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Why No One In Hollywood Cast Winona Ryder Until 'Stranger Things'

Updated March 12, 2021 721.5k views13 items

For most of the 2000s, fans wondered where exactly Winona Ryder went. Following her 2001 shoplifting scandal, Winona Ryder was ousted from Hollywood for the better part of a decade. It was a strange fall from grace for the once-ubiquitous star.

Ryder was on top of the world in the late '80s and early '90s. As a young actor, she had starred in soon-to-be-classics like Beetlejuice, Heathers, and Edward Scissorhands. Her cool girl vibe and fascinatingly off-kilter performances made her a pop culture icon. Parlaying her early fame into bigger roles, Ryder worked with Martin Scorsese in The Age of Innocence and Woody Allen in Celebrity. She starred in the indie darling Reality Bites and with Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted, and earned two Oscar nominations. She seemed poised for even bigger and better things - so the Winona Ryder shoplifting scandal and the ensuing fallout was perplexing to fans of the immensely talented performer.

Thankfully, Ryder has now returned to the spotlight in all her glory on Netflix’s Stranger Things. But her time away from Hollywood - whether from personal choice or supposedly tarnished reputation - shows just how harshly celebrities, particularly female ones, are judged by the public.

  • Photo: Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com

    Her Medication May Have Had Something To Do With The Shoplifting

    The Demerol, Percocet, and Vicodin, among other prescription medications, found on Ryder may have had something to do with the shoplifting. In a later interview, Ryder explained she was suffering from clinical depression at the time of her shoplifting incident. She had been prescribed heavy painkillers by a “quack doctor,” who was identified as Jules Mark Lusman. Lusman has since had his medical license revoked, with the Medical Board of California citing his unethical catering to the rich and famous.

    Ryder said she believes the painkillers she was using significantly clouded her judgment, leading to her shoplifting incident.

  • Photo: Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com

    The Polly Klaas Case Was Controversially Brought Up During Her Trial

    Ryder was very affected by the 1993 case of Polly Klaas, a girl who lived in Ryder’s hometown and was taken at knifepoint. Ryder offered a $200,000 reward for Klaas’s safe return. After the girl's body was found, Ryder dedicated her performance in Little Women to the memory of Klaas, as Little Women was one of her favorite novels.

    During the shoplifting trial, Ryder’s lawyer brought up Ryder’s charitable work, including her efforts to help find Klaas. The prosecutor accused them of “trot[ting] out the body" of the girl to sway opinion.

  • Photo: Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com

    She Was Convicted And Sentenced To Three Years Probation

    During the shoplifting trial, the district attorney explained that they weren’t seeking jail time. But Ryder was held accountable for her actions; the jury found Ryder guilty of grand theft and vandalism. However, they acquitted her of burglary.

    Ryder was sentenced to three years probation, 480 hours of community service, $3,700 in fines, and $6,355 in restitution to Saks.

  • Photo: Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com

    There Was A (Mostly Flippant) Free Winona Movement

    Leave it to Hollywood to cash in on Ryder’s shoplifting scandal. Or rather, leave it to a Hollywood gift shop owner Billy Tsangares. He started printing “Free Winona” t-shirts, and they took off; he claimed to receive 100 calls a day about the shirts at the height of their popularity. Tsangares explained to Reuters, “This type of humor is a way to be political without necessarily taking a stand that’s going to offend somebody.”

    Getting in on the joke herself, Ryder donned a "Free Winona" T-shirt on the cover of W magazine.