Stars From Home Improvement You Didn't Know Died

A slew of new sitcoms were beamed into American living rooms in the 1990s, and while many of them have long since been forgotten, others — like Tim Allen's "Home Improvement," which aired for eight seasons between 1991 and 1999 — live long in the memory. Fans have been waiting patiently for the ABC show to appear on Disney+ (a legal dispute between the House of Mouse and Wind Dancer Productions appears to have put a spanner in the works, per The Hollywood Reporter), while Tim Allen remains open to the idea of reprising the role of Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor. He briefly revived the iconic character on his show "Last Man Standing" in 2021, and the actor told TV Line that he would love to see "Home Improvement" make a comeback. "I always think about it, because I still talk to everybody involved," he said. "I like the idea of doing it as a one-off, like a one-hour movie [...] I just think it's a marvelous idea, and all the actors think it's a great idea."

If "Home Improvement" was to return for a one-off special or even a brand new season, it would have to do so without a number of beloved characters, something that Allen acknowledged in his TV Line interview. It's been three decades since he made his debut as Tim Taylor, and we've lost several members of the "Home Improvement" family in that time.

Art LaFleur was Tim Allen's Tooth Fairy

Character actor Art LaFleur was one of the celebrities we lost in 2021. He died after "a 10 year battle with A-typical Parkinson's," his wife, Shelley LaFleur, revealed in a Facebook post. "He was a generous and selfless man which carried over to his acting but more importantly it was who he was for his family and friends," she said. He was 78.

Most people will remember LaFleur for portraying baseball players (he took on the role of Chick Gandil in "Field of Dreams" and famously played Babe Ruth in "The Sandlot"), but to Tim Allen, he will always be the Tooth Fairy. LaFleur appeared as a very different version of the legendary figure in Allen's "The Santa Clause" franchise, featuring in the second and third installments. Allen called him "a kind and gifted actor, husband and father" in a tribute tweet. "Peace to you our beloved tooth fairy. And prayers to your family. Santa."

Before they were Santa and the Tooth Fairy, Allen and LaFleur worked together on the "Home Improvement" Season 1 episode "Nothing More Than Feelings." LaFleur played the gum-chewing construction worker Jim (aka Jimbo), a "Tool Time" audience member who bonds with Tim over shared marital grievances. He regularly played up his tough-guy persona for laughs (one of his final appearances was in a 2015 episode of "Key and Peele"), but he was genuinely fearsome in a number of his roles. Other notable feature films include Sylvester Stallone's "Cobra" and the '80s remake of "The Blob."

Wendie Jo Sperber was Marty McFly's sister

Actor and comedian Wendie Jo Sperber, who played Marty McFly's sister Linda in the "Back to the Future" films, died of breast cancer in 2005, her publicist confirmed (via the Los Angeles Times). She was 47.

Sperber made her feature-length debut in 1978's "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," a '60s-set Robert Zemeckis movie about some Jersey girls who embark on a journey to meet The Beatles. In 1980, she began a run as Amy Cassidy on "Bosom Buddies," a short-lived sitcom starring Peter Scolari and Tom Hanks. She worked with Hanks again a few years later, playing Dr. Tina Gassko in the film "Bachelor Party." Hanks called his former co-star "a walking inspiration" in a statement (via Entertainment Weekly). "She met the challenges of her illness with love, cheer, joy and altruism," he said.

Sperber only appeared in two "Home Improvement" episodes, but they were important ones — she played Sue in the first and third parts of "The Long and Winding Road," the show's three-part finale. In "Part 1," an episode of "Tool Time" takes a Jerry Springer-style turn, and Tim is furious when he discovers that the show's new producer organized the whole thing. He wrests control back in "Part 3," ignoring the insane demands of his boss and bringing a bunch of special guests on to "Tool Time" instead, ending the show on his terms. Sperber also appeared on "Married with Children," "Will & Grace," and "8 Simple Rules."

Ja'net DuBois showed The Tool Man how to fix a toilet

Emmy-winning actor and singer Ja'Net DuBois, who co-wrote and sang the iconic theme song to "The Jeffersons," died unexpectedly in 2020, per CNN. The cause of death was cardiac arrest, medical examiners would later confirm (via TMZ). She was 74.

A veteran of the stage and screen, DuBois made her first TV appearances in the 1960s. She became a star the following decade, penning "Movin' On Up" for "The Jeffersons" and appearing in a classic '70s sitcom of her own. A career-defining role, DuBois played dependable neighbor Willona Woods on "Good Times" for five years, making her final bow as the character in 1979. "She broke stereotypes and changed the landscape for Black women in entertainment," read an Instagram tribute from Janet Jackson, who played her daughter on the show. "I'm grateful in recent years I had a chance to see her and create more lasting memories."

DuBois went on to have a long career as a character actor and would pop up in two episodes of "Home Improvement." When Tim fills his audience with female fans to prove a point in Season 1's "Reach Out and Teach Someone," a woman named Judith (DuBois) volunteers to come on stage — and proceeds to embarrass The Tool Man by fixing a running toilet in a far more efficient manner. In the end, it's Tim who learns something. DuBois would later appear as a member of Jill's (Patricia Richardson) book club in the Season 5 episode "Her Cheatin' Mind."

Charles Robinson was the boss of Binford Tools

Charles Robinson, best known for playing Vietnam vet-turned-court clerk Mac Robinson on the NBC sitcom "Night Court," died in July 2021. "The family said that the cause was a heart attack and organ failure brought on by septic shock, and that Mr. Robinson also had adenocarcinoma, a cancer of the glandular cells," said The New York Times. He was 75.

The Texas native studied at the University of Houston after a spell in the Army, though he soon realized that he was in the wrong type of school. The former military man wanted to be an actor, and after taking some lessons at the Houston Music Theater's Studio 7 workshop, he moved to L.A. and started studying at the Actors Studio. He made his big-screen bow in 1971's "Drive, He Said," the official directorial debut of Jack Nicholson, and popped up in Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" towards the end of the decade, but it was during the 1980s that Robinson would become a known face on the sitcom scene.

He played Newdell on "Buffalo Bill" before beginning his eight-year run on "Night Court," which ended in 1992. A few years later, he found a new character: Bud Harper on "Home Improvement." Robinson made his debut as the new owner of Binford Tools (the sponsor of "Tool Time") in Season 5's "The First Temptation of Tim" and reprised the role in eight further episodes, the last one being Season 8's "Dead Weight."

Angela Paton hosted Cooking With Irma

Angela Paton, who played the host of rival show "Cooking With Irma" on "Home Improvement," died following a heart attack in 2016, her nephew confirmed, per The Hollywood Reporter. She was 86.

Paton spent the early part of her career on the stage, appearing in plays and even opening her own theater. She didn't begin popping up in film and TV regularly until later in life, but she still managed to notch almost a hundred onscreen credits. Her first role of note was that of Harriet Anderson on the wine country soap opera "Falcon Crest," which used to follow "Dallas" on CBS in the 1980s. In the '90s, Paton played B&B owner Mrs. Lancaster in Bill Murray classic "Groundhog Day" (the role she's best remembered for) and appeared on several well-known TV shows, from "L.A. Law" and "NYPD Blue" to "ER," "Star Trek: Voyager," and, of course, "Home Improvement."

Her character only actually appears in two episodes (Season 3's "Too Many Cooks" and Season 5's "Let Them Eat Cake"), but Irma's show was a constant thorn in Tim's side. Filmed in the same building, "Cooking With Irma" won multiple TV awards and usually kept "Tool Time" in its shadow. Producers actually got Tim to guest host the cooking show on one occasion, and, much to his annoyance, they made him second in command, with The Tool Man playing helper to his regular assistant, Al (Richard Karn). Tim hated it, but Irma's audience loved Al.

Tom Poston played three brothers on Home Improvement

Award-winning actor Tom Poston, who played three different characters on "Home Improvement," died in April 2007. "Mr. Poston died after a short illness," said The New York Times, which hailed him as a "virtuosic comic actor." He was 85.

The Ohio native was a keen boxer in his youth, competing in "several hundred amateur fights," according to the Times. He later became a student at West Virginia's Bethany College but left to join the Army at the onset of the Second World War. After serving in Europe, Poston decided to start over in New York, enrolling at Manhattan's famous American Academy of Dramatic Arts. By the mid-'50s, he was working on both the stage and screen, appearing in Broadway productions like "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter" and hosting "Entertainment," an early variety show that aired on ABC.

The success of "Entertainment" led to a spot on "The Steve Allen Show," and in turn, an Emmy win — Poston was named best supporting actor (continuing character) in a comedy series for his work on Allen's show. He became a TV regular in the years that followed, and in the '90s, he appeared on "Home Improvement" as three brothers: he played unenthusiastic airport worker Fred in "'Twas the Flight Before Christmas," Fred's brother Ned in "The Tool Man Delivers," and he popped up again in "Thanksgiving" as the third brother, Ted. "You look awfully familiar — have we met before?" Tim remarks upon meeting Ted.

Mickey Jones and Tim Allen laughed all day

Professional drummer-turned-character actor Mickey Jones, who played Tim Taylor's buddy Pete Bilker on "Home Improvement," died in February 2018, his publicist confirmed to Variety. He was 76.

During his music career, Jones played drums for the likes of Trini Lopez, Johnny Rivers, Kenny Rogers, and Bob Dylan, with whom he went on tour. It was the daily grind of touring that made him want a change of direction. "I just had to get off the road," he once told Cult Film Freaks, "so I gave up a great career to try and get in a business that I loved, but starting at the bottom." He began popping up on TV shows in the late '70s and was landing movie gigs by the early '80s, appearing as the mechanic in the critically acclaimed comedy "National Lampoon's Vacation."

According to Jones, "National Lampoon's Vacation" is one of three projects that inevitably came up whenever he bumped into fans. "When I meet people on the street they always mention 'Vacation,' [Billy Bob Thornton film] 'Sling Blade,' and 'Home Improvement,'" Jones said. "I appeared for 8 seasons on 'Home Improvement' with Tim Allen." In his book, "That Would Be Me" (a line spoken by his "Home Improvement" character), Jones revealed that he had a blast playing Pete Bilker. "Hanging out with Tim Allen, all we did was laugh all day," he wrote (via the Ventura County Star). "And the funniest stuff was between takes."

Dick O'Neill was Tim's former tool shop teacher

Veteran TV actor Dick O'Neill, who was best known for playing the father of Sharon Gless' Christine Cagney on "Cagney & Lacey," died in 1998, the Los Angeles Times reported. He was 70.

A native of New York, O'Neill honed his skills on the city's stages before heading West to embark on a film and TV career that would last for decades. He was on "The Doctors and the Nurses" and "The Jackie Gleason Show" in the 1960s, and he would appear in the likes of "Wonder Woman" and "M*A*S*H" in the 1970s. He made some of his most memorable movie appearances around this time: O'Neill played no-nonsense subway dispatcher Frank Correll in the critically acclaimed "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" (the gripping train hijack drama boasts a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes), and he featured as Frosty in the Steve Martin comedy, "The Jerk."

He went on to appear in the likes of "The Incredible Hulk," "Cheers," "Falcon Crest," and "Cagney & Lacey" (he portrayed Cagney's dad, Charlie Cagney, in 27 episodes of the hit '80s cop show) before making his "Home Improvement" debut. Fans of the '90s sitcom will no doubt remember O'Neill's turn as Art Leonard, Tim's tool shop teacher from back in the day. Art guest-starred on "Tool Time" in Season 4's "Ye Olde Shoppe Teacher," and he became romantically involved with Tim's mother in Season 5's "That's My Momma," horrifying the TV host.

