10 celebrities who left Hollywood behind to work in politics — and 6 who came back

ben savage
Ben Savage.Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for New York Comic Con
  • "Boy Meets World" star Ben Savage is running for city council in West Hollywood.

  • He's not the only celebrity to pivot towards politics.

  • Sometimes this move is permanent, but others end up eventually returning to show business.

Donald Trump was famous in the world of real estate, but he enjoyed mainstream success as the host of "The Apprentice." He was elected the 46th president of the United States in 2016.

donald trump
President Trump.Win McNamee/Getty Images

Before he was the leader of the free world, President Trump was the host and judge of "The Apprentice," a reality TV show featuring competitors vying for the chance to run one of his companies.

Besides his run on "The Apprentice," Trump has appeared as himself in various films and TV shows, from "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York" to "Sex and the City."

Caitlyn Jenner announced her run for governor of California in April 2021.

caitlyn jenner
Caitlyn Jenner.Chelsea Guglielmino/Getty Images

Jenner, an Olympian and former reality star on "Keeping Up With the Kardashians," announced her intention to run for governor of California on April 23, 2021.

"Taking on entrenched Sacramento politicians and the special interests that fund them requires a fighter who isn't afraid to do what is right. I am a proven winner and the only outsider who can put an end to Gavin Newsom's disastrous time as governor," she wrote in a press release.

Voters rejected the recall of Newsom, and Jenner ended up only receiving around 1% of the vote, coming in 13th place.

Ronald Reagan went from president of the Screen Actors Guild to governor of California to president of the United States.

The Reagan Show Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
President Reagan.Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

President Reagan's acting career began in the 1930s and continued until the 1960s — he was even elected president of the Screen Actor's Guild twice. He won the governorship of California in 1967 and held the position until 1975.

Six years later, the former actor was elected 40th president of the United States for two terms, steering the country through the Cold War, an assassination attempt, and the Iran-Contra Affair.

Child actress Shirley Temple retired from acting at 22 and dedicated the rest of her life to public service.

Shirley Temple
Shirley Temple Black.AP

By the time Temple was 12 years old, she had appeared in 43 films. But just 10 years later, she retired from film altogether, drastically changing her career path.

Temple ran for Congress in 1967, but she lost. However, just two years later she was appointed to represent the US at the United Nations. She then became the US ambassador to Ghana in 1974, holding the position until 1976, when she was appointed chief of protocol of the US, a position she held for a year.

She returned to diplomacy in 1989 when she was appointed by President Reagan as the ambassador to Czechoslovakia until 1992.

Al Franken began his career at "Saturday Night Live," but he eventually left the world of entertainment to run for the US Senate representing Minnesota. He later resigned due to allegations of sexual misconduct.

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Al Franken.AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Al Franken was one of the original writers of the first season of "Saturday Night Live," and he occasionally appeared on camera throughout his time on the show, before leaving in 1995. He went on to become a successful author and continued writing for TV and films.

Franken was elected to the US Senate in 2008, and he served as a senator from Minnesota until 2018, when he resigned among allegations of sexual misconduct. He later said he regretted leaving office before an ethics investigation could be carried out.

Currently, Franken hosts "The Al Franken Podcast."

Sean Duffy first appeared on TV screens on the sixth season of "The Real World" in 1997. He went on to become the US representative for Wisconsin's 7th congressional district.

Sean Duffy
Sean Duffy.AP

Duffy appeared on "The Real World: Boston" in 1997 and went on to star in "Road Rules: All Stars" in 1998 (where he met his future wife, Rachel, a cast member of "The Real World: San Francisco") and "Real World/Road Rules Challenge: Battle of the Seasons" in 2002.

Duffy served as the district attorney of Ashland County, Wisconsin, for eight years before running for the US House of Representatives in 2010. He held the position for nine years until resigning in 2019 due to his newborn son's heart issues. Duffy and his wife are now both contributors on Fox News.

Sonny Bono was part of the musical duo Sonny & Cher with ex-wife Cher, but he was elected mayor of Palm Springs, California, and served as a California congressman.

Sonny Bono at Capitol Hill
Sonny Bono.AP/Joe Marquette

After the popularity of Sonny and Cher died down in the late '70s, Bono pivoted away from music to focus on public service.

He was elected mayor of Palm Springs, California, in 1988 and served until 1992, when he announced his candidacy for the US House of Representatives. He represented the 44th district of California from 1995 until his untimely death in 1998, which was the result of a ski accident.

Former pro-wrestler Jesse Ventura served as the 38th governor of Minnesota.

Jesse Ventura
Jesse Ventura.Joe Corrigan/Getty Images

Ventura, also known as "The Body," was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004 after an 11-year wrestling career.

Before being elected governor, Ventura was the mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, in the '90s. He ran for governor in 1998 as the Reform Party candidate and won, making him the Reform Party's highest-elected official to date, though he left the party after only a year.

He served as governor until 2003, and he hosted a show on RT (Russia Today) called "The World According to Jesse" until RT ceased operations in 2022 due to the invasion of Ukraine.

The 71-year-old also flirted with the idea of running for president in 2020 under the Green Party banner, but he ultimately decided not to.

Kevin Johnson is a former professional basketball player who went on to become the first Black mayor of Sacramento, California, in 2008.

Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson.Stephen Lam/Getty

Johnson was drafted to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1987 and played in the NBA until his retirement in 2000.

He announced his candidacy for mayor of Sacramento, California, in May 2008, and went on to win in a runoff election, becoming the first Black mayor of the city. Johnson was re-elected in 2012, serving until his term ended in 2016. He did not pursue a third term after allegations of sexual misconduct resurfaced.

