Top Ten Celebrity Comebacks of the Decade

Celebrity Comebacks: Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Tom Cruise

Dec. 17, 2009 — -- They were down but not out.

America loves a good comeback story and a celebrity comeback is even better. During the past decade, some stars went from obscurity to Oscar nod. Others had a rollercoaster decade, starting on top, plummeting in the middle, but managing to end on top. And, in the case of one star, it took death to bring him back to the forefront of pop culture.

Take notes, Jon Gosselin, Lindsay Lohan, Joaquin Phoenix and Kanye West -- all celebrities who could use a comeback in the next decade. Here's a look at the 10 biggest celebrity comebacks of the decade:

Mickey Rourke

Mickey Rourke, who started his acting career as a sex symbol in the 1980s, and then left it in the 1990s for a failed career in professional boxing, had no problem calling his starring role in 2008's "The Wrestler" his comeback.

"This is a second chance for me. It's my last chance; I just wanted to bring it," he told Peter Travers in an interview for ABC News Now's "Popcorn."

"I was living on hope, fears," the 57-year-old actor said. "Being out of work for 13 to 15 years is no walk in the park," he said.

His role as a washed-up wrestler taking his last shot in the ring mirrored Rourke's own professional life. Rourke's last shot paid off. He received a Golden Globe Award and an Oscar nomination for best actor.

Not bad for an actor who started out the decade playing the villain in Enrique Iglesias' "Hero" music video and ended it with the role of Whiplash in 2010's sure-to-be blockbuster "Iron Man 2."

Robert Downey Jr.

Speaking of "Iron Man," Robert Downey Jr. could have been just another Hollywood tragedy.

After fighting heroin and cocaine addiction and going through multiple drug arrests in the 1990s, Downey appeared headed for a comeback in 2000 when he was cast as Calista Flockhart's love interest in the television show "Ally McBeal." His performance earned him a Golden Globe and an Emmy nomination, but after two arrests in late 2000 and early 2001, Downey was written out of the show.

Downey finally got sober after one last stay in a court-mandated drug treatment program. His career began to take off again. His roles in 2005's "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" and 2007's "Zodiac" got glowing reviews.

"Iron Man" cemented his return. It was followed by an Oscar nod for Downey's comedic turn in "Tropic Thunder."

Back at the top of his game, Downey will end the decade playing Sherlock Holmes in Guy Ritchie's action-filled remake.

Tom Cruise

At one time, the "Risky Business" star made all the right moves. His "Mission: Impossible" films in the late 1990s and 2000s were worldwide blockbuster successes, making him the world's most powerful celebrity in 2006 according to Forbes.

But then Tom Cruise fell in love and made a public relations blunder. In a May 2005 appearance on the "Oprah Winfrey Show," he began jumping on the host's couch to show his excitement over his budding romance with actress Katie Holmes.

A month later, he made another controversial on-air appearance, this time on NBC's "Today" show, when he called psychiatry "pseudoscience" and cast doubt on actress Brooke Shield's claim that she suffered from post-partum depression.

Suddenly Cruise, the ardent Scientologist, was perceived as something of a joke or, at the very least, an oddball.

Cruise has become someone you almost laugh at," Ronn Torossian, the CEO of 5W Public Relations, told in 2008. "People talk about him like they would about Michael Jackson or Mike Tyson."

It didn't help that "Valkryie," Cruise's first film as an independent producer, tanked at the box office. It was time for Cruise to stage a comeback and he did.

After lying low, he returned to the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2008 and made fun of his couch-jumping appearance. Later, he apologized to Lauer on the set of the "Today" show.

"It's really very much about him trying to undo the damage that he did," US Weekly's Bradley Jacobs told in 2008. "And I do think it's working."

By decade's end, Tom had re-established his reputation as a movie star and solidified his public image as a loving husband to Holmes and hands-on dad to daughter Suri.

Mariah Carey

Mariah Carey began the decade with what became known as the "Popsicle meltdown."

In July 2001, she made a surprise appearance on MTV's "Total Request Live," where she handed out popsicles and did a bizarre striptease, leaving host Carson Daly befuddled. "I just want one day off when I can go swimming and eat ice cream and look at rainbows," she told Daly.

Days later, the pop diva posted a message to her Web site, saying "What I'd like to do is just a take a little break or at least get one night of sleep without someone popping up about a video." It was no surprise when hospitalization for "extreme exhaustion" soon followed.

Later that year her film "Glitter" bombed at the box office and Carey won a "Razzie" award for worst actress.

Carey returned to what she knows best: music. But she didn't get the bounceback she needed until 2005 with "We Belong Together," the first hit from her 10th album. She continued her hot streak in 2008 with "E=MC2" and 2009's "Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel."

She also found love, marrying actor Nick Cannon in a surprise wedding in May 2008. Her return to the big screen, playing a social worker in the acclaimed "Precious," has also won her praise.

Ellen DeGeneres

Comedian Ellen DeGeneres first found mainstream success in the mid-'90s when she came out on her sitcom "Ellen." But after the show was canceled in 1998 due to poor ratings, DeGeneres went through a difficult period, professionally and personally, including a highly publicized breakup with actress Anne Heche.

"I went through a phase, whether it was true or not, where my perception was, 'Everyone hates me now,' and it felt horrible," she told People magazine.

Her next try at sitcom success in 2001 fell short. "The Ellen Show" lasted only one season. DeGeneres took a break and regrouped.

