small roles (in quality films), so that I can build up some credits. I'm being selective, because I want to go the distance."
AL CORLEY: During "Dynasty's" 1981-82 season, Corley broke ground as Steven, gay son of patriarch Blake Carrington. But when he complained--in print--that he wasn't being given enough to do, he was replaced by Jack Coleman. A much-publicized affair with singer-songwriter Carly Simon followed--as well as his own music career.
Corley, now 31, writes, plays the music and sings on three PolyGram albums that have spawned hits in Europe. It was during an overseas tour that he met German actress Jessika Cardinahl--who became his wife. They have two kids.
Corley works on the New York stage, has made two movies in Europe and is developing film and theater projects.
His only regret about his acrimonious "Dynasty" split are the good roles he's missed: "I think I'm a really good actor. But so far, I haven't had the opportunity to prove it to Hollywood."
SANDAHL BERGMAN: She was impossible not to notice in the "Airotica" dance number in Bob Fosse's "All That Jazz" (1979) and likewise cut an imposing figure in "Conan the Barbarian" (1982). Then Bergman lent her physicality to a string of low-budget action-adventures. Now, said manager Ron Glaser, "We're regrouping."
Bergman's done some episodic TV--"Moonlighting," "Cheers"--and is currently trying to develop some non-action properties.
"The idea is to show her in a new light," Glaser said. "Everyone thinks of her as this 6-foot bodybuilder. Well, she's 5-foot-7 and she doesn't lift weights."
LENNY VON DOHLEN: "You can't get much better than 'Tender Mercies,' " said Von Dohlen, who made his screen debut in the 1983 film as the wide-eyed leader of a youthful group of musicians. Then came "Electric Dreams" (1984), in which he starred. He's made only two films since: "Billy Galvin" (1988) and "Dracula's Widow" (1988), the latter "one that you do to pay the rent."
A New Yorker, aged 30, he's racked up extensive stage credits, and done some episodic TV. Next up: a one-man show, in which he'd play Russian poet Mayakovsky, with "several theaters interested."
His goal: "A career with longevity."
DENNIS CHRISTOPHER: Looking back on his "ride aboard the famemobile" after grabbing attention as the lead in "Breaking Away" (1979), Christopher reflected that he "probably didn't have the emotional maturity to handle it. . . ."
Despite solid film, TV and theater credits, the offers slowed down by the mid-'80s. He turned to working in foreign and avant-garde films and doing legit theater work. This year, he completed two independent features for upcoming release--"Circuitry Man" and "Dead Women in Lingerie"--and "Remember Me," a radio play set for KCRW airing in March.
He thinks his career downswing may be a blessing, "because I've grown as a person and as an actor."
BESS ARMSTRONG: After getting her start in the 1977-78 CBS sitcom "On Our Own," Armstrong made a splash in features--"The Four Seasons" (1981) and "High Road to China" (1983). She also starred in ABC's 1985 miniseries "Lace" and appeared in several TV movies and a short-lived 1986 NBC sitcom, "All Is Forgiven." But her career appeared to inexplicably fade in recent years.
One reason was the birth and short life of a severely disabled daughter for Armstrong and her producer-husband, John Fiedler. They have since become the parents of a "healthy and darling" 2-year-old boy, Armstrong's publicist said, and the actress is in negotiations to star in a possible network series.
KLINTON SPILSBURY: Spilsbury rode off into the sunset after playing the masked man in the widely panned "The Legend of the Lone Ranger" (1981), but returned to L.A. six months ago and has "some things in the works."
Spilsbury--whose voice was dubbed in about half the film--later married and went to Europe, where he modeled and did some TV commercials. After four years of marriage, his actress-wife Lisa Shure died from complications of diabetes. "I did some soul searching after that--and traveling. I decided to live life to the hilt."
Now 38, he's been working as a free-lance photographer, waiter, "even at a Subway sandwich place." He's recently signed with a commercial agent and is currently seeking theatrical representation. "There's been some interest--but not all that great."
VALERIE PERRINE: She emerged in "Slaughterhouse Five" (1972), then took off with "Lenny" (1974). But six years ago, after a string of bombs--and diminishing offers--Perrine moved to London to pursue a love affair with an investment banker. She returned to L.A. part-time in 1986, attempting a comeback with CBS's short-lived sitcom "Leo & Liz in Beverly Hills" (1986) and a role in the feature, "Maid to Order" (1987).
Returning full-time to the States last January, she was featured in NBC's version of "Sweet Bird of Youth" and appeared in the low-budget "Mask of Murder."