Cynthia Nixon ran for governor of New York in 2018. She lost the primary — and now she's returned to acting.

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Cynthia Nixon.Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Nixon's run for governor had been whispered about for a while, but the "Sex and the City" actress made her run against incumbent Governor Cuomo official on Twitter in March 2018. She ended up losing the Democratic primary. If she had won, she would've been the first openly gay person to hold the position.

But Nixon is too talented an actress to let a political loss diminish her career (she's just missing an Oscar to complete her EGOT).

Since losing, she appeared in the 2019 film "Stray Dolls" and starred in the Netflix "One Flew Over the Cuckoo" prequel "Ratched."

In 2022, she returned to the "Sex and the City" universe to reprise her role as Miranda Hobbes in "And Just Like That..." and also starred in HBO's "The Gilded Age."

Arnold Schwarzenegger, aka "The Governator," rose to prominence as "The Terminator" before becoming governor of California. He returned to the "Terminator" franchise in 2015.

arnold schwarzenegger
Arnold Schwarzenegger.Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Before he was California's governor, Schwarzenegger was a professional bodybuilder and successful actor, starring in films like "The Terminator," "Conan the Barbarian," and "Kindergarten Cop," "Total Recall," "True Lies," and more.

He served as governor from 2003 until 2011. While he was popular for much of his time as governor, he finished his final term with an almost record-low approval rating of 23%.

Schwarzenegger replaced Trump as the new host of "The Celebrity Apprentice," but he left after just one season. He also returned to his typical action fare, appearing in "The Expendables," "Terminator Genisys," and "Terminator: Dark Fate." Schwarzenegger also voices a superhero on the Prime Video animated series "Superhero Kindergarten."

Stacey Dash filed paperwork in February 2018 to run for Congress in California, but she has since said she's stepping back from politics.

Stacey Dash
Stacey Dash.Rob Kim/Getty Images

The "Clueless" actress is a controversial figure — she's been blasted for calling for the end of Black History Month and BET (Black Entertainment Television). She was also a contributor for Fox News until her contract failed to be renewed in 2017.

Dash filed paperwork effectively announcing her intention to run in 2018, representing the 44th congressional district of California. She withdrew soon after.

According to the Daily Mail, "She hopes to rebuild her acting career and dreams of playing a superhero in an action movie."

Dash acted in the controversial conservative movie "Roe v. Wade" as Mildred Johnson, the first Black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School and a famed anti-abortion activist.

Clint Eastwood is, among many other things, the former mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.

Clint Eastwood
Eastwood is politically active.Getty Images / Charley Gallay

The actor/director was elected mayor of the small California town Carmel-by-the-Sea in 1986, serving one term, and was later appointed to the California State Parks and Recreation Commission in 2001.

Eastwood has stayed politically active since his time as mayor. He's an outspoken supporter of the Republican party, and he is well known for the speech he delivered at the 2012 Republican National Convention in which he spoke to an empty chair, addressing it as Barack Obama.

Of course, Eastwood didn't drop acting or directing to pursue politics. The 92-year-old directed and starred in the movie "Cry Macho" which was released in October 2021.

Clay Aiken rose to stardom as the runner-up of the second season of "American Idol." He ran for the US House of Representatives in 2014 and lost, and now he balances music with politics.

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Aiken lost to incumbent Renee Ellmers.Jeffrey A. Camarati/Getty Images

Aiken was a fan-favorite during his season of "American Idol," and he lost in what many considered to be an upset. After the show, Aiken largely remained out of the spotlight, until he came out in 2008.

In the 2014 midterm elections, Aiken became the Democratic Party's candidate for North Carolina's 2nd congressional district, but he eventually lost in the general election.

In December 2018, Aiken and his "American Idol" winner Ruben Studdard starred in "Ruben & Clay's First Annual Family Fun Pageant Spectacular Reunion Christmas Show" on Broadway. He also hosts the "How The Heck Are We Gonna Get Along with Clay Aiken" podcast.

In January 2022, Aiken once again announced a run for office, this time for North Carolina's 4th district, but lost in the primaries.

Kal Penn went from starring in the stoner comedy classic "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" to serving as the associate director in the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Kal Penn
Kal Penn.Mark Davis / Getty Images

Penn, best known for his role as Kumar in the "Harold & Kumar" movies, was appointed to the White House Office of Public Engagement under President Obama. He served as the assistant director, and as a liaison to the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities for a year, before briefly returning to his acting career.

In 2013, he was appointed to serve on the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, a position he held until 2017. He resigned in response to President Trump's remarks on the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally, and he has once again returned to acting.

He starred in and executive-produced the sitcom "Sunnyside," hosted the Freeform miniseries "Kal Penn Approves This Message," and will star in the Disney+ series "The Santa Clauses."

"Boy Meets World" star Ben Savage will be up for election as a West Hollywood City Council member in November 2022.

ben savage
Ben Savage.David Livingston/Getty Images

Savage, who is best known for his role as Cory Matthews in the '90s sitcom "Boy Meets World" and its 2010s sequel series "Girl Meets World," actually has some experience with politics. He graduated from Stanford University with a degree in political science and interned with a US senator, according to Gawker.

According to his campaign website, Savage has "been very fortunate to live in West Hollywood for the past 18 years. I have seen this city grow to become one of the most thriving cities in the country," and he is running "because there are serious challenges ahead and West Hollywood deserves sensible, honest and strong leadership to face them."

Savage hasn't said one way or the other if he's leaving behind Hollywood, but he's certainly taking a pause; he appeared in one TV film this year, and prior to that, hadn't had a project since 2020.

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