In 2003, she came back with an HBO special, a book of comic essays and the role as Dory in the animated hit "Finding Nemo." She also launched her own daytime talk show, "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," dancing her way back into America's hearts.

Now it seems nothing can stop DeGeneres. Next up, she takes Paula Abdul's spot as a judge for the hit reality show "American Idol."

Britney Spears

The decade started so well for Britney Spears. She was at the top of her game at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards when she strutted across the stage crooning "I'm a Slave 4 U," a larger-than-life snake slithering above her taut abs.

Even Madonna wanted a piece of her. Their kiss at the 2003 VMAs made headlines around the world and is still one of MTV's most-talked-about moments.

By 2006, it appeared the pop princess was ready to abdicate her throne, her marriage to Kevin Federline and custody of their two boys, Sean Preston and Jayden James. A months-long saga of bad behavior that included multiple flashes of her private parts, countless nights on the town and allegations of drug and alcohol abuse culminated in February 2007 with Spears buzzing off her famous locks at a Tarzana, Calif., hair salon while photographers snapped away outside. Later that year, she gave what has become a widely ridiculed performance at the VMAs.

It took nearly two years and her father taking charge of her life before Spears regained her footing. Musically, she ends the decade on an up note. Her 2008 song "Womanizer" put her back at the top of the singles charts for the first time since the 1990s. And her album "Circus" is approaching double-platinum status, while her 2009 concert tour was the year's highest-grossing in the United States .

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson spent most of the decade embattled.

A conflict with Sony over 2001's "Invincible," Jackson's last album to feature new material while he was alive, led to Jackson's exit from the label and a cancellation of all promotion related to the album.

His 2003 interview with Martin Bashir, now a co-anchor of ABC News' "Nightline," was a PR nightmare, with Jackson seen dangling his son Blanket from a hotel window and discussing sleeping arrangements with a teenage boy. Shortly after the Bashir interview aired, Jackson was charged with seven counts of child molestation. He was acquitted after a long trial in 2005.

But his troubles continued. Nearly bankrupt, he was forced to sell his famous Neverland Ranch. He also struggled with prescription drug addiction.

In 2008, he announced his comeback tour, a series of 50 concerts in London. He never made it. He died of cardiac arrest in his Los Angeles home on June 25.

Ironically, it took death to bring Jackson back. Three of Jackson's albums were in the top three spots on the Billboard charts in the weeks after his death. The documentary, "This Is It," pieced together from rehearsal footage, became the highest-grossing concert film of all time.

Jackson left the decade and this world on top.

Jennifer Hudson

There's nothing like proving Simon Cowell wrong, as Jennifer Hudson, a former 2004 "Idol" hopeful, knows. Hudson was booted from the show in the seventh round after Cowell commented that she was "out of her league."

But Hudson got the final word. In 2006, she was lauded for her role as Effie in the hit movie "Dreamgirls" and later went on to win the Oscar for best supporting actress.

After seeing Hudson perform on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," Cowell admitted his mistake: "I'd like to be the first to admit a massive dose of humble pie."

But just as Hudson was starting to promote her first album, she suffered a huge blow: her mother, brother and young nephew were found murdered in Chicago. Mourning her lost loved ones, Hudson stayed out of the spotlight and leaned on her fiance, David Otunga.

When she finally returned to the limelight, she gave a flawless performance of the national anthem at the Super Bowl in February 2009 and picked up a Grammy Award later that month.

Whitney Houston

At the beginning of the decade, Whitney Houston's good girl image had all but faded.

In 2000, airport security guards discovered marijuana in both her and husband Bobby Brown's luggage. Charges against the couple were later dropped but rumors about Houston's drug use continued as she grew horribly thin, canceled appearances and developed a reputation for being difficult.

In Houston's now-infamous interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer in 2002, the singer claimed she made too much money to buy crack. "Let's get that straight. Okay? We don't do crack. We don't do that. Crack is whack," she said.

Seven years later, as she staged her comeback, Houston admitted in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, that she used to smoke marijuana laced with cocaine and she and Brown "would have ounces" of cocaine available at all times.

Houston claims she has shed both her drug habit and Brown, whom she divorced in 2007, and with this year's release of her first album in seven years, it appeared the old Houston was back -- well, almost. Her album went to the top of the Billboard chart in its first week but Houston's voice, as demonstrated during the Oprah appearance, wasn't what it used to be.

Alec Baldwin

Alec Baldwin's personal life threatened to eclipse his professional life at the start of the decade following his divorce from actress Kim Basinger and their contentious public custody battle.

Baldwin hit a low point in 2007 when he left a scathing voicemail for his daughter and the recording was later made public. He admitted that he made a mistake but claimed that his ex-wife had made it difficult for him to be in his daughter's life and he was suffering from parental alienation syndrome. In the June 2009 issue of Playboy, he admitted he had contemplated suicide over the leaked voice mail.

"I spoke to a lot of professionals, who helped me," he said. "If I committed suicide, [ex-wife Basinger's side] would have considered that a victory. Destroying me was their avowed goal."

Instead, Baldwin turned his focus toward his work. In 2006 it paid off when he landed the role of a television executive in the critically acclaimed series "30 Rock." In 2008 and 2009, Baldwin won the Emmy for best actor in a comedy, heralding his comeback to popularity.

He ends the decade in a film with Meryl Streep and Steve Martin and signed up to host next year's Oscars with Martin.>

For more end of decade coverage see Soapnet's Best of The Decade