Jonathan Taylor Thomas: 13 Facts About The '90s Heartthrob

Back in the '90s and early 2000s, Jonathan Taylor Thomas was pretty much everywhere. The child star shot to fame as one of Tim "The Toolman" Taylor's sons on "Home Improvement," a long-running family comedy starring Tim Allen. He continued to rise through the ranks of Hollywood, voicing the young Simba in "The Lion King" in 1994 and Pinocchio in "The Adventures of Pinocchio" in 1996. He also starred as Tom Sawyer in 1995. By the early 2000s, he had become a bona fide teen heartthrob, appearing on magazine covers, locker doors, and bedroom walls. 

Achieving that level of superstardom as a child certainly can't be easy, but Thomas seems to take it all in stride. "When I think back on the time, I look at it with a wink," he told People in 2013. "I focus on the good moments I had, not that I was on a lot of magazine covers."

In recent years, Jonathan Taylor Thomas' relationship with stardom has changed, as he has somewhat faded out of the spotlight; his last role came in 2013 with a cameo in Allen's show "Last Man Standing." Of course, his filmography is only a piece of his story. Here are a few interesting details about JTT you might not have known.

Jonathan Taylor Thomas said he's a 'Heinz 57'

Jonathan Taylor Thomas' heritage includes German, Irish, French, and Portuguese. As the actor once joked to Bop and BB Magazine (via Home Improvement Archive), "I am, like, Heinz 57! I mean, I'm a mix of everything!" He went on to note that his Portuguese side accounted for his "olive skin" and ability to get a tan instead of burn. However, on some productions, the ease with which he could get a tan became somewhat of an issue due to concerns regarding continuity. "[Directors] don't like me going out in the sun too much, because then I get too dark," he told the publication. 

Thomas continued, "They film [movies] out of sequence, so if in one scene you have blonde hair, and the next you have really dark, it's not going to match." The solution? Apparently, Thomas was asked to layer on the SPF whenever he was filming in a sunny location. 

The former child star never got too comfortable in his career

Most kids probably don't spend too much time thinking about their long-term career plans, but from a young age, Jonathan Taylor Thomas seemed to have a grasp on just how fleeting showbiz success can be. In fact, in a 1994 interview with the Los Angeles Times, the young actor, then just 13, was astute enough to speak about what he called "Child Actor Syndrome," or the phenomenon in which young actors fade out of popularity as they age but don't have a backup plan lined up. "It's easy to get twisted around in this crazy business," he said.

Because Thomas was conscious of his career's potential expiry date, he never took his fame for granted and made an effort to have other options. "I keep my grades up because you never know how your acting career is going to go," he said. Years later, it seems that Thomas's easygoing attitude towards fame paid off. In 2013, he told People candidly, "It was a great period in my life, but it doesn't define me."

Jonathan Taylor Thomas once called Ron Howard his idol

Back in 1996, a young Jonathan Taylor Thomas had big dreams for his future career. His number one idol at the time, he told Nickelodeon Magazine, was Ron Howard. "It's hard to be a kid in this business," Thomas said. "He defied all the odds as a child actor and became a successful director." 

At the time, Howard, who rose to fame in the '50s and '60s as a child star, had just directed the Oscar-winning Tom Hanks film "Apollo 13." He went on to produce classics like "A Beautiful Mind" and "Arrested Development." Needless to say, Opie Taylor sure figured out how to transition from child star to Hollywood powerhouse.

Thomas dreamed of following in Howard's footsteps and becoming an acclaimed director and producer in his own right. As he told the Los Angeles Times in 1994, "I think I want to write, direct and basically do it all."

He got his start in Los Angeles on a whim

Jonathan Taylor Thomas found fame on "Home Improvement" — but as the star explained in a 1995 interview with Take2MarkTV, he might not have ever landed the role if he hadn't happened to come to Los Angeles. As a young kid, he worked out of Sacramento (where he grew up) and San Francisco. "It was great, it served as a really good, you know, place to get started," he said. "And they actually have quite a bit of the industry there." 

While many child stars head to Los Angeles because they want to take their next steps in the industry, Thomas actually ended up in the city on a whim. "I just happened to come down here and things started happening," he explained. One of the first things he landed in LA was the part of Tiny Tim in a production of "The Christmas Carol." "That was great, it was a lot of fun," he said. "It kind of was the preface for doing a live performance for 'Home Improvement.' I think that kind of helped." 

