Broken Home

Ladies’ Home Journal, April 1997

by Chris Connelly

Tim Allen didn’t have the tool to fix his childhood tragedy—until now.

Tim Allen really knows his, um, stuff. He knows tools. He knows quantum physics. He knows vintage hot rods. What he does not know is the name of the man who changed his life more profoundly than any other.

Luckily for TV audiences, though, he also knows comedy. Bluff and hearty, dressed head to toe in black—shirt, jeans, boots—the forty-three year-old-star of Home Improvement is every inch the supremely capable fixer-upper his sitcom character aspires to be—the picture of rugged self-confidence.

And why not? Home Improvement remains ABC’s highest-rated prime-time series this season. His book, I’m Not Really Here (Hyperion, 1996), has become another top ten best-seller. His career in the movies, which has already yielded 100-million-grossing smashes in The Santa Clause and the computer-animated Toy Story, takes what he calls another “baby step” this month with the release of Jungle to Jungle, a revved-up remake of a French comedy that stars Allen as a New York executive stunned to learn that he has a twelve-year-old son, raised by his ex-wife as a full-fledged member of an Amazonian tribe.

In spite of his recent successes, the past few years have not been without their share of shake-ups. His Sherman Oaks home took a terrific beating in the 1994 earthquake; a temporary move to another L.A. neighborhood offered a near-idyllic community of neighborly caring… until the housekeeper was held at knifepoint and nearly slain during a robbery on a lazy Saturday afternoon. And what about those earthquakes? “I got so many damn flashlights.” He says. “Every drawer has one, and every month I replace the batteries whether I need to or not.”

Ever since Allen married his college sweetheart, Laura Deibel, there have been more than a few earthshaking moments, pleasant and otherwise, in their lives together. Their union remains strong—and has produced a daughter, seven-year-old Kady—but Allen wishes he weren’t quite so high-maintenance. “I cause a lot of stress in my wife’s life,” he admits. “We both decided that we were running on reserves trying to make everybody happy at Christmas. We [had] very little left for each other.”

Tim and Laura always begin the week spending time together with Kady. “I get my shows three days ahead, and we look at ‘em Sunday nights,” says Allen. “That’s our family night: We watch Lois & Clark, which Kady loves, we have our popcorn and then we all watch Home Improvement.” Kady, thankfully, appears to be a fan. “She does think I’m funny,” he says with a laugh. “And she knows it’s not real- though to her, Pee-wee Herman is real. I want her to grow up to be… hopefully, like Candice Bergen.”

Allen sounds a little rueful while explaining why he’s the father of an only child. “My wife, she’s very intense. Doesn’t feel she could do a better job with to, she takes so much time with this one. I wish she had sisters.”

Timothy Allen dick spent his wonder years in Denver. He was at home when his carefree childhood ended in a tangle of glass and steel on November 21, 1964, when. When returning home from a University of Colorado football game in Boulder, the Dicks’ car was struck head-on by a Volkswagon. One brother was injured; his father, Gerald, was killed.

The death of his father made the young boy” mad at God… mad at this life that made me so happy as a child then suddenly [he mimes a guy pulling a rug out from under someone] there you go: Yank! Boom! Right down on your face. And the guy’s going, ‘You stupid little… what gave you the idea this wasn’t going to be a pain?’”

The family moved to Michigan when Tim was thirteen, after his mother remarried. An indifferent student, he headed to college, where money was tight but the seventies were open for business, legal and otherwise; his aimless drift toward petty drug-dealing was dangerous and exceedingly unwise. “I was just stupid,” he says,” because I didn’t really want to do it.”

After getting busted in Kalamazoo, he was convicted of selling cocaine and landed in prison for a twenty-eight-month stretch. “I’m kinds fortunate it came apart,” he says, “because I think with a little more practice, I would have gotten really food at it.” It discomfits him to bring this period up at all, but to his credit, ducking the tough stuff just isn’t his style. “I’m perfectly capable of selling narcotics today—I still know how to do it. I just don’t think it’s a good thing to do now. I caused a lot of pain in a lot of people’s lives, and I paid for every bit of that pain. I’m not a changed man—I’m an ex-convict. I know the evil in me, and I know the good in me.”

Allen grapples with both sides of his personality in I’m Not Really Here’s most striking passage, as a stranger goads him into saying the words, “I forgive the man who killed my father.” Did he ever dream about finding that man? “Oh, when I was a kid I wanted to search him down… but when you’re a kid there’s not much you can do. You can only ride your bike so far. I don’t know what we’d do if we ever caught him… peashoot him to death? ‘Hold him down.’ ‘Ow,ow!’”

Colorado highway patrol records from 1964 have long since been destroyed, and all Allen knows about the man who killed his father is that he was a drunk driver who never did jail time. “I would be curious, though, at this point to find out if he’s still alive or if he remembers this. How could he forget?” He adds, “I wish I had his name.”

Well, now he’ll have it. The driver of the Volkswagon—the man who, Allen once wrote, “killed my whole family that night” was a deputy sheriff for the City and County of Denver named Earl W. Camblin, who told police at the scene of the accident that a passing automobile had forced him off the road. Camblin was unhurt in the collision, and apparently not drunk—at least by Colorado law. His Breathalyzer score on the scene was. 07, lower than the standard of .10. Camblin died in New Mexico in 1980.

For Timothy Allen Dick, forgiveness has been hard-won, but it has come; for the rest of his family, including an older brother who was injured in the accident, the grieving process has continued for decades. “I told my brother when he was bitching to me, ‘I’m two years older than Dad [when he died]—you’re six years older. He knows nothing now! Now it’s time to let the guy go! Lean on your wife, or me… but let him go!

Whew. With feelings that deep to draw on, and a thaw in his once-icy attitude toward, ahem, “acting,” Allen is thinking about tackling meatier roles in movies someday; maybe even a villain in a sci-fi film of his own devising (his next, For Richer Or Poorer, is a romantic comedy that has him hiding out from the IRS by posing as an Amish horse trainer). Not everyone agrees that he should, though: “Marty Short says I have a Contract with America to be funny,” says Allen of his Jungle2Jungle co-star.

Given that, it’s no wonder that Allen hasn’t lost any of his enthusiasm for Home Improvement. “I’m not saying I’m Mr. Blue Collar, but I just appreciate some things that bypass some people here [in Hollywood]. That’s what Tool Time started as: celebrating what men do with their hands—and women, too.” To a man who worked his way out of jail, out of grief and out of desire for vengeance, and toward a greater appreciation for God and family, that passion means more than building a new deck: It means making a new beginning “There are millions of people who, rather than complain, do stuff—make stuff better, redo stuff, redo their lives,” he says. “It’s what we do best as human being.”