Why Jonathan Taylor Thomas Disappeared From the Spotlight

Photographed publicly for the first time in eight years, ‘90s teen icon Jonathan Taylor Thomas was once again thrust back in the spotlight, even if he has no interest in it.

By Tierney Bricker Jul 07, 2021 3:42 PMTags
Watch: Jonathan Taylor Thomas Spotted for First Time in 8 Years

Breaking news: Jonathan Taylor Thomas doesn't look "unrecognizable." He just grew up.

We know, we know, this may come as a shock to some, but teen idols are not, in fact, preserved in amber like that insect in Jurassic Park, and our latest example of this phenomenon is the reemergence of Jonathan Taylor Thomas a.k.a. J.T.T. (though true fans know his real last name is Weiss). 

The 39-year-old former child star was recently photographed out in the wild like us regular humans for the first time since 2013, though he last appeared onscreen in Last Man Standing in 2015.

On June 20, Jonathan and his two small white dogs were spotted in Los Angeles on a casual walk. Wearing Nike sneakers, loose jeans and a zipped up dark hoodie, along with sunglasses, a New York Mets baseball cap and a black mask that was worn around his chin, he pretty much looked like every other coffee-deprived dude in the city.

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Except for the fact that he lived on the bedroom walls of millions of young girls in the '90s and somehow didn't look exactly the same as he did in those Tiger Beat posters. Cue the worldwide trending topic on Twitter, endless headlines about J.T.T. looking "unrecognizable" and the group chats among millennial women about their shared imaginary boyfriend being spotted—gasp!—vaping. (Gen-Z, feel free to add a shared love for J.T.T. to the ever-growing list of the generation's apparently uncool attributes, along with side pars and skinny jeans. We wear them all with pride!)

Getty Images, Shutterstock

J.T.T. is far from the first former child star to become the subject of such public fascination for merely just growing up. Come on, how many clickbait articles have we all double tapped on after being taunted with "you'll never guess what [insert actor or actress name here] looks like today"? 

But the difference is Jonathan was on a different level of teen idol, living on the same plane, at least for a time, as Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Macaulay Culkin and Devon Sawa. After his big break as Randy Taylor in Home Improvement in 1991, Jonathan became the "It" young actor in the business. He voiced Young Simba in The Lion King. He starred in Man of the House, Tom Sawyer, Wild America and I'll Be Home For Christmas. For the majority of the decade, You couldn't buy a teen magazine without his face on it. Basically, he was a more mainstream Timothee Chalamet.

But, like the Olsens, Jonathan had ambitions far beyond Hollywood, choosing to leave Home Improvement in 1998, with the sitcom ending the following year. "I'd been going nonstop since I was 8 years old," Jonathan explained to People in 2013 of his decision to exit the series. "I wanted to go to school, to travel and have a bit of a break."

He'd go on to study at Harvard, Columbia and St. Andrew's University in Scotland, admitting he enjoyed the anonymity of just being another college co-ed after spending years as the teen idol of the moment. 

"To sit in a big library amongst books and students, that was pretty cool," he told People. "It was a novel experience for me."

Getty Images, Coleman-Rayner

While he made a brief return to acting, making highly publicized guest appearances on hit series like Veronica Mars, Smallville and 8 Simple Rules, Jonathan chose to leave the industry behind again in 2005 and, unlike Mary-Kate and Ashley, he was mostly able to go back to living a normal life, free of paparazzi and fan encounters. Thomas is also apparently one of the rare thirty-somethings not on social media that doesn't have to document every piece of avocado toast he consumes, though a quick Google search reveals there are still quite a few fan sites dedicated to the actor. 


With just over 3,500 followers, JTT Archive is still an account all about Jonathan, even if they don't have a lot to work with. The sporadic posts are usually photos from one his calendars in the '90s or archives of decades-old interviews he has done. Headlines includes "If JTT Was Your Boyfriend..." and "The Dos and Dont's of Loving Jonathan."

Their post with the most comments? The recent sighting of Jonathan, of course, with some followers saying it doesn't look like him—"that is not his nose, nostrils"—while others proclaim the photos made their day. "I think he has aged well." 

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These recent snaps provided the first new content Jonathan's fanbase has gotten in six years. The last came after he reunited with Tim Allen for a guest spot on ABC's Last Man Standing, making four appearances between 2013 and 2015 and directing several episodes, a move behind the camera that he predicted back in 1996. 

In an interview with Premiere magazine, he said that while many people in the industry were hopeful that he'd be "the next Macaulay Culkin," he had dreams of being "the next Ron Howard."

And if fans were surprised to see Jonathan back on their TV screens when he appeared on Last Man Standing, his former onscreen dad was even more shocked. 

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"[Jonathan] really was dedicated to his studies, and then kind of got away from TV. But he graduated and he came back, and loves directing, loves working with actors," Tim told Yahoo at the time. "He's so shy. It's funny to see him so shy, so nervous. He worried whether he still had it, and he didn't want to do this because he's had other stuff in mind. But they asked him, and he agreed to it. I was shocked because as I said, he's just shy."

After his appearances on Last Man Standing, Jonathan once again retreated from the spotlight, something he's been ready to do for a very long time.

"How serious do you take this stuff? I mean, you should be focused on doing a good job, but… every job has an end," Jonathan, then 14, told Premiere magazine in 1996. "I think most [fallen child stars] weren't prepared for the end. I mean, it's not the end of your life! You can't base your life around one thing."

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So, while Jonathan was a foundational part of many adolescents' coming-of-age in the '90s, for the idol himself, "It was a great period in my life, but it doesn't define me."

While we were all scrawling some version of Mrs. Jonathan Taylor Thomas in our notebooks, "I never took the fame too seriously," he told People. "When I think back on the time, I look at it with a wink. I focus on the good moments I had, not that I was on a lot of magazine covers."