Whatever happened to Steve Guttenberg?

Ben Falk
UK Movies Contributor
He was the biggest star of the 80s, but a career break kept him away from the limelight (WB/Reuters)

Steve Guttenberg was one of the biggest stars of the 1980s, leading man in hits like the Police Academy series, Cocoon and Three Men and a Baby, which is 30 years old this month.

But what happened next?

Anonymous mega-star

Steve Guttenberg was something of a stealth movie star. He didn’t have the multiplex-crowning fame of Tom Cruise and he wasn’t winning Oscars left, right and centre like Robert De Niro.

Guttenberg starred in a strong of 80s classics.

But between 1984 and 1990 he had a staggering run of smash hits – from the original Police Academy and three of its sequels, through Cocoon in 1985, Short Circuit a year later and then 1987’s Three Men and a Baby, which earned more than £182million worldwide on a £8.25m budget, making it the number one film at the US box office that year.

Leaving Hollywood

Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenberg, and Ted Danson in Three Men and a Baby

Before the pull of the movie industry, Guttenberg had wanted to be a dentist and after the release of Three Men and a Little Lady in 1990, he decided to check out of the rat race. “You gotta remember, I left home at 17. So I missed a great deal of my own growing up,” he told The AV Club. “I missed so many things with my family. I’d become everything I ever wanted to be…But I wanted to just be a little closer to my family…And I decided I’d like to work when I want to work…So I did theatre that I really wanted to do and I did some small independent movies that I really wanted to do and I wrote and I painted and I got to see my parents all the time.”

Above all, he was worried about going off the deep end.

“I’ve had a great deal of notoriety and hubris left as packages on my doorstep,” he explained to the Daily Beast earlier this year. “I’m very careful to only open a bottle and not drink the whole gallon.”

Back – and starring opposite the Olsen Twins

Guttenberg starred with the Olsens in It Takes Two (WB)

By the time he returned to acting in 1995, Steve Guttenberg had divorced his wife of four years, Evil Dead 2 actress Denise Bixler and was starring opposite the Olsen Twins in It Takes Two, beginning a run of not-very-successful family films. He dated Baywatch star Yasmine Bleeth, but has admitted he had his doubts about being a less-visible star than he’d been before his self-imposed exile.

“I would have absolute moments and small periods of ‘No-one is coming to the store, why isn’t anyone coming to the store?’” he said this year. “But I never let it become too much of me because I have other things to deal with. I have parents, sisters, friends, people I care about and love.”

Turning to TV

He wrote and directed a movie adaptation of the play P.S. Your Cat Is Dead! in 2002, but with the Noughties rolling around, he wisely started to look for opportunities in television. There was a big role in the small-screen remake of The Poseidon Adventure (2005), but he produced one of his best performances as a malevolent business called Woody Goodman on cult hit Veronica Mars, an arch manipulator who turns out to be a paedophile and is murdered in a plane crash.

Playing Steve Guttenberg

If you’re someone like the Gutt, it’s inevitable at some point – playing yourself. At least he did it in Party Down, a really good, short-lived, little-seen show by the creator of Veronica Mars. He did another version of the same thing being Cinderella’s dad in the Bromley panto in 2008 (let’s face it, it’s unlikely he visualised the role as a method journey into the inner life of a fairytale baron).

Henry Winkler (L) as Hook and Steve Guttenberg as Baron Hardup (Yui Mok/PA Archive/PA Images)

But while his screen career was heading more towards straight-to-cable territory, his theatre career was impressive, appearing on Broadway in a Woody Allen play and subsequently in the cast of Henry IV, Part 1 in a well-reviewed al fresco New York Shakespeare production.

On celluloid, he was offered a part in the original Sharknado but turned it down, showing up instead in the same studio’s schlocky 2015 offering Lavalantula franchise (yes, really) alongside follow Police Academy alumni Leslie Easterbrook (Sgt. Callahan) and Michael Winslow (Jones, the guy with the crazy impressions).

More recently he’s been turning to the dark side playing Wayne Hastings Jr., a ruthless Las Vegas casino magnate opposite Dwayne Johnson in HBO’s Ballers.

The Rock and The Gutt in HBO’s Ballers (HBO)

But off-screen he was heavily involved in charity work for animals (he received a key to the city of Miami Beach for his efforts) as well as young people and homelessness. He also got engaged – to US TV reporter Emily Smith. The couple split their time between a house in Los Angeles and an Upper West Side New York apartment filled with antiques like an 18th century figurine of the Madonna and a 100-year-old Austrian grandfather clock.

Now 59, the actor has come a long way from his first piece of Hollywood advice. “Forget being an actor,” someone told him. “You don’t have the look, you don’t have the talent, and your name is ridiculous. You are the last guy I would ever pick to be a movie star.”

Instead, he told The Daily Beast, “I want to get older. I want to be the dad, the grandpa, those are great roles. I want to be the older guy. I am the older guy.”


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