Home Improvement would not be the same without Earl Hindman. The beloved actor played Tim Allen’s onscreen neighbor, Wilson, whose face was never seen on the show. Although Hindman appeared in countless television shows and movies during his career, his best-known role was one that involved him standing behind a fence. Hindman died on Dec. 29, 2003, at age 61 after a battle with lung cancer. Seventeen years after Hindman’s death, Allen paid tribute to him in the Last Man Standing episode where Tim Taylor met Mike Baxter.
Hindman was born in Bisbee, Arizona and he studied acting at the University of Arizona, reports CBS News. He started acting on stage in the late 1960s and 1970s in New York, while also acting in movies. Hindman made his film debut in a 1967 exploitation movie called Teenage Mother and later starred in two of the most acclaimed 1970s thrillers, The Parallax View and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.
In 1975, Hindman earned his breakthrough role as Bob Reid on the ABC soap opera Ryan’s Hope. Hindman left the show in 1984 but returned for the show’s final season in 1988-1989. He co-starred on the show with Molly McGreevy, whom he married in 1976. McGreevy died in November 2015 at age 79.
In 1991, Hindman was cast as Wilson, Tim Taylor’s neighbor on Home Improvement. Wilson, whose full name was later revealed to be Wilson W. Wilson Jr., always had his face obscured. Most of the time, Wilson offered Tim words of advice over the fence. Allen recreated this famous character tic in the Last Man Standing episode “Dual Time.” Hindman appeared in every season of Home Improvement until the show ended in 1999.
In “Dual Time,” Tim stopped by Mike Baxter’s home to help fix a food disposal unit, but things did not go very well. Mike later had to fix a breaker, and when Tim approached, Mike peered over the breaker box’s door, just as Wilson used to do. Tim revealed that Wilson died in the Home Improvement universe, leading to a touching moment. “I miss Wilson… I miss a lot of stuff,” Tim told Mike.
Allen built a bond with Hindman during the making of Home Improvement. In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Allen said he brought his real-life feelings for the actor to the Last Man Standing episode. “I adored the man and we kind of brought that up in the story,” Allen said. “I started thinking about all the history I had with that TV show, how I compare it to my life on this show. It’s all about loss, is all I kept saying in that episode.” Last Man Standing’s final season airs Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. ET on Fox.