Fishing has always been a part of Jonathan Taylor Thomas' life

As a child, Jonathan Taylor Thomas was known not only for his passion for acting, but also his love of fishing. In fact, he spoke about fishing in numerous interviews — including one for TV Guide entitled "Jonathan Taylor Thomas would rather be fishing" (via Home Improvement Archive). According to his mother, Claudine, Thomas showed an affinity for fishing from the young age of 4. Added Thomas, "I can't really put the rod and reel down. Everywhere I go, I carry my fishing rod."

In another interview for Nickelodeon Magazine, Thomas spoke about some of his best catches — his biggest was a 70-pound halibut he caught in Alaska. He also caught a 20-pound orange starfish there. "This thing had 16 arms and it caught onto my hook. I threw it back," he said. "I throw most of my fish back." In 1996, while he was in between projects, Thomas even took two long fishing holidays in British Columbia. 

Jonathan Taylor Thomas studied at three universities

As a child, Jonathan Taylor Thomas always seemed to be wise beyond his years; in interviews, he always came across as well spoken and insightful. In 1995, a Los Angeles Times interviewer noted that when he starts talking about Hollywood, "you'd swear he was 45." In another Los Angeles Times interview, his mother said, "He's definitely bright, but I think you have to be bright in this business to juggle everything, to keep things balanced." 

Even as Thomas' career continued to flourish, he made his education a priority. On a 1997 episode of "The Rosie O'Donnell Show," Thomas shared that he maintained a 4.0 GPA his freshman year of high school. "This year, we'll see. But I'm taking some really tough classes, and I want to go to a good college," he added.

Well, when the "Home Improvement" star got a little older, he made good on his plan to attend a good college. Jonathan Taylor Thomas attended not one but three world-famous schools: Harvard, Columbia, and St. Andrews University in Scotland. As the actor told People, he loved every minute of it, especially because studying was so different from his life as a young actor. "To sit in a big library amongst books and students, that was pretty cool," he gushed. "It was a novel experience for me."

He had drama with some of his Home Improvement co-stars

If you were a big "Home Improvement" fan, you might remember that there was a little bit of drama when Jonathan Taylor Thomas left the show behind in the 2nd episode of the 8th and final season instead of seeing the show all the way through. Apparently, his co-stars weren't too happy with how things ended. At the time, Tim Allen, who played his father on the show, confessed that he didn't understand Thomas' reasons for leaving the hit sitcom; Allen later told TV Guide that his comments about Thomas' departure were not well received. Evidently, things got a bit rocky between the "Home Improvement" stars — so much so, Thomas apparently wasn't interested in coming back for the finale.

"He was a little miffed at me," Allen said (via New York Post). "I was a little confused at why he didn't want to do this whole year ... I mentioned [publicly] that I was confused. I don't think he liked that." Fellow "Home Improvement" alum Patricia Richardson also spoke up about her feelings about Thomas' refusal to appear in the finale. "It's a pretty sore point around here," she said. "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." 

Jonathan Taylor Thomas dated Danielle Fishel when they were kids

Back in the day, there were some (very inappropriate) rumors about Jonathan Taylor Thomas' sexuality. In 1998, Jay Leno actually asked Thomas, who was then around 17, if he was gay because he hadn't had any public relationships. Years later, it turned out that Thomas did actually have a girlfriend earlier in his career that he kept secret from the press. 

His ex? Danielle Fishel, the actor who starred in "Boy Meets World," which filmed on the same lot as "Home Improvement." "He was a celebrity at the time, but he was my first real-life Danielle crush," she said of Thomas to Elle in 2023. "I worked next door to him on 'Home Improvement.'" In an episode of "Pod Meets World," Fishel confirmed that the pair did date during that time. "After I already had the crush on Jonathan, and then yes, Jonathan was my first boyfriend, when I was like 12," she said on the podcast.

Although their relationship was probably nothing more than a few childhood dates, the pair seem to have remained close. In 2013, Thomas was even spotted attending Fishel's wedding to her first husband, Tim Belusko. 

