Rich or Rehab: Whatever Happened to Charlie From 'Willy Wonka'?

At the age of 13, Peter Ostrum got to hang out with a borderline certifiable Gene Wilder, tour a bizarre candy factory, guzzle some fizzie lifting drinks and demonstrate an extreme sense of generosity when it comes to Gobstoppers. ostrumyoung

That’s because Ostrum — now 51-years-old — played the role of Charlie Bucket in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” the beloved (and, admittedly, kinda freaky) 1971 children’s classic that briefly turned the young Cleveland native into a star. I say briefly because “Wonka” marked Ostrum’s first and last acting credit in a Hollywood film; the kid not only didn’t stay in the picture, he turned down a three-picture deal from a major studio after “Wonka” wrapped, mainly because he wasn’t interested in pursuing acting full-time. So what did the Grown Man Formerly Known as Charlie Bucket choose as a profession?

Around the same time he finished shooting “Wonka,” Ostrum’s interest was piqued in another line of work: caring for animals. As this article from the American Veterinary Medical Association explains, he ultimately earned a degree in veterinary medicine at Cornell University, and has worked as a vet in the town of Lowville, N.Y. ever since.

Despite the occasional media glare — particularly when something significant happens, like VH-1 decides to concoct a list of the 100 Greatest Kid Stars (Ostrum ranked at No. 78) or Tim Burton makes “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” with Johnny Depp and Freddie Highmore in the starring roles — Ostrum keeps a somewhat low profile. He will step into the spotlight sometimes, to speak to students in his small farming town or, as he did earlier this year, play a role in a Dunkin Donuts promotion in Boston. Ostrum handed out a golden ticket (get it??) to a lucky commuter who won unlimited rides on the city’s subway system and a year’s supply of Dunkin Donuts coffee. How exactly Ostrum got roped into that little stunt remains unclear.

All that said, though, Ostrum seems to have remained focused on his family — he’s married with two kids — and taking care of cows and horses. In other words, he scored a golden ticket of a different kind, one that gave him access to what appears to be a peaceful, purposeful and happy life.


Images: and Albany Times Union file photo via MSNBC

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