Earl Hindman was a great neighbor

Earl Hindman, who played Tim Taylor's next-door neighbor Wilson W. Wilson Jr. in almost every episode of "Home Improvement," died of cancer in 2003, aged 61, per The New York Times. Wilson was based on a real neighbor that Tim Allen had as a child, per Screen Rant. On the show, Wilson was forever chatting over his backyard fence. The running gag was that you never saw his full face, but that didn't stop viewers from connecting with the character.

Hindman was a firm fan favorite, and Tim Allen loved him, too. When Allen reprised the role of Tim Taylor on "Last Man Standing" in 2021, he confirmed onscreen that Hindman's "Home Improvement" character had passed away. According to the actor, things got emotional on set. "I adored the man and we kind of brought that up in the story," Allen told Entertainment Tonight. "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."

Hindman starred in 200 episodes of "Home Improvement," missing just three (although he was still credited). It's the character he's best known for, but he actually played Detective Lieutenant Bob Reid on "Ryan's Hope" for a lot longer: Hindman had a lengthy stint on the soap opera, appearing in almost 500 episodes between 1975 and 1989. In terms of feature films, he counted "Silverado," "The Parallax View," and "Three Men and a Baby" among his credits.

Ann Morgan Guilbert was Wilson's mother

Minneapolis-born actor Ann Morgan Guilbert, who played Rob Petrie's neighbor Millie Helper on "The Dick Van Dyke Show," but was best known to "Home Improvement" fans as the mother of Earl Hindman's Wilson W. Wilson Jr., died in 2016. The cause was cancer, her daughter confirmed, per The Hollywood Reporter. She was 87.

Guilbert learned the sharp comedic timing that she was known for at Stanford's Department of Speech and Drama. She was always at her "most comfortable" in theater, she once told Standford Magazine, and was making a living in several comedy revues when the part of Millie Helper came up. A friend of her first husband had been cast as Dick Van Dyke's neighbor on his new sitcom, and Guilbert was urged to audition for the role of his wife, who she turned into a memorable character. "She wasn't real in the beginning," Guilbert said. "It got more real as the show went along."

She split her time between the stage and screen in the years that followed, appearing on Broadway and becoming a regular face on TV. From "Cheers" and "Seinfeld" to "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Modern Family," Guilbert plied her trade on many big sitcoms, and she added "Home Improvement" to that list in 1993 when she appeared in the Season 3 Mother's Day episode "To Build or Not to Build." She offers Tim advice when his middle son Randy (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) shows no interest in tools.

Shirley Prestia played Harry Turner's better half

Shirley Prestia, who played the no-nonsense wife of Harry Turner (Blake Clark) on "Home Improvement," died of brain cancer in 2011. The New Orleans native moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting and became "one of the original members of The Groundlings Theater, where she formed life-long friendships with many of her colleagues," her obituary revealed.

Prestia made her first credited appearance in the 1982 horror-comedy "Pandemonium," playing a morgue attendant. She would only appear in a handful of other movies in the decades that followed, settling into a career as a TV actor. A few years after "Pandemonium," she landed a gig on the medical drama "St. Elsewhere," which in turn led to a recurring role on the short-lived hospital-set sitcom "E/R." She never became a recognizable name, but with appearances in "The Golden Girls," "Cheers," "Babylon 5," "Fraiser," "Will & Grace," "Ally McBeal," "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," and "Curb Your Enthusiasm," to name but a few, Prestia was a veteran of the industry.

She's perhaps best remembered for playing Delores on "Home Improvement" between 1995 and 1999, appearing in eight episodes. She was never afraid to let her husband Harry (the owner of Harry's Hardware, where Tim liked to shop and hang out) know what she was thinking, sometimes without words: she could clear the guys out of the store with just a look. Prestia appeared as Delores in the last ever "Home Improvement" episode.