In the 1990s, Home Improvement was one of the most watched sitcoms on television. Tim Allen’s breakout hit about a home improvement show host and his family was at the top of the ratings for most of the decade and propelled the comedian’s career into the stratosphere. However, the bungling everyman wasn’t the shows only star-making performance.
Jonathan Taylor Thomas, who played Allen’s onscreen son “Randy Taylor,” became one of the decade’s biggest teen heartthrobs. His face graced the covers of hundreds of magazines and posters of the sitcom star hung on the walls of teen girls all over the country.
During his run on the popular show, Thomas was cast by Disney to voice the role of Simba in the company’s animated feature The Lion King, and he seemed poised to follow in his onscreen father’s footsteps to Hollywood stardom. However, as the decade came to a close, Thomas seemed to shrink from the spotlight and all but disappeared from the public eye.
Thomas left the series before it ended in 1999. According to a 2013 interview with People, the actor stepped away from fame to pursue his education.
“I’d been going nonstop since I was 8 years old,” the former child star told People, “I wanted to go to school, to travel and have a bit of a break.” The article reports that Thomas was no academic slouch either. During his time away from the spotlight, “he attended Harvard, Columbia, and St. Andrew’s University in Scotland.”
During that time, the actor didn’t completely leave show business behind. According to an article in the Huffing Post, he appeared on television sporadically during the 2000s, making guest appearances on hit shows like Ally McBeal, Smallville and Veronica Mars.
More recently, Thomas reunited with former Home Improvement co-star Tim Allen on Allen’s current show Last Man Standing. He made 4 guest appearances on the show from 2013-2015 and even got behind the camera directing 3 episodes during the same period. In the 2015 season of the show, Taylor played a character named “Randy” and appeared alongside his fellow Home Improvement co-star Patricia Richardson who had played his mother on the earlier show, resulting in mini-reunion of sorts.
With talks of a more official Home Improvement revival on the backburner with Last Man Standing finding a home on Fox, Thomas seems to have retreated from show business once again. The former child actor seems to have little regrets about leaving fame behind, and in no big hurry to return to the heights he reached as a young star.
When asked about it by People in 2013, Thomas replied, “I never took fame too seriously…When I look back at that time, I look at it with a wink. I focus on the good moments I had, not that I was on a lot of magazine covers.”