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Whatever Happened To Thomas F. Wilson From Back To The Future?

The "Back to the Future" films are remembered as both one of the most beloved film series of all time, and one of the most effective at making its viewers as "what if?". While audiences cheer on Marty McFly, Doc Brown and a tricked-out DeLorean time and time again, they also jeer its bullying antagonist: Biff Howard Tannen.

Imagine alternate timelines where the role of Biff was won by Tim Robbins, Billy Zane, J.J. Cohen or even Peter DeLuise. What if? But that's not a question that needs answering, the question is whatever happened to Thomas F(rancis) Wilson Jr, the "regular guy from a normal family of kind people from Pennsylvania," who not only won the role, but did such an unforgettable job in it that people have a hard time seeing him as anything else but "a terrible person who was mean to Michael J Fox."

So what did happen to Thomas F. Wilson after Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen spit up manure in "Back to the Future III"? Did he make like a tree and get out of Hollywood? Or is he still busy waxing Crispin Glover and Michael J. Fox's cars? 

He never went anywhere, and not only is he still a working actor, but a dependable voice over artist, raconteur, pop artist, stand-up comic, man of faith, and a man both hiding from and embracing Biff Tannen.

Biff Competition

Before Tom Wilson's life started running at 88 mph, he was an asthmatic tuba player, bullied by classmates ("I was George McFly in school," he told Orange County Register in 1989) and aspiring to follow in his father's footsteps as a lawyer. To polish up on public speaking, the Philly area teen joined the debate team, and since his adviser was also a drama teacher it led him to the stage. After a disillusioned year at Arizona State University, he left school to follow his new passion. Professional theater training in New York was followed by a leap to Hollywood, where his first gig was being overly excited about KFC's new biscuits.

Actual acting jobs were hard to come by, but density (um, destiny) came calling after seven or so auditions for the role of Biff in "Back to the Future." During his final callback, he lost his cool, channeled the people that bullied him, and dragged and tossed Crispin Glover all over the room in front of the judging eyes of Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg. He thought he blew it, but he got the role.

Meatier action and endless make-up came calling for Wilson in "Back to the Future Part II," playing 1955 Biff, the voice of Biff's grandmother Gertrude, Biff's future grandson Griff, crotchety old man Biff, and super bad alternate universe Biff (writer Bob Gale said he was modeled after Donald Trump, but Wilson said his performance was not). It was the third time's a charm for "Part III," Wilson's favorite as he said in 2015, "because who doesn't want to come into a saloon with those doors, and just because you walk in like everyone just falls silent, chairs and tables clear out, just because you're standing there, that's pretty cool. So I had a lot of fun with that." 

For the record, Wilson doesn't "even fit in a Delorean," nor does he care that the Cubs won the World Series as the films predicted.

Still Acting Up

After three films of playing gruff and tough Tannen bullies, as Wilson joked to the Austin American-Statesman in 1989, "I think I should be looking for a St. Francis of Assisi role or something where I'm nice to small animals." But he never worried about being typecast, admitting to the Hollywood Reporter in 2015, "of course, I've been offered the opportunity to harass, beat up or kill people in myriad projects that I didn't do. But I don't pay attention to what I don't do, I only pay attention to what I do."

He has co-starred in such films as "April Fool's Day," "Action Jackson," "That Darn Cat," "The Informant!," and "The Heat," and appeared in a variety of TV shows including "The Facts of Life," "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman," "Ed," "Two and a Half Men," "Ghost Whisperer," "Big Love," and "DC's Legends of Tomorrow."

At the end of 2021, Wilson proclaimed that "'Zach Stone [Is Gonna Be Famous]' and 'Freaks and Geeks' are the best things I've ever been a part of." For the latter show, which went on to become a cult classic, Wilson played Coach Fredricks, and joked to the Los Angeles Times in 2007 that "Every time I see Judd Apatow, I thank him for cutting my Biff celebrity by about 10 to 15%."

Making His Voice Heard

A hefty part of Wilson's acting resume consists of voiceovers, and it all began when he Biffed it up for the animated "Back To The Future" TV series that ran from 1991-1992. From there, he's gone on to verbally battle Batman and Spider-Man, make silly voices on "Gargoyles," "SpongeBob SquarePants," "Family Guy," and "Pig Goat Banana Cricket." He's also become quite animated for video games, and even made up for originally missing out on reprising his "Back To The Future" role for the video game by lending his pipes to the "30th Anniversary Edition."

Wilson told Telltale Games, "a lot of times in voiceover, you have to be a more experienced actor because you realize all the physicality and everything is great, but it has to come through here. It's only going into peoples ears." He really enjoys the medium, as he's allowed to improvise and express himself more, declaring to The Music in 2017 that "some of the most creative things being done right now are being done in animation."

Funny Man with a Guitar

When Wilson first landed in Hollywood, he was having trouble landing roles. To stay fresh, creative and get his name out there, he turned back to what he started doing back in Philadelphia: improv and stand-up comedy. He played the big L.A. clubs and opened for the likes of Rodney Dangerfield, bands like Fleetwood Mac and Three Dog Night, and once counted fellow funnymen Andrew Dice Clay and Yakov Smirnoff as roommates.

After becoming world famous as that guy from "Back To The Future," Wilson took to the comedy stage, guitar in hand, to rehabilitate his nice guy image, sometimes performing in character as Cowboy Tommy. To address "butthead" hecklers and the endless "Future" questions he's "been asked 10 million times" (was that really manure?), he came up with the hilarious "Question Song." It gets "the very obvious questions out of the way and then we can have an actual conversation," he told the Los Angeles Times.

