A has-been is someone who once enjoyed fame and popularity, but does so no longer. There are a wide variety of situations which can cause someone to become a has-been, ranging from losing the physical traits necessary for popularity in image-based industries like the world of film to committing an egregious act which leads to widespread social rejection. A has-been's life can be quite depressing, as he or she may be tempted to relive glory days which cannot be recovered.
Celebrities and politicians are most at risk of becoming has-beens, due to the high profile lives that they lead. When people are constantly under the scrutiny of media and fans, it can be increasingly easy to slip up, turning a sometimes successful and fruitful career into a thing of the past. A has-been is viewed as no longer interesting, popular, successful, or valuable in society, and he or she may come to internalize these ideas, experiencing depression as a result.
The term “has-been” is also used to describe people who experienced popularity early, and then lost it. People who are extremely popular in high school or college, for example, sometimes become has-beens later in life, as the people around them grow and mature, becoming interested in the talents and abilities of others. Such has-beens are sometimes used as fodder for novels, becoming figures of mockery as they struggle to cope with their newfound lack of popularity or relevance.
For people who make their living on the basis of image, such as models and film stars, the risk of becoming a has-been is very real. It can be difficult to turn an image-based career into something more stable and long term, as many actors and models are viewed simply as pretty faces. Actors might try to branch out into producing and filmmaking, while models may experiment with their own fashion lines and branded consumer goods in the hopes of capitalizing on their names long enough to branch out into careers based on something other than their physical appearance.
Politicians can also struggle with the specter of becoming a has-been. Mistakes made early in life often come back to haunt people over the course of a political career, especially when they become famous, because every possible attempt will be made to dredge such information out of the past. If a politician comes to be viewed as untrustworthy or lacking in moral fiber, his or her career is essentially over.