Follow TV Tropes


White-Dwarf Starlet

Go To
"All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up!"

"Her name is Lola, she was a showgirl
But that was thirty years ago, when they used to have a show
Now it's a disco, but not for Lola
Still in the dress she used to wear, faded feathers in her hair"
Barry Manilow, "Copacabana (At the Copa)"

She was one of the most famous performers of her time. But now, her days in the spotlight are long gone. She's over the hill. A joke. A "Where Are They Now?" trivia question. A White Dwarf Starlet: like stars in outer space that have ceased to burn and are now glowing only with residual heat from their active years.

But she still yearns for the adoration she received during her time as the It-Girl and believes her big comeback will happen any day now. She tends to live in a run-down mansion full of memorabilia of her lost golden years, wears moth-eaten Outdated Outfits from her great hits, and still expects everyone to recognize her. She refuses to believe she's too old to play Ophelia, and still insists she's not old enough for Gertrude.

This character is nearly Always Female, for some reason. Maybe it's because a woman in this position is more likely to draw sympathy than a man, or maybe it's because this fate befalls women a lot more in real life than it does men. Many women find it difficult to get work in the entertainment industry once their beauty fades and they're overlooked in favor of the latest pretty young thing, whereas a male performer can find gigs for as long as he can remember his lines, even if he burns out, loses his looks to the ravages of time, and/or becomes a parody of himself.


Like actual stars of the outer space, sometimes the White Dwarf Starlet can go nova - burst in new brightness, if the character indeed does manage to get a role in a hit movie, TV show, or play (even a minor role that's well remembered), or releases a comeback album.

Compare with Former Child Star. See also I Was Quite a Looker. Related to Hollywood Old.

Contrast with Silver Fox.

Has absolutely nothing to do with the magazine published by Games Workshop, or with the ’90s made-for-television SF movie.



    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • In a major twist, the true villain in Satoshi Kon's Perfect Blue turns out to be Mima's overweight, middle-aged female manager Rumi, who was a former pop idol who didn't last and now thinks she's the real Mima. The climax of the film where Rumi chases Mima in the illusory form of Mima's giggling, pop-idol alter-ego while trying to kill her is genuinely disturbing.
  • Subverted in another Satoshi Kon film, Millennium Actress. The titular actress has faded from the limelight and lives a reclusive life surrounded by memorabilia of her past fame, but her departure from the spotlight was intentional — resulting from a broken heart — and she has no interest in a comeback. She lives in the past because she's not interested in the present.
  • In the anime anthology Memories, the first short, Magnetic Rose (also directed by Satoshi Kon,) has key to its story a once-great opera singer [Eva] who isolated herself in a satellite in the wake of a scandal. It is filled with reminders of her success and uses holograms to simulate a lavish mansion. Her consciousness still haunts the decaying satellite long after her death.
  • Akira Kogami qualifies for this at age 14, having worked as an Idol Singer since she was 3 years old and now relegated to a three-minute Greek Chorus show at the end of each Lucky Star episode. And boy, is she bitter about it.
  • It's All There in the Manual. Ever wonder why B.T., the manipulative Distaff Counterpart to Bear behaves so peevishly in .hack//SIGN? According to a hidden message in the OVAs, she's actually a model who was recently told she's too old to keep in the business. Undoubtedly, The Game Within The Show, The World, is a vent for her.
  • In one of the Sakura Wars OAVs, a particular movie studio was supposedly haunted by the ghost of such a lady; a silent film star whose roles dried up with the introduction of Talkies. Supposedly this was because while she was beautiful, she had a bad speaking voice but the truth is that her diva attitude alienated everyone in the industry. Since this is Sakura Wars, the rumors are true and her horrific spectre really is hanging around and deadly jealous of the Hanagumi members filming in the studio. The OAV ends with an Aesop of respecting both the cast and crew of a production and the ghost fades away as she returns to the state she was in during her glory days.
  • Averted in Glass Mask, where top actress Chigusa Tsukikage was horribly disfigured in a stage accident but she remains extremely popular and famous, and she hasn't even lost her acting skills. Now she's more into teaching and finding an "heiress", and the biggest candidates are Ayumi and Maya.
  • Private Actress is a manga about the acting industry in the Japan of The '90s, so there are some of these:
    • Shiho's mother Sayuri Nagasawa almost became this in While she IS both beautiful and a very talented actress, getting a huge scar on her face almost ruined her career. Ultimately, she's hinted to have averted the trope by returning to stage acting.
    • Sayuri's old rival Ruriko Daichi deeply fears to become this, and Shiho spends some time posing as her assistant and helping her to deal with the prospect and her own inner demons. Shiho even gets to beautifully lampshade the trope:
    Shiho: All actresses have their era to shine. Afterwards, they fade away. Like Greta Garbo, retiring in a beautiful house. Or in the case of Marilyn Monroe, death. But some actresses are still around! Ingrid Bergman, Marlene Dietrich, Audrey Hepburn... they're all old. They follow the change of seasons, spring being followed by autumn...

