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The reason Wilson from Home Improvement never showed his face

For eight seasons between 1991 and 1999, Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor (Tim Allen) could count on his next-door neighbor Wilson (Earl Hindman) to offer him sage, sometimes amazingly specific advice on the hit ABC sitcom Home Improvement. Wilson was a fascinating character; over the course of the series' run, it was revealed that he'd been married, but lost his wife; he was apparently highly educated, well-read, had traveled extensively, and he may or may not have been the cousin of Dennis and Brian Wilson of the iconic pop band the Beach Boys. 

Wilson always had a kind word and a common sense solution to even the stickiest problems the Taylor clan could encounter, and Home Improvement's audience saw a lot of him over the years, figuratively speaking. If we're being literal, said audience never saw anything but the top half of Wilson's head, obscured as his face always was behind the privacy fence separating his yard from the Taylors'.

The running gag evolved in Home Improvement's later years, with Wilson venturing outside the confines of his backyard from time to time, only for the bottom part of his face to still be hidden from the audience through some convoluted means. The joke was inspired, but fans have long wondered: inspired by what, exactly?

Well, just because Home Improvement went off the air right around the time the internet was beginning to pick up steam doesn't mean there haven't been myriad fan theories concerning the matter in the years since the series ended. In fact, there are too many of them to properly detail here — which is probably a good thing, considering that most of them are ridiculously outlandish. (We know, we know… the internet? Outlandish fan theories? What the heck?!)

But here's one that bears examination, simply because it hits that sweet spot of being a) really, really weird and b) somehow strangely plausible. The gist of this theory: Wilson is remiss to show his face to anyone, because he is in the witness protection program.

Sure, it might seem a little on the nose, but there's a surprising amount of evidence in support of this theory. Consider: Wilson is known to have been born in Chicago, which was an absolute hotbed of gang activity in the '80s and '90s. (In case your memory is a bit rusty, Home Improvement takes place in Detroit.) His wife, Catherine, died under mysterious circumstances. His next-door neighbor is a local celebrity to whom Wilson pointedly never shows his face — just in case, the theory presumes, there may be stray paparazzi in the area.

Not terribly convincing? Well, consider that Wilson's full name was once revealed to be "Wilson W. Wilson." This is a freaking fake name if we've ever heard one — unless, just maybe, Wilson's parents were huge fans of the 28th U.S. President, and we have no memory of this ever having been mentioned on Home Improvement.

Another fan theory: we never see Wilson's face because he is the biological father of one or more of Tim's children, and Wilson doesn't want the kids (whom he consistently addresses as "Taylor lads") to notice that they kind of look like him. Honestly, we don't give this one much credence; we just thought it deserved a mention because it's sordid, uncomfortable, and messed-up — none of which are descriptors that leap to mind when thinking of Home Improvement.

Well, before we get to the real reason why Wilson's unobscured mug never made an appearance on the show, let's pay a bit of homage to Hindman, a veteran actor who has appeared (showing his entire face) in an impressive number of iconic movies and television series. 

Hindman's first turn in front of a camera was in a bit part in the 1967 exploitation flick Teenage Mother, directed by Jerry Gross (who was responsible for producing such classics as Girl on a Chain Gang and I Drink Your Blood). Bit parts in several TV series followed, which led to his (respectable) feature film debut in the 1974 conspiracy thriller The Parallax View; that same year, he also appeared in director Joseph Sargent's classic crime drama The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.

Hindman then moved on to a 27-episode run on the genre-defining soap opera The Doctors, which he parlayed into a long run on the ABC soap opera Ryan's Hope. He also drew paychecks largely from minor TV appearances until he was tapped for a role in Lawrence Kasdan's excellent neo-Western Silverado in 1985, and he continued starring in TV movies and smaller theatrical features until Home Improvement came calling in 1991.

Sure, it might not have been the most high-profile role, owing to its "face obscured all the time" aesthetic. But Wilson quickly became a fan favorite character, and when ABC aired a special containing Home Improvement's final curtain call shortly after the end of its run, fans finally got to see Wilson's entire face for the first time.

And why had it been hidden all of those years? Simple: as a child, Tim Allen would hold regular conversations with the guy next door, separated by just such a privacy fence —and since Allen was only a wee tyke at the time, all he could ever see was the top of his neighbor's head. The guy must have made a pretty strong impression on the young Allen, because he proved to be the inspiration that would one day hand an amazing character actor his signature role.

Unfortunately, Earl Hindman passed away from lung cancer in 2003 at the age of 61. But fans will always remember him as one of the best parts of their favorite show, and they can rest assured that his castmates remember him just as fondly.

In 2013, TMZ asked Patricia Richardson — who portrayed Tim Taylor's wife Jill on the show — if there were any possibility of a Home Improvement reunion on the horizon. Her reply was short and to the point, and if the Taylor family was a huge part of your life like they were for so many of us in the '90s, it just might bring the waterworks.

"Never," Richardson said. "No. Earl died. We can't have one without Earl."