There's a very specific comeback formula for celebs. These are the ones who got it right.

Do you know what I first thought when I saw Pamela Anderson's beautifully nude face the first time she boycotted makeup at Paris Fashion Week last year?

"I wonder if she knows she mastered the art of modern relevancy perfectly."

You didn't have the same thought? Let me explain. 

It's a formula. Not a simple one, and one you need to be prepared to put the time into — literally decades. But a formula all the same. (Don't let a word like formula make your eyes glaze over, either. I'm revolting at maths but this celebrity comeback formula is compelling.)

Have you heard about the 100-year naming trend? It's when you take a name from the census that was popular 100 years ago and dust it off to be used again today. You get a cool vintage-sounding name not everyone is using yet — think Agnes, Winifred and Otto.

Let's apply that logic to my comeback formula.

The first component is a '90s-to-noughties celebrity. They need to have been in the mainstream 25+ years ago, then have disappeared. We're talking gone overnight, maybe to appear in some straight-to-TV movie, but otherwise completely off the radar.

Next, Gen Z need to be obsessed with them, who they were in the '90s. They'll most likely uncover this obsession binge-watching sitcoms all the Millennials all used to have to wait for new episodes to drop weekly.

Finally, they have to have been heavily photographed in their prime, and bonus points if said photos happened to be with a hot/controversial partner. We need those memes.


So a summary of the formula in full:

  • '90s It Girl or Guy 
  • Emo/'90s fashion and vibe is a must
  • Widely photographed in this vibe.

Still with me? Aha moments are coming, I promise.

Watch: Even Celebrities Need Wingmen. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

Here's the formula in action:

Winona Ryder.

There is a seemingly endless appetite for pouring over pics of Winona in leather jackets and slip dresses. She captured the cool-girl aesthetic of the '90s: A bit of Tim Burton goth/emo style, and in the mainstream but definitely skirting the edges.

The initial fame:

She collected her bonus points thanks to her boyfriend at the time — Johnny Depp, in his less problematic prime — and it's a relationship people still manage to find interest in today.

Winona Ryder and Johnny Depp. Image: Getty.


And the photos! Ohh, the photos. Red-lipped and mysterious Winona with a broody, floppy haired Johnny; those cheek bones, that 'Winona forever' tattoo...

The disappearance:

A conviction for shoplifting (with the CCTV footage to prove it) in 2001, plus an addiction to painkillers, and a well-publicised betrayal by her then-bestie Gwenyth Paltrow saw Winona take a big hiatus from the spotlight.

Moving to San Francisco to live near her parents, the Beetlejuice actor made "a very conscious decision not to work", she told Vogue in 2007.


"A lot of people had the perception that I just disappeared in the 2000s. And I did, but only from that world," Ryder told Porter magazine some 15 years later.

"I appeared elsewhere, I promise you. I was transformed into doing stuff I really wanted to do – it was a great awakening. It just wasn't in the public eye."

The comeback:

Ryder tried to come back too soon. Making an appearance in 2001's Zoolander, it seems she was unaware that she needed to truly wait it out, and the attempted comeback lost momentum. But she went to ground for a little longer, and came back again with what turns out to be the secret ingredient: vulnerability.

Enter Stranger Things, one of Ryder's best performances of all time, playing a struggling single mum who finds herself thrust into a paranormal reality when her young son disappears.

Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers in Stranger Things. Image: IMDB.


(Side note: is Stranger Things a mini comeback hack? I'm looking at you, Kate Bush, and your 'Running Up That Hill' revival.)

Ryder came back to us with unbrushed hair, flannel, and a can't-take-your-eyes-off-her performance. And we lapped up every second og it. Now, late-'90s Winona T-shirts, hats and even a Winona photobook have been making people a lot of money — and re-secured her icon status.

Let's take a look case study two, which I teased earlier:

Pamela Anderson.

Anderson's peak success was during the '90s to 2000s. She was the classic 'blonde bombshell', featuring in Playboy magazine and cementing her stardom as CJ Parker on Baywatch, with her big, bouncy hair and infamous red swimsuit. 

The model-turned-actor was well photographed, with  everything from high fashion editorial shoots too all the party pics.


She was definitely mainstream — but controversial enough, thanks to her preference for a bad boy (see: her eventual husband, Tommy Lee).

Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee. Image: Getty.

The disappearance:

In 1995, on their honeymoon, Anderson and Lee created an intimate video, which they kept locked away in a safe. And then that safe was stolen, and the now-infamous sex tape was leaked. In an incredibly unfair twist, Anderson found herself being victim blamed, her morality questioned — as she'd posed naked for publications such as Playboy in the past, there wasn't a lot of public empathy for the fact this very private tape had been released without consent.


"A victim-blaming narrative unfolded, suggesting that the provocative nature of Anderson’s public persona discredits her as a survivor of yet more abuse and deserving of violation," wrote Survivors' Network.

Ultimately, the toll it took on Anderson saw her withdraw from the spotlight.

The comeback:

It began with a tiny dip of her toe in the waters in 2019, when Anderson appeared with her son, Brandon Thomas Lee, on The Hills: New Beginnings. She was there to sage his apartment (and, er... his crotch?).

Then in 2022, Lily James was cast as Pamela herself in Pam & Tommy. The show t was incredibly binge-able and a little bit sad, and — much like the sex tape it was (in part) about — Anderson did not give her approval for the series.

But as the penultimate episode was set to air on March 2, 2022, she began to take back the narrative, wiping her Instagram page and sharing a beautiful statement while teasing an upcoming Netflix documentary — Pamela, A Love Story.

"My life. A thousand imperfections. A million misperceptions. Wicked, wild and lost. Nothing to live up to. I can only surprise you... Not a victim, but a survivor. And alive to tell the real story." The film dropped at the end of January 2023, just weeks after Anderson made a move that caught everyone's attention. 


At Paris Fashion Week, the then-50-year-old Pamela was just the right amount of vulnerable with her bare-faced debut. It was arguably the biggest beauty moment of the year — and one followed up with a makeup-free fashion ad campaign, announcing in January this year that she's the new (bare) face of Proenza Schouler.

And that is how it's done. 

Pamela Anderson in Paris Fashion Week 2023. Image: Getty.


So these are our 2024-relevant success stories, our comeback queens. We're here for you, Winona and Pammy. 

But not all stars nail the comeback formula. Some have some of the right ingredients, but miss the execution. Case in point? Melissa Joan Hart.

Nineties TV hit show? Check — Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

A bit of controversy? Yep — Hart posed for the cover of Maxim magazine in 1999, at the peak of her fame, and later revealed that she almost got fired for it.

"'You did a photoshoot for Maxim magazine?’” she recalled her lawyer asking her in 2023. "I'm like, 'Yes, I did.' They're like, 'Well, you're being sued and fired from [Sabrina], so don’t talk to the press, don't do anything."

She then let it spill that she'd been experimenting with drugs telling Life & Style in 2013 that she "experimented with weed, ecstasy, mushrooms, and mescaline for about a year and a half". And that Maxim shoot we mentioned? She's been taking ecstasy at the Playboy mansion the night before and went to the shoot high. 

All this was enough to see her eventually fade out of the spotlight.

Melissa Joan Hart in 1997. Image: Getty.


Then in what I assume was some questionable advice, Hart made her comeback at age 47, taking on the role of a grandma… complete with her interpretation of a grandma voice. It felt way too premature, and the 6.1 rating on IMDB tells a similar story. It's time for Hart to take a beat and return with her real comeback to nail the formula!

Feature Image: Supplied.

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