    Comic Books 
  • Watchmen:
    • The original Silk Spectre, by the time 1985 has rolled around. Subverted in that while she's lost her beauty and her following (and never got the actress career she wanted), she is happy in retirement, with no wish to take up adventuring again, only to reminisce about her glory days and live vicariously through her daughter (whom she raised and trained to be Silk Spectre II) a bit.
    • Captain Metropolis is a borderline male example, clinging to his heroic past and trying to organize a new team in the late 60s, despite the fact that where he was once dashing and handsome, he's become a neurotic, paunchy mess whose prejudices have come to the fore.
    • Nite Owl, Hollis Mason, is surrounded by his memorabilia and tells his only friend and successor Dan Dreiberg the same old heroic stories. In Mason's case though, he retired voluntarily after the debut of Dr. Manhattan, figuring that with a literal superman, the world didn't need him anymore.
  • Anthem in The Order, a washed-up actor and friend in long standing of Iron Man's. How bad is he? Not only had he sunk into depression and become a severe alcoholic, he was resistant to the idea of a comeback because he felt he didn't deserve it. Luckily, he got better before the series began.
  • Batman villain Basil Karlo—the original Clayface—is conceived as a male version, a former horror film star who's been left behind by changes in the business.
  • Looney Leo from Astro City is a living cartoon character who used to be a major movie and television star, but now spends his day as a restaurateur and living novelty. While he's somewhat used to his life now, he used to be much worse off, having spent time as a homeless drifter after his career faded, made worse by a romantic liaison where the girl turned out to be underage. On top of that, he was haunted by memories of his lover and his three nephews back in the cartoons he came from, people who never actually existed.
    • Then there's Charlie Provost aka Quark. He used to be Starfighter's sidekick until he went out of control, forcing Starfighter to depower him. Nowadays, he's an alcoholic wreck, bitter over the loss of his powers and living off money earned from convention appearances.
  • Fading 1960s actress Danke Schoen in Lori Lovecraft bears many of the hallmarks of this trope, although she seems better adjusted than most examples: possibly because her career was very successful (she won two Oscars) before fading into obscurity, and possibly because she has the ace in the hole of being able to use magic.
    Film - Animated 
  • Despicable Me 3: Balthazar Bratt was the star of an 80s TV show about a pre-teen supervillain that was cancelled after his reaching puberty invalidated the show's basic concept. Unable to accept that shows end and find a new job, he becomes his character in real life and tries to reproduce his character's crimes, despite the fact that by the time of the movie he is middle aged.
  • Lady and the Tramp: Pound dog Peg is implied to be this; apparently she'd been performing in shows, and her sultry behavior combined with a worn-down appearance reinforce the impression. Being voiced by jazz singer Peggy Lee helps, too.
  • Sing gives us Nana Noodleman, a former stage actress and singer. Both Buster and Mike express surprise that's she still alive and when the former goes to see her, her mansion is filled with posters and pictures of her in her youth and she wears what appears to be the outfit from her theater days. She also reminisces about the old days when the Moon Theater was "a palace of magic and wonder" and bluntly blames Buster for its downfall.
    • Nana is a downplayed example; while she does reminisce about the old days, it's only because Buster brought them up and she never expresses a desire to return to her career nor does she seem to care about whether anyone recognizes her. While her mansion is filled with memorabilia, it's in good condition and she's apparently still very wealthy.

