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The Real Reason Jonathan Taylor Thomas Left Home Improvement

While tweens today fight over which member of BTS they think is the cutest, in the '90s we were pretty much all in agreement in our collective crush on Jonathan Taylor Thomas (or JTT, as we called him). The floppy-haired cutie was the original voice of young Simba in Disney's The Lion King, and graced the cover of more issues of Tiger Beat than we had space on our bedroom walls for. The role he's most remembered for was also one of his first, as Randy Taylor on Home Improvement, which premiered when the actor was just 10 years old.

Thomas appeared in all eight seasons of Home Improvement, but midway through the show's final season, his character left for a study abroad program. He appeared in a Christmas special titled "Home For the Holidays," but that was the last that fans of the show ever saw the Taylor family's middle child. Other than in archival footage, he didn't even appear in the series finale.

Given Thomas' popularity, it's pretty clear that his character wasn't written off for no good reason. So why did the teen heartthrob depart the show in the midst of its final season?

Jonathan Taylor Thomas was done with the limelight

As it turns out, Thomas left Home Improvement because he was tired of being a teen heartthrob. Fans of his from the '90s might be wondering why they never heard much from him after the start of the new millennium, and that's because the actor walked away from superstardom to focus on himself.

In a 2013 interview with People,he explained why he stepped away from the spotlight. "I'd been going nonstop since I was 8 years old," he said. "I wanted to go to school, to travel and have a bit of a break."

Anyone who had paid close attention to his career could have seen this decision coming. Even at a young age, the actor had a levelheaded view of the illusory nature of fame. "The industry is neurotic and weird, and so when I go home and I play basketball with my friends, I'm not Jonathan Taylor Thomas. I'm just Jonathan," he told Premiere Magazine when he was 14 years old.

He went on to say of his ambitions in life, "Every job has an end. I think [a lot of child actors] weren't prepared for the end... So that's why I focus on school, I play sports, I learn the technical side of [filmmaking]. Because sometime it'll change, and I'll have my education to fall back on."

That end apparently came when he was 18. While the final season of Home Improvement ground on without him, Thomas was touring colleges. But even though he'd been telegraphing his departure from the industry from a young age, that doesn't mean his fellow Home Improvement stars were supportive of his decision.

Jonathan Taylor Thomas' Home Improvement exit caused friction

Although Thomas didn't depart due to drama between himself and the cast or crew, some of his co-stars were more than a little perturbed when it became clear that the young actor was not only going to miss most of the last season, but also the show's grand finale.

Patricia Richardson, who played Thomas' mother on the show, commented on his absence in an interview during the show's final season. "It's a pretty sore point around here... I think there were a lot of bad feelings all along. I don't think it's a good idea that he didn't show up, but I don't always think he gets the best advice."

Meanwhile, star Tim Allen said, "He was a little miffed at me...I was a little confused at why he didn't want to do this whole year. He said it was about going to school, but then he did some films. Did he want to do films? Did he want to go to school?"

What happened to Jonathan Taylor Thomas after leaving Home Improvement?

While Allen's statement about Thomas' departure was technically true (the young actor had a few more roles after leaving Home Improvement), Thomas has mostly remained out of the spotlight in his adult life. He studied at Harvard and later graduated from Columbia University in 2010. Because he has kept his personal life private, it's hard to say exactly what he's up to these days, but considering he almost never shows up at industry events, it's clear that he's not itching to jump back under the spotlight anytime soon.

In 2011, he did make a brief foray back into acting after apparently mending fences with Allen: he guest starred on his former sitcom dad's show Last Man Standing. As of 2020, that was Thomas' last acting gig. But, if he has it his way, he'll eventually make a permanent move behind the camera. In addition to his guest appearances on Allen's sitcom, he also directed three episodes — and according to Vice, he's been shopping a pilot created with his Home Improvement brother Zachary Ty Bryan and fellow '90s child actor Macaulay Culkin.