Jonathan Taylor Thomas tried his hand at directing on Last Man Standing

Jonathan Taylor Thomas grew up dreaming of one day getting behind the camera, and in 2013, he made his directorial debut. The actor reunited with his old "Home Improvement" co-star Tim Allen for four episodes of the show "Last Man Standing." But as it turns out, before he filmed his first episode of the sitcom, he had already spent some time on the set. "Jonathan Taylor Thomas wanted to shadow our director and that's what we did for a while, and then we pitched him to come on the show," Allen said in TV Guide. JTT first played a restaurant owner named John, and then returned to the series as a character named Randy.  

Thomas not only got to appear on the show, but he also got the chance to put what he'd learned to use, directing two episodes in Season 3 and one in Season 5. He did not act in any of the episodes that he directed.

He once knocked out Andrew Keegan's tooth

You may not have known this, but Jonathan Taylor Thomas was actually pretty good friends with Andrew Keegan, a fellow '90s star known for roles in "Independence Day," "10 Things I Hate About You," and "The Broken Hearts Club." The pair first met while Keegan was starring in "Thunder Alley," which filmed on the same lot as "Home Improvement." As Keegan revealed during an interview with BuzzFeed, their friendship even survived a relatively intense accident.

According to Keegan, the pair often played basketball together in between takes. "There was a crew that kind of ran around with us," he recalled. However, one of these basketball sessions led to some dental drama for Keegan. "I do have one story about playing basketball with JTT. We were between shoots and he hit my tooth and knocked my tooth out," he confessed. "Not out, but he killed the root. At the time I didn't know, and then it started changing colors and I had to get a root canal." Yikes.

Jonathan Taylor Thomas made an effort to fly under the radar

Although Jonathan Taylor Thomas was once one of the most-interviewed young stars around (at least it seemed that way), in recent years, he's become much more reclusive, avoiding the press altogether. His apparent disappearance from the public eye was noted by one journalist at the Los Angeles Times, who set out on a mission to track him down in 2011. "Ever since he left his role on the popular sitcom 'Home Improvement' to pursue higher education in 1998, JTT hadn't been seen much in public," reporter Amy Kaufman wrote.

Kaufman went on to note that she reached out to Disney to ask for an interview with the star when a 3-D version of "The Lion King" hit theaters. "JTT, I was told, was not doing any press for the animated classic," she wrote. She also wrote to his agent, who replied, "Unfortunately, he is not interested in participating." 

Although Thomas did later star in a few episodes of "Last Man Standing," since then, he has once again retreated from the spotlight and is only seen out and about on rare occasions. As TMZ noted in 2023 after he was spotted for the first time in two years, "it's quite clear — he wants none of [the press attention he once embraced]." Seems that JTT has officially decided the private life is what he wants now.

He is a bona fide dog person

Jonathan Taylor Thomas leads a fiercely private life these days, so we don't know too much about what he's up to — however, one thing we do know is that he has two very adorable dogs. The two pups have been spotted with the former child star on the few occasions when paparazzi have photographed him taking them for walks around his neighborhood in Hollywood. 

In June 2021, the actor was spotted walking the two small white pooches, both of whom appeared to be some kind of a poodle mix, while vaping and scrolling on his phone. It was the first time he'd been spotted in eight years, and some fans were surprised to see Thomas out and about again.

Although this was the first time we had seen these two dogs, it was hardly the first time Thomas had been photographed with a pet. Back in his heyday, he often participated in photoshoots with dogs, as noted by BuzzFeed. One fan commented, "I believe some of those animals (he had like 3 or 4 cats and dogs) were actually his." In a 1995 interview with Bop Magazine (via, Thomas revealed that he had a Lhasa Apso dog named McCormick and two Himalayan cats called Samantha and Simba.

Jonathan Taylor Thomas is pretty short

If you idolized Jonathan Taylor Thomas as a tween, you might not have realized that he wasn't exactly a towering figure; he was (and still is) relatively short. As the Los Angeles Times wrote back in 1995, "At 4-foot-11, the pixieish actor could pass for 10 or 11." At the time of the interview, he was 14 years old.

In a 1996 feature for 16 Magazine, his height was listed at 5-foot-1, which made him shorter than Zachary Ty Bryan and Taran Smith, both of whom played his brothers on "Home Improvement" at the time (via JTT Archive). But apparently, the 16-year-old wasn't too worried about his stature. He even told the magazine that he expected he'd have a growth spurt just as his older brother did before him.

Although Thomas continued to grow, that growth spurt never came. In fact, he apparently only made it to 5 feet, 6 inches — which is just one inch above the average height for a woman and about four inches shorter than the average man.