    Film - Live-Action 
  • The premise of The Artist, where male superstar actor George Valentin is slowly fading into one as talking movies become the new craze. However, he somewhat manages to avoid this fate by becoming a dancing performer.
  • The Trope Codifier would probably be Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard, a silent film star who never made the transition into talking pictures. Despite her advancing age and secluded existence, she still believes she's big enough to star in one more picture, with Cecil B. DeMille to direct her. Includes a double helping of Reality Subtext, as Desmond was played by Gloria Swanson, who had been one of silent film's biggest stars but who never made the transition to "talkies". In a Genius Bonus, Desmond watches one of her old films, which is the Gloria Swanson movie Queen Kelly. This was directed by Erich Von Stroheim, a once-prominent director whose career behind the camera ended with the silent film era (though he maintained an acting career), who plays Desmond's butler (who, it turns out, was also her first director...and her first husband). (Because Queen Kelly went grossly over budget, and was never completed, it effectively ended both Gloria Swanson's and Erich von Stroheim's careers in the silent movie business.) Interestingly, Swanson had to be made up as older than she looked to play a character who was younger than she was!
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit finds Betty Boop working as a nightclub cigarette girl, having been put out of business by cartoons going to color.note  She's fairly philosophical about it, though. Counts for a bit of a Tear Jerker, especially Eddie's sad after she assures him she's Still Got Itnote . You can thank this movie for helping to revive Betty Boop's career, if not as an animated film star then as a merchandising icon.note 
  • Susan Alexander in Citizen Kane. A bit out of the ordinary: Now she's running on the fumes of her former notoriety, but initially she was pushed into the limelight somewhat against her will and found stardom humiliating.
  • Meryl Streep as Madeline Ashton in Death Becomes Her is one, with the added twist that even in her prime, she actually kinda sucked at performing (she's introduced while starring in a horrendous musical version of Sweet Bird Of Youth that has the audience walk out on it), with her only real appeal being her beauty. Happily, Streep has averted this trope in real life, being one of the longest-lasting starlets in Hollywood history.
  • Alegría has a touching variant in the Cafe Opera, a watering hole that specifically caters to old, forgotten performers, providing them comfort and support from their peers in their twilight years (some even engage in romances with each other). The owner himself is a dancer and now alcoholic known as Old Taps. (Ironically, his actor, Brian Dewhurst, is a circus performer who had already worked with Cirque on and offstage. A year or two after the film was shot, he joined Cirque's Mystere as a clown, and is still with the show today...)
  • Sam (Peter Sellers) in The Optimists is a variant. He apparently was almost famous in English vaudeville at one point and certainly has the ramshackle house, old costumes and clippings, and drinking problem. But in his old age, he still performs as a busker (street performer) and seems content to get by that way, with no delusions of grandeur.
  • After the Fox, another Peter Sellers film, has former "international handsome star" Tony Powell. He's artificially tanned and white-toothed (which he shows off as a Perpetual Smiler), uses shoe polish to cover his graying hair and is convinced that he's perfect to make a comeback as the hero of the old noir films he used to star in while his agent tries to bring him to reality. Sellers' character is easily able to manipulate him. Powell was played by a self-parodying Victor Mature.
  • Downplayed male example: Alex Fletcher in Music and Lyrics certainly fits the 'forgotten has-been' aspect of the trope, but doesn't display much serious desire to get back to the way things were; his main motivation is not to get back onto the top but to keep his profile up high enough so that he can keep doing the low-rent theme park gigs that sustain him (and possibly even land a lucrative contract at Disney Land).
  • Another male example: Buddy Young Jr. in Mr. Saturday Night.
  • Vitriolic producer Les Grossman uses these exact words to describe Tugg Speedman if Tropic Thunder (the movie-within-the-movie) fails.
    "Speedman is a dying star. A white dwarf...heading for a black hole. That's physics."
  • Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood, which makes him perfect for a starring role in one of the worst movies ever.
  • Velma Von Tussle in Hairspray, especially in the later versions. Her song "The Legend of Miss Baltimore Crabs" details her beauty queen past.
  • Elise Elliot is on her way to becoming this in The First Wives Club. She is still recognised by her fans, but her career is fading. She is struggling to get a role and when she finally thinks she will be cast as the star of a new film it turns out the young and hip regisseur wants her as the ugly and grotesque Mother. She has undergone major plastic surgery and is an alcoholic. She drunkenly complains about how Sean Connery is 400 years old and still a star, but women are cast as the mother when they are older than 20. In her apartment, she has an entire room filled with her memorabilia, including prizes she won, gifts, etc. Fortunately, at the end of the film, she gets better.
  • Bertha in Poor Pretty Eddie was a successful and glamorous showgirl, but is now an overweight, middle-aged alcoholic who surrounds herself with old photos of herself and practically defines herself by her abusive relationship with a much younger Eddie. When Liz, a famous jazz singer, ends up at Bertha's motel, Bertha immediately becomes jealous of her and constantly antagonizes her, most notably by refusing to help Liz after she's raped by Eddie. In her mind, she believes that keeping Liz as Eddie's captive at the motel will teach her a lesson about how one day, Liz's fame will dry up just like hers did.
  • How to Lose Friends & Alienate People has a very sympathetic example as a minor character. Sidney notices that she's alone and downcast at a huge celebrity hobnob, ignored by everyone else in attendance, despite her long and respectable career in Hollywood. The older actress is genuinely touched when he introduces himself as a huge fan.
  • Max Bialystock in The Producers was once a successful Broadway Producer (at least in his own mind), but is washed-up and forced to sponge off of little old ladies when the show starts. This is especially true in the musical version, where he opens the show singing, "I used to be the King, the King of Old Broadway."
  • The entire band in This Is Spın̈al Tap. Not that they aren't popular anymore, not by any means, it's just that "their appeal has grown more selective." A truly sad moment in this uproarious comedy is when the band hears an oldies station playing one of their hits as "The Thamesmen"... followed by the DJ consigning them to the "Where Are They Now?" file, when where they are is playing a concert in that very city. Ultimately subverted: it turns out they're big in Japan.
    • Truth in Television for Anvil as portrayed in Anvil! The Story of Anvil. The band was huge in the '80s, sharing the stage with Bon Jovi and Whitesnake but ended up completely forgotten by history. Their documentary ends with a concert in Japan, where thousands of fans turn up despite a bad spot on the schedule.
  • Peter Vincent in Fright Night (1985), a former B-movie actor once famous for playing a vampire hunter in a series of Hammer-esque films who now hosts a late-night horror program that's just been canceled. He gets called out of retirement to reprise his role for real.
  • An infamous example: Joan Crawford (played by Faye Dunaway) in Mommie Dearest. As Crawford got older (both in the film and in real life), she parlayed her talents into increasingly ridiculous guest appearances and starring roles in an attempt to regain her stardom. Most infamously, Crawford took over a role intended for her daughter (who was a good thirty years younger than her) in a bid to get her name back in the spotlight.
  • Helen Sinclair in Bullets Over Broadway. "Don't speak!"
  • Faded rock star Rex Manning in Empire Records. This is lampshaded by a teenage boy who gets an autograph from Manning because "my mom has all your albums" despite never personally having heard a single one of Manning's songs. Subverted in the Director's Cut version of the film. In an alternate take of the "You're just a has-been" scene, he trades his cocky attitude and quote from The Who's "My Generation", for a heartfelt and bitter "you might be right" acknowledgment.
  • Dinner at Eight provides a very sad example in Larry Renault, who was a big star in the silent movie days but who now is a washed-up alcoholic who can't even get jobs in vaudeville. After his disgusted manager gives Larry an epic "The Reason You Suck" Speech, Larry is Driven to Suicide.
  • This is the entire premise of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?. Jane Hudson is a Former Child Star in vaudeville theater, and her sister Blanche was a successful film actress as a young adult. Now Blanche is crippled from Jane accidentally hitting her with a car, and Jane is a disturbed alcoholic who can't accept that her career dried up when she aged and couldn't make the transition to movies. She still dresses like she does when she was 'Baby Jane', and resents and torments Blanche. Actually, Blanche was the one driving the car, attempting to hit Jane. Blanche had resented that she was tied to her scandal-ridden, talentless sister, and tried to kill her. The book even states that she prevented Jane from seeking psychiatric help in order to better manipulate her. The film ends with Blanche presumably dead and Jane having snapped completely, believing that the police and crowds are there to see her comeback.
  • Roy Munson from Kingpin is a former bowling star who lost his hand.
  • Jimmy from The Air Up There is a former college basketball star until he blew his knee. To be accepted into the Winabi tribe, he had to throw away his championship ring.
  • Deconstructed in Postcards From The Edge with Doris, and lampshaded with her performance of "I'm Still Here".
  • The short film Conventional stars Karen Gillan (who also wrote and directed it) as a former scream queen whose career burned out once she was seen as too old by casting directors, and laments how her Typecasting as "the hot chick who dies in horror movies" essentially made it impossible to get any different roles. Now, she's had extensive (and obvious) plastic surgery to hide her age, and she works the convention circuit where the only people who still care about her are the most deranged fans of her older films. When one of them kills her during a photo session, her last words are "thank you", partly because it will finally put her name back in the spotlight, and partly because she hated how pathetic her life had become.
  • The former Galaxy Quest cast, most of whom are only getting paid from publicity appearances these days.
  • Crooked House: Magda claims that she and Philip were once the most glamorous couple in London. If this is true, then current position definitely makes her one: doing provincial reparatory and clinging desperately to the hope that Philip's screenplay is going to make her a star again.
  • In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Rick Dalton was the lead character of a very successful Western TV show in the 50's until he quit to pursue a film career. He failed to really break out as a star and since returning to television has been increasingly cast as The Heavy to boost the careers of newer, younger stars. Rick is painfully aware that his credibility as a leading man is fading and fears become a has-been.
  • Clouds of Sils Maria involves an actress who was an ingenue many years earlier who's now wrestling with the prospect of doing a remake of her most famous performance... except that a younger actress now has the role she previously played.


    Live-Action TV 
  • The Twilight Zone (1959):
    • The episode "The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine" was about a White Dwarf Starlet, Barbara Jean Trenton, who becomes so obsessed with her old movies she literally gets pulled into one.
    • A Spear Counterpart appears in the episode "The Trouble With Templeton", in which aging actor Booth Templeton misses his late wife and his time as a Broadway actor in 1927. He escapes to a speakeasy in the past, only to find his wife and close friends callous and indifferent to him. He runs out of the speakeasy and returns to the present. But, when he reads a playbill he snatched from his wife in 1927, it says What to Do When Booth Comes Back. He then realizes that the whole thing was a charade, and that his wife and friends were just pretending to be mean so he would return to the present and appreciate his life there rather than getting stuck wallowing in nostalgia.
  • Faith from Hope and Faith.
  • Nina Van Horn from Just Shoot Me!. Wendie Malick does this very well, just look at Victoria Chase on Hot in Cleveland.
  • Not Always Female: Rembrandt from Sliders was certain his singing the National Anthem at the baseball game he'd been on his way to attending would have restored him to stardom if not for that pesky portal accident. This was only reinforced by him finding out that he had Elvis levels of fame on one of the worlds.
  • Will Smith from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was once roped into a date with a thoroughly unpleasant version of this character, who was portrayed as a diva who was rude to everyone and refused to accept that her career was over.
  • Parodied in 3rd Rock from the Sun when Sally began to act like one when her "15 minutes of fame" ran out.
  • Jenna Maroney of 30 Rock lives in perpetual fear of becoming one. Of course, she can't really become a has-been since she wasn't really that famous to start with. Instead, she'd be more of a never-was.
  • In the Angel episode "Eternity", an actress in her late twenties shows signs of slipping into this territory, though she's still arguably at an average level of fame. Terrified, both of that and of her own "advancing years", she tries to get Angel to turn her into a vampire, so she'll have eternal youth.
  • All My Children's Erica Kane may count as either a White Dwarf Starlet or as a gender flipped Hugh Hefner (i.e., an increasingly desperate and creepy has-been who insists on acting like she's still just as relevant {and vital} as she was decades ago).
  • The Columbo episode "Forgotten Lady" casts fading Hollywood star Janet Leigh as a White Dwarf Starlet driven to murder in order to facilitate her comeback.
  • The main character of Colombian Soap Opera La Diva is an actress that, after having a big success in her home country, got a diva-ish attitude and decided to try her luck in Hollywood, leaving her reluctant family behind. After 10 years with no success, she decides to come back, only to find that, while still beautiful and talented, she is no longer relevant, and her sons are still deeply hurt from the abandonment.
  • In Absolutely Fabulous: Patsy Stone.
  • In Slings & Arrows, Shakespearian diva Ellen Fanshaw begs her director not to cast her as the Nurse in Romeo & Juliet, because she can't stand to think of herself as being that old. She also spends a lot of time seducing inappropriately younger men. The trope is both played straight and subverted, because while the show makes fun of its aging starlet, Ellen never loses her dignity as an actress, taking on such weighty parts as Queen Gertrude and Lady Macbeth.
  • Petula from Dinnerladies thinks she's one of these.
  • The Norma Desmond character from Sunset Boulevard was frequently parodied on The Carol Burnett Show.
  • Desperate Housewives has former runway model Gabrielle Solis (who somehow managed to be a runway model at five-foot-nothing) returning to New York in one episode to schmooze with former co-workers (including Real Life supermodel Paulina Porizkova), only to find out they all hated her. Another episode features her trying to prove she's still model material, only to find that she's considered too old by the crew because she's in her 30s.
  • Castle has Martha Rogers (played by Susan Sullivan) as a past-her-prime actress who still gets work (although not the kind of roles she used to get) and is remarkably well adjusted to her later years for a fading starlet, but still wanting to retain some of her former glamour. The show has included Martha watching a clip from The Incredible Hulk movie (which Susan starred in) and several of her glamour shots from her Dynasty days. There is also Castle's first ex-wife Meridith, who is an early-onset case, and not so well adjusted to it.
  • Sidra from 1000 Ways to Die's episode "Inject-icide". She's an elderly former beauty queen who injected her face with corn oil as a cheap substitute for Botox (as she couldn't afford the actual treatments). Some of that got into her bloodstream, and then it started leaking out of her face...
  • Raquel in The L.A. Complex had some fame 10 years or so ago, but now she's pushing 30 and still auditioning to play teenagers. She makes a point of not wanting the "mom roles".
  • Daisy Adaire from Dead Like Me. Although it helps that, being dead, she doesn't age.
  • On an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Carol Burnett played a former ballerina whose rich husband is accused of murdering his mistress and her lover. When Benson comes to question her, she's sitting in her den watching old films of herself dancing while drinking herself into a stupor. She points at the screen and tells Benson,"You see that girl? She used to be me."
  • A Saturday Night Live skit set in the future portrayed Lady Gaga this way, where an elderly and delusional Gaga sends for a plumber and desperately tries to get the poor man to recognize her when he simply wants to do his work and leave. This skit came out after her album Artpop was a commercial failure since people were starting to tire of her over-the-top antics. Ironically, she would later reinvent herself as a classier, more low-key performer in the years that followed, and she's had a respectable amount of fame since.
  • Kandi Buress from The Real Housewives Of Atlanta was a member of the '90s Girl Group Xscape. She sees the show as a chance to re-enter the spotlight.
  • One unsub on Criminal Minds was the son of a onetime starlet, and has several conversations with her during the episode that makes it clear that she's a very gone-to-seed version of this trope. Subverted in the final scene, which reveals that the "conversations" were her son's hallucinations as he talked to her long-mummified corpse. Black Dwarf Starlet?
  • Quincy, M.E. investigated a suicide that led to exposing malpractice. Although he was actually a gynecologist who knew nothing about cosmetic surgery, the unscrupulous Dr. Emile Green was making money preying on women who fit this trope. One of his victims, Dorie Larkin, always hid behind scarves and veils. Bravely appearing on television, she explained that she wanted the surgery because roles that she felt should have gone to her were going to younger actresses, and she was being cast as maiden aunts. When no reputable surgeon would help, because she had the wrong skin type, she turned to Dr. Green, and he butchered her face.
  • Schitt's Creek: Moira Rose was the star of a Soap Within a Show called Sunrise Bay which had a number of absurd plots but was number one in the ratings. She also starred in a Lifetime movie called Not Without My Cousin, and she is eventually cast as Dr. Clara Mandrake in a film called The Crows Have Eyes III: The Crowening, after turning down the part of Clara in The Crows Have Eyes II because she would have had to pay her own way to Bosnia for the shoot.
  • The Outer Limits (1963) episode "The Guests" features Florida Patton, the series' version of Norma Desmond. She was famous during the silent movie era, but her career suffered when talkies began and she's still salty about it: "I'm a star. Audiences hear stars with their souls, not with their ears!"
  • Joey from Friends is an atypical example of this, since he's a main character who was made into a White Dwarf by events that happened after the start of the series. The reason he counts as a White Dwarf is because he is so often portrayed as a has-been ever since the time he lost his job at Days of Our Lives. Ever since then, his acting career consists of getting jobs that are nowhere near as glorious as his role on Days of Our Lives, and of constantly boasting about his role as Dr. Drake Remore; not only this, but he often thinks that this success entitles him to be seriously considered anytime he auditions for the high-status acting gigs that he fails to get. He never has any further successes that would make him just as proud as the one time he got lucky and became a star of Days of Our Lives.
  • In Doom Patrol, Rita Farr was a reasonably-sized star back in the 40's, before a freak accident turned her into an amorphous blob. She has spent the past six or seven decades holed up in a mansion, bitterly reminiscing about her lost stardom.
  • Cheers: Sam Malone often pines over his days in the Boston Red Sox, which ended due to his severe alcoholism, but several times through the series it's shown he wasn't a terribly good player even in his heyday, to the extent the Sox don't even bother inviting him to reunions.

  • "The Right Profile" by The Clash, about the messed-up Real Life fate of Montgomery Clift, is a male example, complete with a heavy dose of Black Comedy or Lyrical Dissonance, depending on your point of view.
  • Lola of the Barry Manilow song "Copacabana". Though to be fair to Lola, she pretty much had a mental break after the love of her life was killed in front of her and spends her days drunk and grieving after that.
  • Metallica's song "The Memory Remains" is about an unnamed actress past her prime. Especially poignant since they managed to have 1960s starlet Marianne Faithfull on backing vocals for the song and appear in the video. Talk about hitting close to home...
  • "Yesterday's Hero" by John Paul Young.
  • Bucks Fizz's (never spoonerise that name) Golden Days and Now Those Days Are Gone seem to be about this trope.
  • Nina Simone's "Stars".
  • Dog Fashion Disco wrote a rather creepy song, "Plastic Surgeons", that is a plastic surgeon's serenade to his white dwarf starlet clients.
    Would you like a new face to face a new day?
    It seems the mirror is your worst enemy
    For I am Christ to the shallow and aging
    A plastic surgeon to the stars of old
  • Prefab Sprout's "The King of Rock And Roll" is about a one-hit wonder who becomes one of these. It was their only hit... in the US.
  • Faith Hill's "When The Lights Go Down", dedicates a verse to this phenomenon.
    So another star falls from the Hollywood Hills
    without a sound, when the lights go down.
  • "Mr. Richland's Favorite Song" by Harry Nilsson, about a (male) teen idol who goes from the heights of fame to being "a fallen star who works in a bar where yesterday is king."
  • "New Age" by the Velvet Underground is about a love affair between a "fat, blonde actress" and one of her fans.
  • "Della Brown" by Queensrÿche tells the story of a middle-aged homeless woman who was once a great beauty that had the world at her feet and her pick of men. Once her beauty faded, she was cast aside and had to live on the street because she had no other means of supporting herself other than with her looks. The song ends with her waiting for a man to come along and make her happy again.
  • "Duchess" by Genesis depicts a starlet for whom "everybody cried for more" lose popularity with her fans, to the point where "nobody (cries) for more".
  • Krayzie Bone's "What Would You Do?" tells the story of a washed up rapper who returns back to the life of crime with disastrous consequences.
  • "Paperitähdet" (Paper Stars) by Finnish rock artist Juice Leskinen.
  • "The Lucky One" by Taylor Swift is about an aspiring actress who went to Hollywood seeking fortune and fame, but ended up as one of these when she realized that said fortune and fame weren't what they were cracked up to be. It has a Happy Ending though: She uses her money to buy a big plot of land and retire to a quieter, simpler, life.
  • Two male examples show up in country music, with Tanya Tucker singing "King of Country Music" and John Anderson doing "Would You Catch a Falling Star?"

  • The Stephen Sondheim musical Follies is full of elderly showgirls. Though most of the songs are period pastiches, "I'm Still Here," an anthem to ex-stardom, practically sums up this trope. Some poignant lyrics include:
    "First you're another
    Sloe-eyed vamp,
    Then someone's mother,
    Then you're camp.
    Then you career from career
    To career.
    I'm almost through my memoirs.
    And I'm here."
  • Grizabella the Glamour Cat from Cats. Also Gus the Theatre Cat, the elderly veteran who breaks down crying reminiscing about the star he once was.
  • Stella Spotlight from the Franco-Canadian musical Starmania is a textbook example, particularly in her song Les Adieux d'un Sex Symbol.
  • Norma Desmond again in the Broadway musical version of Sunset Boulevard.
  • Archie Rice, the title character in John Osborne's The Entertainer (later made into a movie with Laurence Olivier in an Oscar-nominated role). A broken-down old vaudevillian in late 1950s England still trying to desperately cling to the last shreds of his fame (which, to hear his family tell it, may only have ever existed in Archie's mind) while trying just as determinedly to ignore his family's disintegration around him. It's more explicit in the film version, where Archie's an obviously terrible performer who's openly heckled by his audiences and coasts on his father's reputation.
  • It's strongly implied that Margo in Applause is headed in this direction, lampshaded by a review which describes her as "discreetly lit by all the pink gelatin on Broadway." (Light filtered through pink "gels" can make people appear younger; if a production uses enough of them for you to notice, it's a sign that one of the actors is too old to play the role they're in.)
  • Meg Giry in Love Never Dies is a very young example, being only around her late 20s-early 30s. In the original show and novel, she is the lead dancer of the corps de ballet with a promising career ahead of her. However, in this story ten years later she is a washed-up stripper who longs to return to her glory days and wants the Phantom to turn her into a star as he did Christine. It's pretty much all downhill from there.
    • Carlotta from the original The Phantom of the Opera is similar to this; it's said by many both in the theater and its attendants that she's seasons past her prime, but her name still gives many shows popularity. She does not take kindly to Christine coming in and rapidly becoming more popular than she is.
  • Shelly "The Machine" Levine from Glengarry Glen Ross was once his firm's top salesman but has become over-the-hill and becomes desperate to keep his job.
  • The Drowsy Chaperone: Beatrice Stockwell, the actress who plays the Chaperone, is implied to be one of these in the years since the record was made. It's said that she had a great love of "rousing anthems", although by the end of her life "she didn't rouse so much as stupefy".

