He eventually moved to Los Angeles, finding some work in soap operas and local theater, but had to come back home when he ran out of money. In Houston he worked as an assistant manager at a Windmill dinner theater, but continued to peck away at Hollywood, eventually scoring his first film role in the little-seen Drive-In (1976). Two years later, he appeared with his friend Randy Quaid in Three Warriors (1978). That same year he adopted an alter ego, and as "Terry Wayne" acted in a low-budget film called Vampire Hookers (1978). He did some well-regarded work on Broadway, where he appeared in Sandy Duncan's Peter Pan, portrayed Teddy Roosevelt in Tintypes, and even landed a role in Pat Benatar's video Love is a Battlefield.
The Coen brothers writer Ethan and director Joel gave Wilson his big break with their film Raising Arizona (1987) and even wrote a choice role in their period piece gangster film Miller's Crossing (1990) specifically for him. On January 13, 1989, two days before he was to fly to Louisiana to start filming it, he was at his New York City apartment where he and his wife planned to celebrate his birthday early. However, when she got home, he complained of a severe headache. He was taken to the hospital where he slipped into a coma and died two days later of a cerebral hemorrhage. Wilson's final film, released after his death, was Great Balls of Fire (1989), the biopic of Jerry Lee Lewis, where he played legendary American record producer Sam Phillips.
29° 42.970, -095° 18.266
Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery