Tim Allen recalls serving time in prison on cocaine charges in his early 20s: 'I was an eff up'

Suzy Byrne
·Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
·6 min read
BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 09: Tim Allen speaks onstage as Moët & Chandon Toasts The 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards Nominations on December 09, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Moët & Chandon)
Tim Allen at The 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards Nominations. (Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Moët & Chandon)

Tim Allen opens up about serving time in prison — and what he learned.

Long before Home Improvement, Buzz Lightyear and Last Man Standing, Allen was a lost, 20-something "eff up" who served time in federal prison on cocaine charges. He talks about that experience — as well as his politics as a Hollywood conservative on WTF with Marc Maron podcast.

"I was an eff up," Allen, 67, admitted of his life before prison. His father was killed in a horrific car crash caused by a drunk driver when he was 11, but he had already started drinking a year before that — inspired by movie cowboys throwing back shots of whiskey.

"After my old man died, I really just played games with people and told adults what they wanted to hear and then stole their booze," he said. "Really I was Eddie Haskell [from Leave it to Beaver]: Yes, Mrs. Cleaver. No, Mrs. Cleaver, I knew exactly what adults wanted — make your bed, be polite, use a napkin — and then I'd go steal everything in the house."

In 1978, he was arrested at the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport in Michigan with over a pound of cocaine in his luggage. He pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges, thinking the sentence wouldn't be too harsh — then was sent to federal prison, at age 23, for two years and four months.

In this handout, American actor and comedian Tim Allen in a mug shot following his arrest for cocaine possession, Kalamazoo, Michigan, US, 2nd October 1978. (Photo by Kypros/Getty Images)
In this handout, American actor and comedian Tim Allen in a mug shot following his arrest for cocaine possession, Kalamazoo, Michigan, US, 2nd October 1978. (Photo by Kypros/Getty Images)

"We were a bunch of college kids — a bunch of the kids who overdid it," then "two of us took [the punishment] for about 20 guys."

He said, "I was very contrite," after the arrest because the way he was living was a "terribly stressful existence." In the eight months he waited before sentencing, the aspiring standup started to look at his life and for the first time, make goals for when he came out.

"I didn't think they would do that," he said of the multi-year prison term and "neither did my attorney, then they came hard on me." However, he did have an inkling right before: "I knew bad things were going to happen. But I wanted to be able to come out with something."

He served time in three different federal prisons.

"I just shut up and did what I was told," he said. "It was the first time ever I did what I was told and played the game... I learned literally how to live day by day. And I learned how to shut up. You definitely want to learn how to shut up."

He said he quickly fell into the rhythm of prison life.

"I don't say this lightly and anybody who has been incarcerated [knows], it's surprising what the human being will get used to," he said. "Eventually after eight months, I got used to it. There were OK times. Saturday we got better food. Eventually, I went from a holding cell arrangement to my own cell."

He recalled calling home on Thanksgiving to his mother right after he got his own cell. Describing it as "embarrassingly funny to me," he said his call "was interrupting dinner" and he filled her in on "how proud I was I got my own cell. And you're really proud of it. She goes: 'Oh, that's good. Steve graduated from Purdue. Jeff's on his way to Michigan State. One of my oldest sons got his own cell.'"

Allen is nearly 23 years sober. He recalled having that first drink at 10 after "every cowboy movie I saw as a kid" showed men riding horses, tying them up, having a shot of whisky and then riding off. He thought: "That stuff's gotta be pretty damn refreshing." So "I went down to a friend's house and just poured Jim Beam into a jigger, not a shot glass, [it was] two and half shots actually, and downed it — just like the TV. It was like I drank a bottle of gasoline... Any normal person would have said: 'That's it,' as in no more. However, I said, 'Well, maybe I needed more water,' I got used to it."

He continued, "Alcohol for me... I'm going on 23 years sober and clean of everything... Alcohol never affected me like the other guys. I could drink copious amounts even [as] a young kid."

After telling a story about having an alcohol blackout during his college years, during which was drunk and drove his friends in his car, he said, "I look back on those things, this is sober guy stuff, I had so much shame at the things that I did ... especially driving people around. Coming from a dad that was killed that way, it's difficult to get past it."

Of his two decades-plus of sobriety, he said, "Grateful is the word. I love my life. I'm not any more mentally stable, I have the same issues I had. Now, I can't hide from them."

Allen — a rare Hollywood conservative who attended Trump's 2016 inauguration — talked a little politics as well.

"I just don't like — once I started making money — I had this silent partner that took almost half of my money and never gave me anything for it. That was the taxes," he said. "I've never liked taxes. Whoever takes the taxes and never tells me what they did with it, I'm a fiscal conservative person with money. That's it."

"I had this silent partner," he said, referring to the government, "Never liked taxes. Never liked what they do with taxes and the bullsh** both sides. It's not their money."

He said he's never gotten into trouble professionally for being candid about his political beliefs because "I literally don't preach anything. What I've done is just not joined into — as I call it — the 'we culture.' I'm not telling anybody else how to live. I don't like that. 'We should do this,' 'We should do that.'"

Speaking about Trump, without saying his name, he continued, "Once I realized that the last president pissed people off, I kind of like that," Allen laughed. "So it was fun to just not say anything. Didn't join in the lynching crowd."

Allen went on to say that he knows the Clintons and Bill has been "genuinely a nice guy to me." He said he would send along his movies when he was in the White House — something he also did when George W. Bush and Barack Obama were in office.

"I just didn't think that Hillary [Clinton] should have been president," he said. "In the end, you go the other direction. There's nothing personal about it. If you don't like it then wait 'til the next election."

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