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What Happened To 1980s Child Star Jenny Lewis?

Samantha Franco
Photo Credit: Michael Kovac / Getty Images for CORE Gala and Columbia Pictures / lindsaylohanslastfan / MovieStillsDB
Photo Credit: Michael Kovac / Getty Images for CORE Gala and Columbia Pictures / lindsaylohanslastfan / MovieStillsDB

While many child actors maintain their careers well into adulthood, some seem to just disappear. Of course, they don’t actually disappear – many choose to live quieter lives, return to school, or pursue other paths in life. One person who you haven’t seen on screen in a while is Jenny Lewis, but that doesn’t mean you haven’t heard her. She made a decided shift to pursue music instead of acting and has really made a name for herself.

Jenny Lewis was a successful child star of the 1980s

The 1980s were a golden era for family entertainment, requiring a bevy of talented child actors. Among these, Jenny Lewis stood out, capturing hearts with her roles in Troop Beverly Hills and The Wizard. She also starred in several one-off episodes on hit television shows, including Baywatch and Roseanne.

Headshot of Jenny Lewis.
Actress Jenny Lewis poses for a portrait, circa 1989. (Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

However, as the 1990s dawned, Lewis gradually shifted her focus from acting to music, a passion she wished to pursue since childhood. This pivot marked the beginning of a new chapter in her life, leading her away from the silver screen and towards the recording studio.

Early musical success in Rilo Kiley

In the late 1990s, Lewis co-founded Rilo Kiley, an indie rock band that saw considerable success in the music world. Through albums like “Under the Blacklight,” the band, with Lewis at the helm, garnered critical acclaim and a dedicated fanbase despite facing challenges within the group.

Portrait of the band Rilo Kiley.
A portrait of Rilo Kiley. (Photo Credit: Wendy Redfern / Redferns / Getty Images)

Despite its success, Rilo Kiley was not without its internal struggles. The failed relationship between Lewis and lead guitarist Blake Sennett, coupled with the pressures of fame, led to the band’s hiatus in 2010 and eventual split the following year. Lewis then decided to step away from collaborative music to focus on her own solo career. She explored various sounds, from the country vibes of the album “Rabbit Fur Coat” to the introspective approach in “On the Line,” earning herself a positive reputation as a highly talented, versatile, and skilled musician.

Lewis has no problems collaborating

Lewis’ involvement with The Postal Service showcased her ability to collaborate and create music that resonates with a wide audience. Joining as the band’s female vocalist, the group played several concerts, with their album “Give Up” seeing extensive use on television and movie soundtracks. While they are not her sole music-making vessel, she has continued to join up with them for tours.

Jenny Lewis and Ben Gibbard playing guitars at each other.
Jenny Lewis and Ben Gibbard of The Postal Service perform during Riot Fest 2023 at Douglass Park in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Daniel Boczarski / Getty Images)

Additionally, beyond her solo career and The Postal Service, Lewis has engaged in numerous collaborations, forming bands like Jenny & Johnny and Nice as F***. She also welcomes other artists onto her own solo albums, such as including the Watson Twins on “Rabbit Fur Coat” and working with Jonathan Rice both on her own projects and on his.

While Lewis made a significant shift away from the silver screen in her younger years, transitioning from acting to music didn’t mean leaving the film industry entirely behind. Her musical talents can be heard in Disney’s Bolt (2008) and the 2013 independent film Very Good Girls. 

Experiencing personal loss

Despite her success, Jenny Lewis has faced personal trials, including the loss of her parents. Lewis was bringing in a steady flow of income working as a child star, and she believes her mother was operating a drug-selling business during the 1980s. Whatever income Lewis did bring in, her mother was spending it on luxury goods. Eventually, when she was older, Lewis cut off all ties to her mother and didn’t reconnect until she was on her deathbed.

Headshot of Jenny Lewis wearing a hat.
Jenny Lewis in 2007 in New York City. (Photo Credit: Bryan Bedder / Getty Images)

Her mother died when she was 70 years old. “She had liver cancer. From untreated hepatitis C,” Lewis explained. “She was a lifelong addict and also mentally ill and… just a really sad situation.” She also lost her father, who was absent for the majority of her life, shortly after he was featured playing the harmonica on her 2008 album “Acid Tongue.”

Lewis made a slight return to acting

After years focused on music, Jenny Lewis returned to acting with select roles that showcased her versatility. The largest part of her return to television and film is her work in voice acting. She gave her voice to a small part in Disney’s Bolt and voiced the character of a teenage girl on the animated series American Dad! 

Headshot of Jenny Lewis.
Singer-songwriter Jenny Lewis in 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo Credit: Steve Granitz / WireImage / Getty Images)

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One of her latest on-screen roles was starring in A Very Murray Christmas, a Netflix holiday special hosted by Bill Murray.

Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!