Who Is Tim Allen?
Tim Allen overcame his imprisonment for drug dealing as a young man to become a popular stand-up comedian. He found sitcom success with Home Improvement in 1991, fueling a Hollywood career that made him a featured player in The Santa Clause and Toy Story franchises. Allen later returned to the small screen for another lengthy sitcom run with Last Man Standing.
Early Years and Family Tragedy
Tim Allen Dick was born on June 13, 1953, in Denver, Colorado, one of six children of Gerald and Martha Dick. Allen discovered his penchant for comedy early on — as his last name became fodder for childhood jeers, he often used his wit to deflect insults. In his formative years, Allen had an especially strong connection with his father, who instilled a love of all things automotive in his son. "I loved my father more than anything," Allen remembered. "He was a tall, strong, funny, really engaging guy. I so enjoyed his company, his smell, sensibility, discipline, sense of humor — all the fun stuff we did together. I couldn't wait for him to come home."
In 1964, on his way home from a football game, Gerald was killed by drunk driver. Allen was 11 years old. In the wake of the tragedy, Allen's mother moved the family to Detroit, Michigan. Several years later, she married her high school sweetheart, a successful businessman with strong Episcopalian values. The pair raised Allen and his siblings.
As a teenager, Allen was an indifferent student with a passion for shop class. After receiving his high school diploma, he attended Central Michigan University. He later transferred to Western Michigan University to earn a bachelor's degree in television and radio production. It was there that he met long-term girlfriend Laura Deibel, and began making money on the side as a narcotics dealer.
Arrest and Prison Stint
Following his college graduation in 1976, Allen took a position at a sporting goods store, where he was quickly offered a job at the company's in-house advertising agency. Despite his accomplishments in the ad business, and his happy marriage to Deibel in 1978, Allen continued to deal drugs. His criminal activity caught up with him on October 2, 1978, when Allen and an accomplice were arrested at the Kalamazoo, Michigan, airport for possession of nearly 1 1/2 pounds of cocaine. He was released on bail, and a trial was scheduled for November of that year.
In the time before his sentencing, Allen tried his hand at stand-up comedy. He made his successful debut at Detroit's Comedy Castle and a month later, on November 26, 1979, Allen made his court appearance. The comic received a reduced sentence after agreeing to testify against his partner, and was given eight years in federal prison. He ultimately served only 28 months at Sandstone Federal Correctional Institution. The time in prison seemed to whet his sense of humor, and Allen became known for his ability to wrench laughs from the toughest guards and prisoners alike.
After his parole in 1981, Allen returned to Detroit. Working at an ad agency by day, he became a regular at the Comedy Castle in the evenings. It was there that he started honing his hyper-masculine persona. He also discovered his trademark call: three ape-like, staccato grunts. As his stand-up career gained momentum, he successfully ventured into the world of commercial acting, including appearances in several ads for Mr. Goodwrench. In the midst of this burgeoning acting career, Allen became a father; his daughter, Katherine, was born in 1989.
By 1990, Allen's "Men Are Pigs" routine, which focused on the male love for hardware, was made into a Showtime television special. The segment caught the attention of Disney Studios chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg and Walt Disney CEO Michael Eisner, who offered Allen leading roles in upcoming small-screen adaptations of Turner & Hooch (1989) and The Dead Poets Society (1989). Allen turned down the roles and tenaciously fought for his own material.
'Home Improvement' Star
Allen eventually persuaded the studio to use his routine as the basis for a new sitcom, Home Improvement. The show was to feature the comedian as Tim Taylor, family man and star of a program called Tool Time.
Shortly before the show's 1991 debut, Allen made headlines when he revealed that he had served time in prison. His controversial admittance did not manage to affect the popularity of Home Improvement, which made the Nielsen Top 10 list during its first season. By 1992, Allen had earned his first Peoples' Choice Award for Favorite Male Television Performer — a distinction he held for eight consecutive years. By the time the 1993 season made it to the air, Allen had an Emmy nomination under his belt and Home Improvement was a steadfast ratings darling.
'The Santa Clause' and 'Toy Story'
The year 1994 was an important one for Allen. In the same week, Allen had the No. 1 book (Don't Stand Too Close to a Naked Man), the No. 1 television show and a No. 1 box office hit (The Santa Clause), cementing his place in the celebrity firmament.
Over the next few years, his accomplishments seemed to snowball. Allen was highly praised for his voice performance as Buzz Lightyear, alongside Tom Hanks' Sheriff Woody, in Pixar's smash success Toy Story (1995), and that same year he was honored with a Golden Globe Award for his work on Home Improvement. In 1996, he earned even more commercial success with the book I'm Not Really Here.
Allen faced another bump in the road in 1997, when he was brought up on drunk driving charges. The arrest led to a stint in rehab the following year and Allen's subsequent commitment to sobriety. But he continued to face success in 1998, when Home Improvement had another successful run, its star earning an estimated $1.25 million per episode. By 1999, however, the show had run its course and the cast bid a tearful farewell.
'Galaxy Quest,' 'Wild Hogs' and Sequels
Although saddened by the loss of his regular sitcom gig, Allen was working non-stop. In 1999, he reprised the role of Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story 2 and earned the distinctive title of "Disney Legend." He also starred in that year's sci-fi comedy Galaxy Quest, which became a cult hit. But while his career soared, his personal life suffered: Laura filed for divorce later that year.
Allen remained a frequent presence on the big screen and even reclaimed some romantic harmony. In 2006, shortly before the debut of his third addition to The Santa Clause franchise, he wed long-term girlfriend Jane Hajduk. The following year, Allen starred alongside John Travolta, Ray Liotta, Martin Lawrence and William H. Macy in Wild Hogs.
After appearing in the David Mamet-helmed Redbelt in 2008 and in The Six Wives of Henry Lefay the following year, Allen made his feature film directing debut with the comedy Crazy on the Outside in 2010. That year, he also returned to a familiar voice role with Toy Story 3.
Allen's film participation diminished by the second decade of the 21st century, though he surfaced in smaller features like 3 Geezers! (2013) and El Camino Christmas (2017). In 2019, he was back for one final run as Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story 4.
'Last Man Standing'
Beginning in 2011, Allen rediscovered sitcom success on ABC with Last Man Standing. Drawing from elements of Allen's early career, the show features the funnyman as Mike Baxter, director of marketing for an outdoor sporting goods store chain based in Colorado.
Despite its strong ratings, ABC announced in May 2017 that it would not renew the sitcom for a seventh season. Fox later swooped in and revived Last Man Standing for the fall 2018 season.
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