    Video Games 
  • Gloria van Gouton from Psychonauts, though her decline was a result of her mother's suicide rather than a harsh industry, though that certainly didn't help. She's incredibly bipolar and delusional (performing for a collection of pots with faces drawn on them) until Raz goes into her mind and cures her. Her mother was also this, and it was Gloria's success outshining her own that led to her jumping off a building. When Raz fixes her mental issues, she decides to retire from acting permanently (which she never really wanted to do in the first place, having been pushed into it by her Stage Mom).
  • Flurrie from Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, although her acting background isn't mentioned much after she joins your party. Although she returns to the stage in the epilogue.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
    • Gary Golden is a male example. Having lost both his career and his good looks when the local Nosferatu Embraced him, much of his spare time is spent dressed up in a tuxedo, conducting "wrap parties" with the corpses of long-dead actors, and occasionally trying to remind visitors that he was once a Hollywood star. Aside from that, though, he's pretty happy with his position.
    • Quite perversely, Gary has created one himself: Imalia, a former model who grew too arrogant for the local Nosferatu to stomach. Following her Embrace, she has become obsessed with the models who have taken her place on the spotlight, to the point of paying the Player Character to disgrace one of them. She'll also pay a lot for any footage (especially pornographic) of herself in her Glory Days, most of which Gary has spitefully removed from the public market.
    • Another male actor: Ash, an actor who was being groomed by Isaac, one of the local Toreador, as a hot leading man. Then Isaac found Ash overdosed one night and Embraced him — leading to the death of his acting career and a major case of I Hate You, Vampire Dad. Ash spends his nights running a club gifted to him by Isaac and trading on the last fragments of his movie career, but refuses to have anything to do with his sire — which is sad, because Isaac really does care for him.
  • Evelyn Morrison, B-movie actress turned motel owner, from Sam & Max Hit the Road. She's actually also a bit of a subversion; while most of the usual trappings of the trope is present (thinks she's still famous and iconic, thinks she was a much bigger star than she really was, acts as if a comeback is right around the corner), she's also a successful business owner, which is a popular destination for Bigfoot, implied to be because of her b-movie status (she claims she's used to dealing with hairy monsters from her film career).
  • Gloria Swansong from Sierra's The Colonel's Bequest.
  • Naoko Mihama from the first Siren game is a former model and actress reduced to B-list status. She ends up going crazy due to the horrifying situation she finds herself in, and, combined with her vanity, she willingly allows herself to become a shibito in a misguided attempt to stay eternally young and beautiful. Following her transformation, she is first seen as a regular shibito, before eventually mutating into a dog shibito.
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
    • Jack Hammer in the third case of the first game. It turns out that he accidentally killed his co-star and Dee Vasquez—whose husband/boyfriend was the co-star in question—covered it up, forcing him to take on villains' roles in children's shows for low pay as revenge.
    • Wendy Oldbag was also a star in her younger days (or, as she referred to herself, a little twinkle between the stars). Now she's a security guard for the studio.
  • One of the Splicers in the BioShock series is Baby Jane, who's clearly one of these from her dialogue: "Came here to be a star! Came here to be a star - Not too late, not too late!" (She might never have been a star, though, having simply opted to fake until she could make it — and never did.)
    • Bonus points for being clones of the original Baby Jane, due to Adam overdose and memory overwrite. 'Shadow of her former self' is an understatement.
  • Bibi Swan from Dead Rising 2, a former Vegas stage starlet who got old and ended up in Vegas knock-off Fortune City. She's now got a literally captive audience (i.e. the zombies ate most of her audience, she went insane and took several random people as hostage to serve as her new audience, which she also considers the zombies to be a part of), and makes Chuck run "errands" for her to set up her show, threatening to blow herself and her audience up if he doesn't humor her. If you humor her and help her with her show, she ends up jumping into a crowd of zombies, thinking they're her rabid fans, allowing you to either leave her there to be eaten by them or save her after you free her hostages, at which point she finally comes to her senses.
  • HuniePop 2 reveals that this has happened to Jesse Maye. Now that she is approaching her 40s, offers for her in adult movies have reduced drastically and she was forced to quit. She's described as being depressed about it and yearning for some attention through flirting, hoping to be shown that she is still attractive.
  • Momoka in Omega Quintet is on her way to becoming one, retiring after the first episode, her hand being forced not by lack of appeal (though Ayumi claims they had been avoiding close-ups without telling her) - she still gets plenty of fans. It's old age, which not only gives her trouble in the physical combat against MADs, but it's a small miracle her Magic Music has continued to function this far beyond the Competence Zone as it is. She's self-aware of all this, and rather than denying it, she's incredibly bitter, bullying her replacements, refusing to give them any training whatsoever, and generally acting like a diva despite having no life skills in a Crapsack World. It turns out to be at least partially rooted in self-loathing after she overestimated her abilities as a mentor and nearly got her first pupil killed making her debut too early. She starts to mellow out - eventually - when she's convinced Takt and the Quintet can look after themselves.

