Thomas F. Wilson studied international politics at Arizona State University, then switched his career focus by becoming a summer stock actor. In 1979, the 20-year-old Wilson returned to his native Philadelphia to begin his career as a standup comic, studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts between nightclub gigs. While on the bumpy road to fame, he shared an apartment with two other aspiring funnymen, Yakov Smirnoff and Andrew Dice Clay. He finally struck paydirt in the role of thick-eared, thick-skulled high school bully Biff ("Why don't you make like a tree...and go away?) in the first two Back to the Future films. In Back to the Future Pt. 3 (1988), he offered a fascinating variation of this character in the role of Biff's splendidly stupid great-grandfather, gunslinger Buford Tannen. What could have been a one-note characterization -- Biff/Buford wound up covered in manure in all three films -- was enlivened by Wilson's comic nuances and split-second timing. Computer game fans know Thomas F. Wilson best as Major Todd "Maniac" Marshall, star of the interactive CD-ROM Wing Commander series.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- In high school, was debate partners with David Brooks, who went on to become a journalist and political commentator.
- Began performing stand-up comedy in his teens while studying acting in New York City.
- After his first audition, was accepted as a member of the Comedy Store, where he worked with Richard Pryor, Robin Williams and Jim Carrey.
- Was roommates in Hollywood with Andrew "Dice" Clay and Yakov Smirnoff.
- Played the tuba and led the audience in a march song during his first Tonight Show appearance in 1990—a bit that got him invited back by host Johnny Carson.
- Wrote and starred in the one-man show Cowboy Tommy.
- Has shown his paintings of classic children's toys in galleries, including the San Jose Museum of Art and the Disney Gallery in Disneyland.