With four kids at home, he did stand-up as more "of a weekend job," and it has kept him busy for weekends spanning decades. In 2009, he released the comedy special "Bigger Than You," and in 2020, Mark Hamill said that Wilson "is one of the funniest people on the planet." But does his wife Caroline think he's funny? 

"Now and again, I get a laugh out of her," he told Philly Mag in 2007, "but she knows how my comedy thinking works, so she beats me there. And, you know, she got a math degree from UCLA."


In addition to using the comedy stage to tell stories, Wilson has utilized plenty of other mediums to have his say. He actively vlogs via his own YouTube channel, which he told The Music, is "to present, 'this is me as a person'," and shake off the common misconceptions people have about him. The topics range from professional to personal, and often with his hands full, riding a bike, or again with guitar in hand.

Wilson believes that writing "is a sacred exercise," and in 2012, he released the brutally honest "The Masked Man: A Memoir and Fantasy of Hollywood," and also narrated the audiobook. He's written for Universal Studios, Disney, Nickelodeon, Film Roman Studios, and been published in "Sacred Passages," and literary magazines like "Amelia," and "West Word."

Wilson also amassed over 100 episodes of his enlightening podcast "Big Pop Fun with Tom Wilson." Guests on his show have included friends and colleagues like Mark Hamill, "Weird" Al Yankovic and even Dave McFly himself, Marc McClure. McClure applauded Wilson's work as Biff, saying "you've really created something that is almost bigger than the movie."

Pop Artist

"I was just the artistic kid in school that didn't fit in anywhere really," Wilson told the Dayton Daily News in 2009, adding, "I did music and theater and art and stuff. That was me then, and it kind of still is." He would later expand his canvas by studying drawing and painting at the Art Academy of Los Angeles, the California Art Institute, and learning under the tutelage of impressionist Arthur Egel.

Taking one to know one, Wilson has become an artist in his own right in the genre of pop art, creating "representations of pop icons," as his "own commentary on my own being a pop icon." His work covers subjects like nostalgic toys of yesteryear and, in honor of the "Back To The Future" 30th anniversary, even himself as Biff and the other Tannens.

His paintings have been exhibited at the Nickelodeon Studio World Headquarters and the Disney Gallery, and hangs on the California Museum of Photography, his own gallery in Laguna Beach, and even former employer Judd Apatow's home. He and his art is also the subject of a short documentary called "I am Famous." Wilson currently sells NFTs, but if you're looking for something more affordable, he also offers Biff "Love" t-shirts on his website.

Keeping The Faith

In his career and life, Wilson has been guided by a strong sense of faith. He grew up in a devout Catholic family (his aunt was a Sister of the Immaculate Heart), played guitar during mass as a child, and told The Jesuit Post "as I age, I'm trying to experience my spirituality even more." As someone who has been successful in Hollywood, and has a way with words, Wilson has used his position and stature to help others follow their own paths by opening up their creativity.

He's done a lot of public speaking over the years, and told a captive audience of hopefuls at John Paul the Great Catholic University in 2018, "What would God be if not the biggest cheerleader for creative people there ever was — could you imagine, the Creator?" He pressed upon key words to live by: "don't wish harder than you work," and "listen to your heart." His heart and faith have told him to turn down plenty of roles with subject matter he found objectionable, but he has often been surprised by finding spiritual bonds with others within the industry. 

Director John Frankenheimer, in fact, took such a shine to Wilson's devout nature that while they were filming 1996's "Andersonville," Frankenheimer sent his personal driver to take him to and from Sunday mass.

Family Man

In addition to his faith, Wilson is also a family man; he and his wife Caroline, who worked in the defense industry at Hughes Aircraft, have been married since 1985 (three days after the release of "Back To The Future”) and have three daughters (Anna May, Emily, Gracie) and a son (Tom). When he was filming "Part II," his eldest daughter got so accustomed to seeing him as elderly, hunched-over Biff that every time he left the house, she'd say "Daddy, work old man."

Wilson is proud of his children and has beamed about their creative talents for all to see — in the mediums of music, dance, arts and sports. They've also come in handy as material for his comedy routine. His son Tommy is a baseball pitcher, drafted by the New York Mets 2018. His father told the L.A. Times "fortunately, he got his mother's athletic prowess and his father's good looks." Tommy is now in the Baltimore Orioles organization, and told SNY that he learned from his father the "mentality of grinding and doing your own thing."

Biff to the Future

Wilson has embraced his role in pop culture, telling the Hollywood Reporter in 2015, "I'm a far better actor and artist at work, than I am a 'legendary icon.'" 

Over the decades, he has rarely had time to attend fan conventions, but that has changed in recent years, reuniting with his past "Future" castmates for panels and Q&As. He's used the convention experiences as fodder for his comedy, but told Australia's The Music in 2017 that meeting fans has been "very gratifying," and "a great blessing" when "helping young people with the difficulties of" bullying.

However, if you're looking for Wilson to make another screen appearance as Biff Tannen, you may not want to hold your breath. Outside of the occasional Cameo (where he'll be happy to fire someone on your behalf), and briefly getting back into character for Josh Gad's "Reunited Apart," according to Wilson, a fourth "Back to The Future" outing has no future. He said at a reunion, "America is saying, 'C'mon. They've wrecked every other franchise with bad sequels, why not this one?" In the meantime, he continues to have a sense of humor about it all, auctioning off in 2022 his personal (unopened) VHS copies of the "Back to the Future" trilogy.