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The Transformation Of Patricia Richardson From Home Improvement To Now

Patricia Richardson is best remembered for her role as Jill Taylor in the long-running ABC sitcom "Home Improvement." Her deadpan, no-nonsense style was the perfect balance to Tim "The Toolman" Taylor's (Tim Allen) boneheaded approach to life. For eight seasons Richardson delivered one-liners in her signature straight-faced style, always outwitting her onscreen husband. The character of Jill had always been appreciated as a realistic American mother figure — she goes from being a stay-at-home mom to returning to school for a masters in psychology, and later flourishes in her career. 

Prior to the show's success the actress had seen success on Broadway, and had recently given birth to twins. "Home Improvement" turned out to be a hit, and Richardson became a primetime staple for the show's entire run. The show introduced many members of the public to Richardson, who was well known in the industry and had an illustrious career before and after the hit Fox show.

Patricia Richardson gets Home Improvement

"Every sitcom I do goes to 13 [episodes] then dies," Richardson joked with Entertainment Tonight. That was her mindset in 1991 when she got the call for a show with comedian Tim Allen. Prior to that, she had been cast in several sitcoms that lost steam after the first season.

According to Richardson, the studio was looking for a last-minute replacement for "Watchmen" actress Frances Fisher, who was deemed too serious for the role of Jill. While Richardson was under contract to appear in an unaired project called "Home Movies," the producers informed her the show was canceled, but insisted she play the mom in "Home Improvement." 

"I didn't want to do another sitcom," she told ET. But she agreed to honor her contract: "I did it for the money and to get out!" At the time, Richardson had 3-month-old twins and a young son at home, along with then-husband Ray Baker, also a successful television and film actor.

During her initial read of the script, she put the pilot through her own test. "You open the script anywhere, on any page, and if they are just going for jokes you can tell right away on one page. If they're telling a story and they're developing characters, you could tell that on one page as well," she explained. The script passed the test, and Richardson showed up to play Mrs. Taylor on the massive hit "Home Improvement" for the next eight years.

Richardson branches out during Home Improvement

Jill Taylor became Richardson's breakout role, earning her a number of accolades. She was a four-time Emmy nominee for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, as well as a Golden Globe nominee for Best Actress in a Television Series — Comedy or Musical. 

In 1994, the same year she was first nominated, Richardson hosted the 46th Primetime Emmy Awards with Ellen DeGeneres, an experience she says didn't leave her chasing fame. "When I had to [co-host] the [1994] Emmys, it was the worst day of my life," she recalled to Closer Weekly (via FaithWire).

While continuing to work on the show, Richardson appeared in a number of television films and the indie feature "Ulee's Gold," starring her and Peter Fonda. "Ulee's Gold" earned Richardson an Independent Spirit Award nomination for her performance. Although the film was not a mainstream box office success, it was beloved by critics, who praised both Richardson and Fonda for their emotional depth and performances.

Due to the scheduling demands of the show, Richardson declined to return for the ninth season of "Home Improvement." "The reason I turned down the ninth year of 'Home Improvement' was that I was a single parent and away from my kids too much," she explained to Closer Weekly.

Richardson returns to television for Strong Medicine

Richardson took a short break from television following the eight-year run of "Home Improvement" to tend to her family. She returned in 2002 by way of the Lifetime medical drama "Strong Medicine," where she played Dr. Andy Campbell. Two aspects of her life helped her prepare for the role, she told People.

"My father was a Navy fighter pilot, so I'm familiar with the way military people think," she explained about understanding her character, a former military doctor.

Sadly, the second reason also had to do with her parents. "My mother had three hip surgeries and a hand surgery, and my father had back, hip, knee and open-heart surgery," she said of the past few years before appearing on the show. The actress was doing her best to return to work and take care of her family at the time, but she told the magazine she had "really missed" acting in the years prior.

Her time on The West Wing wasn't easy

In 2005, Richardson joined the cast of "The West Wing" during its sixth season. She played Sheila Brooks, campaign manager for Republican presidential candidate Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda). Sheila's dramatic arc and exit occurs in Season 7, when she is forced to resign from her position after Vinick takes a slide in the polls, causing her colleagues to question her abilities. 

Richardson only appeared for a total of nine episodes, which at the time may have been what was best for the actress. "My mother passed away during 'Strong Medicine' and my dad passed away during 'West Wing,'" she told Closer Weekly. "I was so burned out by the time 'West Wing' was over [in 2006]." (via FaithWire). 

The actress then took a four-year break and focused on her children, a decision she doesn't regret. "When I'm laying on my deathbed, will I be sorry that I wasn't on that show that won 30 Emmys, but I have a good relationship with my three children and see them all the time? No," she concluded.

Richardson found a work-life balance

Richardson made the wise decision to focus on her life after her successful television appearances. She told People about that trying time, "I lost my parents, I lost my career because I quit after 'West Wing' ... I had three teenagers all spinning out, and my relationship broke up, and I was in menopause, everything just hit at once." 

Richardson made it through to the other side, finding her own balanced path between her personal life and her career. She starred in a number of independent films, including "California Dreaming" with "The Kids In The Hall" actor Dave Foley.

In 2015, she reunited with Tim Allen on his latest sitcom, "Last Man Standing." She appeared in two episodes as Helen Potts, one of which featured Jonathan Taylor-Thomas, who played their fictional son on "Home Improvement." In that same year, she ran for and joined the SAG-AFTRA national board.  

In 2016, she returned to the stage in "Steel Magnolias" at the Bucks County Playhouse in Pennsylvania. The show featured her, Jessica Walter, Lucy DeVito, Elaine Hendrix, and Susan Sullivan. The stellar cast and direction by Broadway star Marsha Mason resulted in the musical becoming the highest grossing show in the venue's history. 

What Patricia Richardson is doing today

Beginning with 2011's "Bringing Ashley Home," Richardson began appearing in several Lifetime and Hallmark films. The made-for-TV movies are known for their shorter work schedules, which may be one of the reasons the busy actress and activist chose them for the next stage of her career. She's also continued to appear in a number of independent dramas, including 2017's "County Line," alongside Tom Wopat of "The Dukes of Hazzard" fame. She is next set to appear in "Barely Afloat," alongside Henry Thomas and Corbin Bernsen.

In addition to her activism with actors' rights, Richardson is also a spokesperson for Cure PSP, a non-profit organization geared towards the research and improvement of prime of life brain disease, which her father experienced prior to his passing.

As of 2019, Richardson is also the president of the SAG-AFTRA local Los Angeles branch, a position in which she remains as of this writing.