CBS News June 16, 2019, 9:49 AM "Toy Story 4" star Tim Allen on comedy and tragedy
"To infinity – and beyond!"
You probably know his face, but every kid old enough to watch a screen knows that voice. Tim Allen is the man behind Buzz Lightyear, the make-believe space ranger in Disney's "Toy Story" franchise, co-starring Tom Hanks as Woody the Cowboy.
Most Disney features tug at your heartstrings. But Allen says the latest, "Toy Story 4," really gives them a solid yank.
"I can't even – Tom and I read it. And neither one of us could contain our emotion."
"That it made you cry?" asked correspondent Tracy Smith.
Of course, his career has been nothing to cry about. Allen has created some of the more popular characters anywhere, from the standup stage to the big screen, to a TV show, "Home Improvement," that became a ratings powerhouse.
He now has the toys to show for it – a garage full of classic cars at his L.A. office. But none of it, the cars or the career, came easy.
Born in Colorado in 1953, Timothy Alan Dick was only 11 when his father, Gerald, was killed by a drunk driver … a tragedy he says he still feels to this day.
Smith asked, "When you grew up, what were your dreams as a kid?"
"Well, it gets difficult for me sometimes. My father was killed when I was a young boy. So, most of my dreams was wondering why that happened and who's responsible? How can I get at that person? What sort of world is this that at one moment, your father's there, best guy in the world, next moment, he's not there?"
In college, Tim studied philosophy and design, but maybe his biggest life lesson came in the late '70s, when he did two years in prison on drug charges.
Smith asked, "How close did you come to ruining your life?"
"Pretty close. Got myself in trouble, ended up doing some prison time, humiliated my family. And all of it was selfish."
"What clicked for you, then?"
"I said to myself, 'I don't do wanna do this again. I can't do this. I wanna pay my mom back. I put her through hell.' And somehow in there, I started making, What do you wanna do?' Well, I wanna get on 'The Tonight Show' with Johnny Carson."
He eventually made it to Johnny's couch, but only after some rough nights on the road.
"In Akron, Ohio, it's just men eating. And all I hear was them ergh ugh gerr egh rhmf. So, I started mimicking that, 'cause I was frustrated. Urgh grr eugh rhmf. And these guys, 'Hey, that's funny. That gruntin' stuff is funny!'" And that idea became "Home Improvement." In the mid-'90s the show drew more than 25 million viewers a week. And back then, it seemed everything Allen touched turned to gold.
In November 1994, he had the #1 TV show; the #1 book on The New York Times nonfiction bestseller list ("Don't Stand Too Close to a Naked Man"); and the #1 movie ("The Santa Clause"), all in the same week.
Of course, more wasn't always better: "I struggled with alcohol most of my life," he said. "But I didn't know that that's what it was. When people say a glass of wine is good, two bottles would be good for me. And I don't even like wine! Well, whatever it was. And related things. Drugs and alcohol were part of my story."
But after another run-in with the law and a few years of personal turmoil, Allen cleaned up his act. "I've been a sober guy for going on 21 years," he said.
Through it all, Tim the Tool-Man was the heart of "Home Improvement," and he was ultimately the one who decided to pull the plug.
"'Home Improvement' was still at its height when you said, 'That's it. We're done,'" said Smith.
"It was a big, big decision, because the powers-that-be at Disney, the offers were obscene, I mean, to keep [going]," said Allen.
"Can you tell me how obscene?" asked Smith.
"No. It's rude. But it's just, it was like, 'Are you kidding?' Their first offer was more than you'd ever think. And I'd go, 'Oh boy.'"
Like Allen himself, his character, Mike Baxter, has conservative views – a rare bird indeed in Hollywood. Smith said, "You describe Mike on 'Last Man Standing' as an educated Archie Bunker.'"
"You like to push people's buttons on that show?"
"I dressed up as Trump, all of a sudden we're Trump supporters. Because we didn't take a shot at him. So now I said, 'Wait a minute. They think we're Trump supporters? This might be kinda fun.' So, then we started poking that button. And especially in the People's Republic of California, if you don't think one way, then you immediately are labeled a million different things. I said, 'This is gonna be fun.'"
Fun, maybe, but he hasn't completely left "Home Improvement" behind. Allen, who turned 66 last week, salvaged the original "Tool-Time" set. "It's 99% accurate," he said. "It's taken forever to get all the pieces."
"Why did you want to hold onto it?"
"I love that show," he replied.
And he also has a soft spot for his Dodge Demon – a 900-horsepower monster with a six-figure price tag. "It's an angry automobile," he proclaimed as he tore out onto the L.A. streets. "It's more smiles-for-miles for me than anything else I've ever driven."
Allen, who's the father of two girls, usually drives a battery-powered Tesla, and dreams of a greener world for his kids.
Smith said, "This 'Toy Story,' and I think you could say all of the 'Toy Storys,' are about finding your purpose. Have you figured out what your purpose is?"
"You've got to leave this a little better than you found it. If I can be of some assistance to solving a bigger problem, either fuel, batteries, we play around with cars all the time … that would be something to shoot for," he said. "Fixing something."
"How appropriate is that?"
You might say Tim Allen's aiming for a brighter future – and beyond.
To watch a trailer for "Toy Story 4" click on the video player below.
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Story produced by John D'Amelio.