  • Fairest Cruelest: The Queen struggles with the fact her spotlight is stolen by the young Princess Delilah, and confused by the princess's attitude towards her

    Web Original 
  • The Thrilling Adventure Hour: Averted in the short-lived segment "Desdemona Hughes, Diva Detective", where the eponymous protagonist is a former Silent Movie star turned detective. Despite having had a long career in the spotlight until the talkies came along, she is never seen moping about having lost it but relishes in her new line of work.
  • Mission To Zyxx: The starship Bargarean Jade, in her younger years, was an A-list holofilm star. She occasionally tries to work her way back into acting and loves to show off her classic movies to the crew, as well as gossiping about all the famous people (and ships) she knew in the old days.

    Western Animation 
  • A number of Adam West parodies, most of them voiced by West himself, tend to fall under this trope. Most notable is "Timothy North," who used to star as "The Fearless Ferret", a Kim Possible universe analog of Batman that ran during the same era, and in his old age has come to think he is the hero. He spent a considerable amount of his fortune having his home redesigned into a replica of the Ferretcave and his alter ego's mansion so accurate that everything actually worked. In fact, he even ropes Ron Stoppable into becoming his successor when he discovers his secret (a shoutout to Batman Beyond, especially since Ron's voice actor also voices the titular Batman of the future.) An actor who played a skunk-themed one-shot villain fell into the same delusion but went further to actually commit a plot. Eventually, the two recognize each other and proceed to greet each other warmly before happily enjoying themselves in Ferretcon with the fans who do still care and remember while savoring the old times:
    Whitestripe: How've you been?
    North: Oh, you know, living in a delusion, confusing fantasy with reality. You?
    Whitestripe: Me too.
    • West plays it For Drama in Batman: The Animated Series as the Grey Ghost, Batman's hero. Simon Trent, the actor who played the Ghost in the Show Within a Show Bruce Wayne watched as a kid winds up broke in a run-down one-room apartment hoarding memorabilia from his one starring role and laments it as it kept him from moving. However, Batman's kind words and encouragement (especially because the crime was based on a Grey Ghost episode) has Simon suit up and help Batman take down the bad guy in a surprisingly athletic display for a man who has to be in his 60's by this point. This rockets Simon back into popularity, complete with a VHS re-release of the Grey Ghost tv series (thought to had been lost in a studio fire, but Trent had kept copies of every episode at home) with Bruce Wayne giving a hint that he's Batman at a signing. His popularity remains constant at least until Batman Beyond (50 years later), where a young Terry went to see The Grey Ghost Returns, indicating that the Grey Ghost enjoys a similar level of love and popularity that Batman does in Real Life.
  • Stan and Francine encounter one named June Rosewood in American Dad! who believes Stan is the reincarnation of her dead husband, Leonard Zane. June claims the two of them were a famous comedy duo back in the 1930s but from the one film of their's shown, Leonard was the one who had all the talent and comedic abilities while June just entered scenes commenting on how ridiculous everything was (which she thinks was hilarious). June still manages to convince Stan to help finish the last film she and Leonard were working on before he died, with Stan humoring her for a while about the reincarnation thing. June tries to kill Francine after she fills in for Gloria Delmar, an actress who had several routines with Leonard in the original film, to keep Stan to herself. Stan later finds out June killed Leonard and Gloria because they fell in love, and Francine is Gloria's reincarnation. When June tries to drown the Smiths the same way she drowned Leonard and Gloria, Stan and Francine accidentally run her over with a motorboat and kill her.
  • Animaniacs
    • Slappy Squirrel is an inversion of this. The gag behind Slappy isn't really that she's a fallen starlet seeking to regain her fame — it's that she's a retired slapstick comedy star whose old antagonists don't seem to have let go as well as she has, only now, she's not only smarter than her opponents, she's old, grumpy, sarcastic and arthritic (think of an aged, vindictive Bugs Bunny), so not only is great harm befalling her geriatric rivals, it's gotten easier with practice and she enjoys it more.
    • The episode "The Warners 65th Anniversary Special" (a parody of Milestone Celebration specials) reveals that this is (supposedly) what happened with the Warners' original co-star Buddy (an actual WB cartoon character from the 1930s, infamous for his boring [to some] cartoons). Buddy was fired from the studio after Plotz decided that the Warners didn't need him anymore, though Buddy is seemingly okay with mundane life (he's a nut farmer in Ojai, California at this point). However, it's then revealed that the episode's mystery villain is, in fact, Buddy, bitter that the Warners cost him his career. He changes his mind when the Warners acknowledge him in their acceptance speech and thank him for their careers, but ends up running right into the trap he set for them when he rushes on stage.
  • Batman: The Animated Series:
    • Recurring villain Mary "Baby" Dahl, a White Dwarf Starlet, with emphasis on "Dwarf", who abducted her long-separated sitcom co-stars. Dahl had a peculiar form of dwarfism that made her look permanently like an 8-year old, making her attempts at legitimate acting after quitting her sitcom doomed from the start. Decades later, Dahl has become delusional and desperate to recapture the happiness she had felt in the glory days of her show, leading to her kidnapping her former co-stars to forcibly reunite the cast (and to get revenge on the annoying Cousin Oliver character that drove her out of the show). It's a tragic example as Mary eventually breaks down in tears when she sees how she could've been in in a funhouse mirror.
    • Clayface in this series is partly based on Basil Karlo (a disfigured, washed-up actor whose desperate attempt to get back into showbiz resulted in him being exposed to an experimental facial cream that mutated him into Clayface), though he has the name of a different Clayface (Matt Hagen).
    • "The New Batman Adventures" episode "Mean Seasons" has a former model intent on killing the people who had led to her downfall, wearing full-body covering and a featureless mask to hide what she's become since her fame ran out. The Reveal shows that she looks to be in her 30s and is still beautiful, but she "can only see the flaws". Wanna know the kicker, though? Her voice actress was former model Sela Ward, which sort of makes the episode Truth in Television, although Ward obviously didn't go stark raving nuts in Real Life.note 
  • Big Food from Chowder is a perfect example of this trope, even using the line "I am a big star, it's the roles that got small!" with her name and fridge replacing "a big star" and "roles" respectively.
  • Betty Boop's Drawn Together analog, Toot Braunstein, is the burnt-out husk left after the collapse of a white dwarf starlet. She's a Planetary Nebula Starlet (not as hot but larger). Unlike most versions of this trope, she still looks exactly the same as she did in her prime since toons don't age, but what was considered an ideal body in the 1920s is seen as chubby and unappealing today (by mainstream entertainment standards).
  • A Norma Desmond-like character was featured on the DuckTales (1987) episode "The Uncrashable Hindentitanic." And, at least going by a critic's reaction to her old films being shown, she apparently wasn't a very good actress in her heyday.
  • Jim Starling in the Ducktales 2017 reboot isn't taking it well that Show Within a Show Darkwing Duck is no longer relevant in modern times, and he can only get gigs at furniture stores. He's initially thrilled to find out that Darkwing Duck is getting rebooted, but doesn't take it well that not only do they plan on making it Darker and Edgier, but they never even considered him to reprise his role since he was too old. This led to him attempting to hijack the film, which ends up setting the set on fire, forcing his replacement Drake Mallard to try to stop him while Launchpad puts out the fire. After a brief moment of Heel Realization, Jim saves Launchpad from a falling antenna which explodes. The explosion shattered whatever sanity Jim had left, turning him into Negaduck.
  • In the Futurama episode "That's Lobstertainment!", Dr. Zoidberg's uncle Harold Zoid is a silent film star who now lives in obscurity in a retirement home. While not as delusional as Norma Desmond, Harold still believes he's one film away from getting back into the business and tries to use his nephew's money to make that film. At other times, he seems resigned to his fate as a has-been.
    [On the red carpet before the Academy Awards]
    Joan Rivers' Head: Oh, and here's washed-up actor, whats-his-name, Harold Zoid. Are you presenting one of those tacky honorary awards, or just getting one?
    Harold Zoid: I'm a seat-filler, Joan's head. My only marketable skill is to occupy space.
  • I Am Weasel once had I Am Weasel and I.R. Baboon as ghosts who are tasked with scaring a retired starlet (played, as usual, by The Red Guy), who spends all her time reminiscing about her glory days. However, we're shown that she only ever played bit parts (and she sucked at those too), and is completely delusional. By the end, their failure to scare her has their boss return Weasel and Baboon to life, only to find out The Red Guy recently died and was assigned to be their ghost.
  • One Robot Chicken skit featured a middle-aged, overweight Jem taking up a job as an entertainer for children's birthday parties.
    Man: (paying Jem for "performing" at his daughter's birthday party) Forty dollars, right? You know, this is really embarrassing, but in the '80s I used to masturbate to you all the time.
    Jem: Yeah, you were just a boy then, but now you're a man, right?
    Man: Uh, yes. A married man.
    Jem: So is it an open marriage, or... (hacking smoker's cough that continues for several seconds)
  • Randy Marsh in South Park. He used to sing in a boy band, but instead of stardom he eventually went to college. He still sometimes memorizes his youth in music and he can play guitar really well.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants features Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy, Bikini Bottom analogues of Batman and Robin (and actual superheroes within the SpongeBob universe, albeit far past their prime) who (via the intervention of SpongeBob) frequently end up attempting to relive their past days of glory.
  • Tiny Toon Adventures:
    • The episode "Sepulveda Boulevard" is a parody of both Sunset Boulevard and the trope itself with Elmyra playing the Norma role, a former cartoon star whose career tanked because audiences no longer wanted cute (in her own mind, anyway).
    • The episode "Who Bopped Bugs Bunny?" has Sappy Stanley, an embittered elephant who moved to France after losing the Academy Award to Bugs Bunny.
    • Both cartoons even paraphrase the "pictures that got small" speech from Sunset Boulevard.
  • Piella Bakewell from Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death. Wallace recognizes her as the spokeswoman for Bake-O-Lite Bread, but she was fired as the "Bake-O-Lite Girl" when she became too heavy to fly the balloon they used in advertising. She's more broken-up about this than she lets on, as Wallace and Gromit learn when she turns out to be the "cereal killer" who's been offing bakers all across town. Though given the content of the spoiler, one really does wonder if whether her version of events shouldn't be taken with a pinch of salt.
  • The title character of Bojack Horseman is a male example. Bojack was the star of a surprise hit sitcom called Horsin' Around back in the '80s and early '90s but quickly fizzled out after the show ended, and has spent the past 20 years pining for the glory days and sabotaging any chances at a comeback because of his massive ego and emotional problems. He spends most of his time, especially in season 1, watching old episodes of the show, to the point where he carries around DVDs of it!
    • Sarah Lynn, who played the youngest child on the show, is just on the cusp of becoming one of these. She was by far the most successful of the cast (aside from Bojack, one of the other child actors turned to theater and the other quit acting), and had massive success as a teen pop star and actress. However, by the time the show starts, her career is winding down as she's replaced by younger icons, and she's even dumped by her publicity boyfriend Andrew Garfield. Ironically, she doesn't even like acting all that much, having been pushed into it by her Stage Mom, but eventually became addicted to the attention and fame (making her a distaff counterpart to Bojack who had the same happen to him). Season 3 ends with her winning an Oscar and seemingly set up a comeback, but she says herself that the win isn't making her feel any happier and she dies of a drug overdose, making the whole thing moot.
  • The Batman has Clayface II be Basil Karlo or at least an expy of him; a washed-up former horror movie star whose desire to get back into acting leads to him stealing the experimental mutagenic putty that gave the first Clayface in his universe - Ethan Bennet, a cop - their powers and drinking it to mutate himself on purpose.
  • Early seasons of The Simpsons featured Troy McClure, a B-list actor who had starred in a ridiculously huge array of B-movies and failed TV shows, and persisted trying to chase A-list stardom despite his long litany of flops. Ironically, one episode in which he manages to score the lead position in Planet of the Apes: The Musical, shows he's an In-Universe example of He Really Can Act; he's just so desperate to leap into stardom that he makes himself look worse than he really is by constantly appearing in schlocky productions. His myriad vices, including raging alcoholism and an unspeakable fish fetish, don't improve his chances.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: