Every episode of ABC’s blockbuster 1990s sitcom Home Improvement ended with a life lesson. For eight seasons and 203 episodes, Americans tuned in weekly by the tens of millions to watch Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, wife Jill and their three sons wrestle with dilemmas typical of middle-class American households, only to discover solutions and restore peace in a tight 22 minutes.
“What a Drag,” a season seven entry that aired Feb. 24, 1998, focused a lens on eldest son Brad, played by Zachery Ty Bryan, as it’s discovered he stashed marijuana in the family’s backyard gazebo. When confronted, Brad lies and deflects but eventually comes clean to his parents, played by Tim Allen and Patricia Richardson, and younger brother Randy (Jonathan Taylor Thomas), who says in melodramatic fashion, “I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on with you.”
The episode culminates with a heart-to-heart on the living room sofa. “When you’re young, you want to have adventures. You think nothing bad can happen to you. It’s not true,” offers Richardson’s Jill after she, too, arrives at an honest moment of reflection to reveal that when she experimented with (laced) weed at a Led Zeppelin concert, it landed her behind bars. “Why would you want to take that risk?”
Tim picked it up from there. “Your life’s on track now. You don’t want to do stuff that will get it off track,” he advises. Brad apologizes and awaits “sentencing” before Tim lovingly concludes that he’s “a good kid” in such a way that it’s easy to see why he earned the title of America’s Dad.
By all accounts, Zachery Ty Bryan was a good kid. Friends and colleagues recall a strong work ethic, a love for family, a talent for soccer and a fierce ambition. The drive persisted into adulthood. “No rich parents. No assistance. No handouts. No favors. No excuses. Straight hunger. Straight ambition. Straight hustle. If I want it, I’m gonna go get it. Period,” Bryan tweeted on July 16, 2020. That same year, a darker version of Bryan began to emerge. Sources say his life had taken a dramatic turn evidenced by arrests for domestic violence and driving under the influence, and a trail of jilted investors who believe they were duped in a crypto scheme. The narrative puts a 2020s spin on the age-old parable of the promising child actor who goes off the rails later in life.
Just before the pandemic, as he inched closer to 40, Bryan gave the impression of leading an idyllic life free of the issues that have plagued other young stars after they slip out of the limelight. He was in a longtime marriage with Carly, a woman he met in high school, and they were busy raising four children in a multimillion-dollar home in Newport Beach, with the most recent addition, a son, arriving in March 2019 to join three sisters (including a set of twins). He had a solid friend group made up of high school buddies from the La Cañada suburb of L.A., and he continued to work in Hollywood after having segued to behind-the-camera work in the 2010s by expanding his résumé as a producer.
He also had the flexibility to pick and choose projects thanks to the financial freedom TV stardom provided and to a not-so-secret weapon — considerable crypto wealth — delivered by a lucky roll of the dice. Following a tip from a fellow child star turned Bitcoin trailblazer with whom he worked on a Disney movie, Bryan invested a portion of his Home Improvement earnings in Bitcoin soon after the introduction of the digital currency, eventually earning him millions.
An industry insider who worked with Bryan on an independent film said the former star wasn’t shy about sharing how well he’d done for himself. “We were told he had made a shitload of money in crypto, and when we had a call with him, he presented himself as such a wealthy guy. He said he only worked part-time because he was a family guy who loved his wife and young kids and was a really hands-on father,” says the insider. “Like he was this great man with strong Christian values.”
Bryan promoted himself as such on TV and online. He started popping up as a guest commentator on conservative platforms, first on Fox News and rightwing media website The Daily Wire during the Donald Trump presidency and more recently on Newsmax. The appearances found him weighing in on hot-button issues as a “Hollywood insider,” albeit one unafraid to show his political stripes. “There’s a lot more conservatives in Hollywood than you would expect,” he told Fox News in June 2018. “The pendulum is swinging the other way, and I’m proud to be a part of it.” In one Daily Wire column, he slammed Alyssa Milano for her liberal beliefs, and in another, Bryan praised Trump as a savior who would unite the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic, writing, “President Trump already knows what’s needed to recover from this crisis — the American spirit, hard work and God’s favor.” Weeks later, he showed off a forearm tattoo featuring the names of his four children in Hebrew to honor his wife’s Jewish heritage.
He seemed to have it all: Fame, money, faith and family. A life on track with so much to lose. Then came 2020.
Though Bryan’s private life had been veering off course for much of that year, his problems became public in October 2020 when he was arrested in Oregon and charged with felony strangulation after a disturbing incident with Johnnie Faye Cartwright, a woman who was not his wife. Those who’ve encountered Bryan since the arrest, which received widespread media attention that effectively shattered his public image, say it’s the tip of the iceberg in a complicated tale that involves allegations of fraud, substance abuse and broken family trust.
Separately, four sources allege that Bryan stole their money through a fraudulent scheme tied to an agriculture-technology startup in individual amounts ranging from $5,000 to $25,000, and totaling close to $50,000. They believe he did so by offering fake contracts that have no value outside of the paper they are printed on.
Bryan’s friends, confidants and even his TV dad seem plagued by a question similar to the one Thomas asked in that marijuana scene: What was going on with Zachery Ty Bryan?
Allen does not have an answer. He seemed at a loss for words when asked last year. “I don’t know what’s going on with him,” says Allen, who navigated a difficult stretch in his early 20s that saw him serve two years behind bars for cocaine possession before ultimately becoming a comedy superstar and finding sobriety. “Zach is a great kid who has grown into a complex man. All you can do is step aside and let somebody go through their process. At a certain point, he deviated from the guy I know to somebody who is reacting to situations that I had nothing to do with and can’t control.” He pauses. “I don’t know what happens when people get corrupted. You just don’t know.”
Others are unsure how to reach Bryan now that he’s left Los Angeles and settled in Oregon with Cartwright. On the hunt for their money, a source texted Bryan recently to ask for an update. The individual received a reply almost immediately from someone claiming to have inherited the phone number: “He changed his number months ago. Sorry. And he owes, like, tons of people money. Hope you’re not one of them.”
After making inquiries into Bryan’s affairs for several months, The Hollywood Reporter received a direct message from Bryan, who agreed to set the record straight on all accounts. Over the course of an hourlong phone call from his parents’ home during a family visit, Bryan fielded every question presented to him. He had answers about the difficult few years he faced while defending himself against the fraud allegations. Also, for the first time, he opened up about what he says really happened the night he was arrested in Oregon and addressed his alcohol use, on which he blames many of his problems.
“I do know when things get in the way of who you’re meant to be, where you’re supposed to go and what God has planned for you,” he explains, “He sometimes challenges you to do some reflecting by looking in the mirror and taking responsibility.” This is him doing that, he says.
Born in October 1981 in Aurora, Colorado, as the eldest child of Dwight and Jenny Bryan, Zachery Ty Bryan launched his career while in elementary school by appearing in print and commercial work in nearby Denver. “I was obsessed with The Wonder Years,” Bryan says of why he started so young. “The show really resonated with me as a child. I had that same kind of family, like lower-middle-class, with dinner at the table every night. My dad was from a farm town with old-school, cowboy disciplinarian rules. There was just something about it. I fell in love with that show.”
His entertainment aspirations led the family to New York, where he attended a casting showcase that helped secure an agent who booked him in commercials for Burger King and Polo Ralph Lauren. Then came Los Angeles. Just weeks after landing on the West Coast — with a short stay at the Oakwood Apartments complex near Burbank, famous for hosting wannabe stars and their families — Bryan signed with top youth agent Judy Savage (no relation to Fred Savage of The Wonder Years) and at age 9 got the break of a lifetime when he was cast on Home Improvement. The series debuted Sept. 17, 1991, less than a month before Bryan’s 10th birthday, and was a home run straight away, averaging more than 28 million viewers an episode during its first season. “We hired Fred Savage’s tutor, this guy Steve Elster, to be my tutor, so that was full circle for me,” recalls Bryan, who notes that he never abandoned regular school, on the insistence of his parents. “I played a lot of sports and on many weekends, we were in different cities for soccer tournaments like regular kids.”
Home Improvement remained a top 10 hit for all eight seasons before wrapping up with a series finale on May 25, 1999, watched by 35.5 million people, 10th on the all-time list of most viewed final episodes. “Those were some of the best days of my life,” he says, looking back. “Obviously, my life flipped upside down and everywhere you go, people know who you are, but I give a lot of credit to my dad and my mom because they always kept me grounded.”
The show’s popularity made its cast household names. It delivered tween heartthrob status for the young actors, particularly cherub-faced Thomas, who became a Tiger Beat staple. Bryan emerged as the “cute older brother,” despite being a month younger than Thomas, and experienced similar adulation with his face plastered on the walls of young girls’ rooms across America opposite peers like Leonardo DiCaprio, Devon Sawa and Mark-Paul Gosselaar. During the show’s run, Bryan capitalized on his fame by appearing in a guest spot on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and snagging a prominent role playing a bully opposite Sinbad and fellow child actor Brock Pierce in the 1996 White House comedy First Kid from Disney. Pierce and Bryan developed a bond offscreen that would pay major dividends later.
The year Home Improvement ended, Bryan turned 18 and faced an eternal dilemma for a child star: how to achieve career longevity in Hollywood while steering clear of trouble. The results were mixed among his Home Improvement brothers. Jonathan Taylor Thomas departed the series early in favor of pursuing his studies, first at Harvard and then at Columbia. Aside from a few guest appearances on Allen-fronted shows like Last Man Standing, Thomas has maintained a low profile and hasn’t granted an interview in years. Meanwhile, Taran Noah Smith, who played the youngest brother on the show, had a roller-coaster ride after the series ended. At 17, he married a woman 16 years his senior. He left the business, accused his parents of squandering his trust fund, got arrested for driving under the influence and drug possession, and eventually reunited with his mother to pen a book about navigating child stardom.
By contrast, Bryan kept the Hollywood dream alive. For a decade, from 1999 to 2009, he turned to film roles, including back-to-back 2006 appearances for director Justin Lin in Annapolis and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, a role he calls his “pinnacle.” But most of his work came via guest spots on shows such as ER, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Smallville, Veronica Mars, Cold Case, Shark, Burn Notice and Knight Rider. Bryan’s record remained relatively clear save for a DUI arrest at age 22, in 2004, after he was clocked going more than 100 mph on the Glendale Freeway in L.A.
Bryan recalls a tough transition from the stability of Home Improvement to life as an actor-for-hire, hustling to auditions. “It was actually really difficult,” he says. “If you star in a TV show today, you can be in any film that you want, but back then, it was the polar opposite. You were stigmatized as a TV star, and no matter how good your audition, you were never going to be taken seriously. But I kept at it. On the same token, you might get turned down on a bunch of projects, but you could go out at night and hang out with your buddies at Mel’s Diner and everybody knows you.”
In the 2010s, he parlayed his entertainment experience into a new career as a producer. “What moved me into producing is that it got to the point as an actor where I felt like I didn’t have control over my career anymore,” he explains. “As an actor, you’re like a cow going to the slaughterhouse, and you have to rely on so many people, from an agent to manager to lawyer. I figured I didn’t necessarily have to act anymore, there are other directions to go.”
His first few credits came with genre pics like Prowl, Rogue River and Dark Tourist, starring Melanie Griffith. His company, Vision Entertainment Group, rebranded in 2017 as Lost Lane Entertainment, and he steered his career in a new direction as an executive producer by providing financing for a string of independent films with more challenging subject matter.
One of Bryan’s first EP credits is Sara Colangelo’s The Kindergarten Teacher, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal as a schoolteacher who becomes unduly obsessed with a 5-year-old student’s poetry skills. After it premiered at Sundance, where it received rave reviews and won a best director prize, Netflix acquired it for distribution in the U.S. and Canada. Then came Skin, Guy Nattiv’s intense character study of a white supremacist, played by Jamie Bell, who is intent on charting a new path in life. THR reviewed the film out of Toronto in 2018, declaring that its performances “across the board are outstanding.”
Of his choice to move into prestige adult dramas, Bryan says, “I really wanted to make a film that could win an award. Like, that was going to be my way in. My idols were the Ron Howards, people who started out as young actors and transitioned to behind the camera.”
Bryan was able to partner on auteur-driven projects thanks to his sizable bank account. He credits First Kid co-star Pierce with turning him on to cryptocurrency. Pierce, whose acting career was short-lived, left Hollywood behind in the late 1990s and became a digital currency pioneer who served on the Bitcoin Foundation’s board of directors. Pierce reportedly earned billionaire status and was dubbed “the hippie king of cryptocurrency” by Rolling Stone, all before the crypto crash of 2022. (Pierce did not respond to a request for comment.)
Bryan confirmed that after a tip from Pierce he dumped a bunch of cash into Bitcoin before it became a craze and “forgot about” the investment until years later, after the digital currency skyrocketed in value. He declines to specify an exact dollar figure but confirms that the windfall produced millions. “I’ve always been fortunate with my trust fund from Home Improvement, but this definitely moved things into a different [area] for me,” says Bryan, who also executive produced a crypto documentary titled BIT X BIT: In Bitcoin We Trust that featured Pierce. “But then, of course, I’m the guy who is always like, ‘Let’s go, let’s take it out and reinvest.’ “
Bryan’s career took another turn in 2018, when he linked up with Producers Market, an ag-tech startup focused on farmers and the global food chain. The company aimed to empower farmers by removing middlemen and putting profits more directly in their pockets while giving consumers more information about their produce, thanks to a QR code that would even allow them to tip farmers if, say, they loved an avocado that much.
Founded in 2017, Producers Market explored a token sale in 2018 to fund growth. Sometimes referred to as initial coin offerings, token sales allow the public to purchase a predefined number of digital tokens that can be used to access a product or service, but they can also be bought or sold on cryptocurrency exchanges. Tokens allow companies — typically those with crypto or blockchain-related projects — to raise money from the public, and they in turn allow the public to get in early on new ventures that could turn a profit down the line.
Bryan’s Bitcoin success inspired Producers Market to engage him as an adviser to help develop relationships within the crypto community. He also invested money with the company and updated his LinkedIn bio to reflect his role, listing his title as founding investment partner, beginning in 2018. (The bio abruptly disappeared from LinkedIn in April, when THR asked Producers Market about Bryan’s involvement.)
Bryan began telling friends and associates about the company. He even reeled in investors by selling tokens privately and promising big returns down the line. “He had been telling me, ‘Hey, you know, I invested in this company Producers Market,’ and he sent me a PDF that explained what it is, what they do and the whole business behind it,” explained one source. “It sounded really interesting. I should have been smarter, but I trusted [the investment] because it was through a friend. I sent him the money and he said, ‘Awesome, dude, this is going to be huge, and I’m excited for you to see what the future brings.’”
He even pitched the concept behind the tokens in an interview on YouTube during which he claimed that digital coins are like buying stock in a company like Amazon or Walmart but are less volatile. “It’s going be a steady upward path, which is why I took the majority of my Bitcoin and rolled it into this technology,” he says in the clip. “I’ve accomplished a lot in my life, but I’ve never actually been a part of something that not only am I going to hopefully do very well off for my family but I’m doing well for the world.”
Asked how many investors he brought into the fold, Bryan said he couldn’t pinpoint a number but claimed that his efforts helped the company raise a significant amount of money. He recalls an event at the Newport Beach Country Club, where he was a member, alongside Producers Market leadership. “We invited a bunch of our money friends,” he says, “and we were off to the races.”
Sources who forked over cash in exchange for tokens say they did so because they believed in him and the company’s mission. “I looked at the website and saw that Zach was on there and it was a legitimate company,” explains one source, who, like several others, wished to remain anonymous. “It seemed like such a great idea using cutting-edge technology. It felt like it was going to be the next big thing.”
Courtney Ledford transferred thousands to Bryan after meeting him on the dating app Bumble in February 2021. It wasn’t a famous face that inspired Ledford to swipe right — she was born in 1999, the same year Home Improvement aired its series finale, and had never heard of him. She simply liked the aesthetics of his profile. “His pictures were really put together. He had nice photos and seemed appealing,” she explains. “You could tell that he took care of himself.”
When Bryan invited her out to dinner that very night in Portland, where they both were at the time, Ledford initially resisted, thinking it was “too soon” and that she’d rather stay in the DMs stage for a while. But when Bryan revealed he was flying back to Southern California the next day, Ledford acquiesced. She admits her change of heart was slightly selfish. Ledford remembers thinking, “I’m a college student, so maybe he can treat me to a nice dinner. Why not? And I’ll be able to ask him some questions about blockchain and learn more about crypto.”
Ledford said she doesn’t recall that he ever mentioned his Hollywood background on the date. Instead, she says, Bryan claimed to be in Portland on a business trip. “He said he was in town working to get Nike on some blockchain technology stuff, so I thought he seemed really smart.” And successful. “He showed me some of his crypto accounts on his phone, and I was, like, ‘Dude, I don’t want to see this. I don’t really want to see it,’ ” Ledford said. “But he was very pushy. The amount of zeros I saw in those accounts, I don’t even know. I couldn’t even count that high. Just a ton of zeros. It was hard to fathom.”
When she met Bryan, Ledford was an undergrad with a specialty in behavioral neuroscience and had a job in a lab studying how alcohol intake affected mice. Having grown up Mormon and only recently turned 21, she had limited experience with alcohol, but she started to notice similarities between his behavior and the mice she observed at work. “He seemed like a functioning alcoholic based on how he acted and all the issues he had, the more I learned about him,” she said. “There was a part of me that felt like I could fix this broken, sad man. I wanted to help him because he loved his liquor; he loved that Tito’s.”
Despite her reservations, Ledford gave money to Bryan. She signed a contract on March 9, 2021, and transferred $5,000 in exchange for tokens that she believed she was purchasing for 10 cents each, which would have given her 50,000 Producers Market tokens. As a “poor and broke college student,” she didn’t have much cash, but she managed to pull together $5,000 with the help of a brother and sister. She estimates that $1,000 of it was her own cash and the rest her siblings’.
“I talked to a lawyer and [he] laughed at the contract because it was a pretty lame document sent through DocuSign,” says Ledford, adding that Bryan promised to get a digital wallet put together for her and her family and send it over soon. Days turned into weeks that turned into months.
Ledford and others THR spoke to say they periodically asked Bryan for updates on their investments. He always replied quickly. Sometimes it was a simple, “Don’t worry, everything is all good.” Other times, he claimed that Producers Market was mulling other options, like going public and converting the coins to stock or that the transactions were on hold because of fluctuations in the crypto market. Another time, one source says Bryan seemed encouraged by the long wait, offering, “We just signed the COO of Starbucks.”
As months ticked by, investors grew restless — especially when they noticed that Bryan’s name and profile had been removed from the Producers Market website or that he was no longer following Producers Market on Instagram.
Though Producers Market did explore using a token sale to provide funding for growth, those plans never materialized, and in 2019 — two years before Ledford’s date with Bryan — the company officially decided against issuing tokens. In October 2020, Producers Market ended Bryan’s role as an adviser, a date that coincides with his arrest in Oregon. It wasn’t until March 2021 that Producers Market learned that Bryan had been selling nonexistent tokens to personal friends and other investors.
“Mr. Bryan misrepresented our company without our knowledge, participation or permission. When we found out, we immediately issued a cease-and-desist demand to him,” Producers Market spokesperson John Collins tells THR. “This activity is unacceptable and not a reflection of our mission to support the well-being of farmers and our food systems.”
Bryan, in his defense, says, “This was not me running some shady scam deal or something — that’s just not me.” The situation went awry, he acknowledges, because the tokens that had been discussed never materialized after the company changed its business model.
Bryan says he understands his investors are confused about what happened and adds, “I’m in the same boat,” because he took a bet on the company, too, though that’s not accurate as he still has an equity stake while the people who gave him money directly are left with nothing. “What people don’t understand is that you take risks. Nothing is for sure. It’s the same with movie investments and everything else, you lose or you win.” Perhaps in an effort to downplay the seriousness of the situation, Bryan claims that if the company does end up going public, he will personally distribute his Producers Market stock to those who are still waiting on their money.
“I should’ve been smarter,” says one source who has come around to accepting that their money is likely gone. “I got duped,” relays another. “It’s a gut punch, for sure.”
The situation has presented a complicated scenario for those left wondering what’s really going on with Bryan. They have questioned why someone with considerable wealth and so much to lose would get himself mixed up in a plot to sell nonexistent tokens to friends and acquaintances for what many would presume to be pocket change for someone like him. Several say that they declined to alert authorities or file a lawsuit because of the low amount of money involved or because they haven’t fully processed the situation.
Even so, some would like to see him held responsible, while others want to see their friend get help. “Honestly, the money definitely comes second,” says someone he allegedly conned. “As a friend, I want him to stop and get help one way or another because it just seems like a very bad path that he’s going down.”
Fellow actor Travis Aaron Wade — a recognizable face with credits on Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, the cult TV hit Supernatural, and the war epic The Last Full Measure — encountered Bryan in the comments of a Facebook post, and they became friends in real life, meeting up coincidentally on the day Bryan’s wife left him. That inspired Wade to help Bryan by finding him a multimillion-dollar rental across the street from where Wade lived with his then-fiancée and now wife in Laguna Beach. Wade recalls that Bryan also talked a big game about Producers Market around the neighborhood. “He told us that it was going to be a huge company and that he brought in Tom Brady as one of the investors,” Wade says. He didn’t think to question it much considering Bryan’s Hollywood résumé and the connections that typically come with a life lived in the public eye. “He would be dating someone, a random girl that he met on Bumble or Tinder, and he would save their name as someone famous so that when his phone would ring, it would pop up as Angelina Jolie or whatever,” Wade claims, speculating that it was a ruse meant to impress.
He also recalls that Bryan claimed to be a cousin of country superstar Luke Bryan, a link presumably based on how they both spell their last names. (THR reached out to a rep for Luke Bryan, who didn’t respond to multiple requests. A rep for Brady confirms that Brady’s team fielded an introductory phone call about Producers Market, but says a partnership never materialized and the NFL superstar is not personally familiar with Bryan.) Bryan did not respond to a follow-up question regarding Luke Bryan and Brady.
Though Wade didn’t invest any money, he had a front-row seat to the crumbling of Bryan’s house of cards. “The guy has two sides,” explains Wade. “His dark is dark, but his light is really light. It’s sad because you really do fall in love with him. He’s a great guy. But I see it as my responsibility to not let other people get taken advantage of.”
In hindsight, there were other warning signs that something was amiss in Bryan’s world. Social media users were the first to raise a red flag in September 2020 when Bryan plagiarized Armie Hammer’s divorce announcement as he revealed that he and wife Carly were going their separate ways. “Almost fourteen years as best friends, soulmates, partners and then parents. It has been an incredible journey, but together, we’ve decided to turn the page and move on from our marriage,” read the post, shared with a throwback photo from early in their relationship, before they became parents. “As we enter into this next chapter, our children and relationship as co-parents and dear friends will remain our priority. We understand this news lends itself to public dialogue, but in the interest of our children and our family, we’re asking for privacy, compassion and love during this time.”
It was the same statement Hammer and his wife, Elizabeth Chambers, shared on Instagram three months earlier, on July 10. Bryan made a slight edit because Hammer and Chambers had been together 13 years. He confirms that he copied and pasted Hammer’s post, “because I literally did not know what to say, and he was literally going through the same thing as I was. I don’t know Armie but I remember thinking that his statement was perfectly said, probably written by a publicist, so I thought, ‘Let’s go.’ “
Bryan praises his ex-wife, Carly, as “an incredible human being, an incredible mother” but recognizes she ultimately was forced to draw a line in the sand. “I was just in party freaking mode,” Bryan says of that time in his life. “Making movies, traveling, drinking. I wasn’t living the way I was raised, you know what I mean? I was not being a faithful husband, and I was not being the best me. I thought I would be able to go out and do whatever I wanted, have fun, come home and be a family man with my kids. That’s not how the real world works.”
Sixteen days after his split announcement, Bryan was arrested on that night in Oregon and charged with felony strangulation, fourth-degree assault, coercion, menacing, harassment and interference with making a police report. The most serious charges, including the felony strangulation, were dropped. He pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors — menacing and fourth-degree assault — and was sentenced to three years of probation, attendance in a violence-intervention program called Bridges2Safety, and ordered to have no contact with the victim, Cartwright. He also was ordered by the court not to “buy, possess or consume alcoholic beverages” or be in any place that sells or serves alcohol as a principal purpose, like a bar. It was his second arrest of 2020, after he had been booked for a DUI in Orange County in May. He pleaded guilty then as well and was sentenced to five years of probation and 18 months of a multiple-offender alcohol program due to a record of DUI arrests that includes bookings in 2004, 2007 and 2017, according to court documents.
The Oregon police report details a chaotic night with conflicting accounts of what really happened between Bryan and Cartwright, both of whom displayed signs of intoxication. Cartwright claimed Bryan, with whom she had been in a “sexually intimate” relationship for two years, woke her up demanding to know what happened to his cellphone charging cables, per her recorded statements. After he allegedly “pulled her hair” and punched her in the face multiple times, a struggle ensued. They fell onto a set of stairs, at which point, she said, Bryan “grabbed Cartwright’s neck with both hands and choked her” for approximately 45 seconds. Officers reported seeing multiple injuries on Cartwright, who further alleged that Bryan had become abusive in the month prior.
Bryan, for his part, claimed in the report that it was Cartwright who woke him up and got physical by biting him in the groin. He alleged that her injuries were self-inflicted in an effort to set him up because she “wanted to ruin his career” after he wanted to break up with her and stop paying her rent. “I heard her tell dispatch, ‘This is the guy from Home Improvement. He’s this famous guy,’ ” Bryan told officers.
He says the arrest in Oregon “got so blown out of proportion” by the media and claims that it was not as physical as the police report states. He says that he and Cartwright had been seeing each other while he was still married and there were times when she would get upset over his “double life.” Despite having announced the split, that was one of those nights and because they both had “been drinking too much,” it escalated into an argument.
“We didn’t even really get that physical. We got really loud. We were screaming and because we were in a townhome that had [thin walls], everybody could hear. Johnnie was, at the time, just really upset about my situation. At the end of the day, [the police] throw a bunch of counts at you because they ultimately want you to plead to something,” says Bryan, who adds that the police nicknamed him “Country Club Zach” and seemed to poke fun at his fame. “I could’ve fought it … but that’s more stress and drama. I got two misdemeanors and called it a day.”
He’s less dismissive of the impact the incident had on his life. “I thank God for that,” he says, describing it as a wake-up call. “I went through a situation that I’m sure plenty of people across the globe experience with their partners, and that was a learning experience.” He adds that he’s absorbing a lot from Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART) classes, court mandated because of his history of DUI arrests. “I definitely have an issue with drinking,” he says, and though he doesn’t believe the term “alcoholic” applies to him, he says he is making an effort to abstain after drinking for most of his life.
“Dude, I started drinking when I was 14,” he says. “Back then, I was going to nightclubs and they would just let me in because I was the kid from Home Improvement.” But now, “I try to stay away from it. I’ve just kind of disengaged. I’ve got my routine, I’m not going out and getting lit, and that takes away a lot of problems.”
Separately, in April 2021, Cartwright was arrested for assaulting two security guards at a bar in Eugene after being denied entrance because she appeared to be too intoxicated. Per the police report, Cartwright pursued the guards, struck both of them in the face and kicked one in the head with the sole of her foot, “causing significant, lasting pain.” Cartwright was charged with fourth-degree assault, criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct. She pleaded guilty to the assault charge, a misdemeanor, and was sentenced to 24 months of probation and 10 days in jail in a deal that dismissed the disorderly conduct and criminal trespassing charges.
Bryan and Cartwright are still together. According to his private Instagram posts (on an account that is now disabled), they have been busy building a family. In November 2021, a year after his arrest, Bryan revealed that he and Cartwright were engaged to be married. “You win some and you lose some,” he posted with a photo of him hugging Cartwright as she showed off a massive diamond ring. “I’m thankful for a win … finally!” Based on the timeline of his Instagram posts, Cartwright was pregnant at the time with a girl. He announced the birth on Instagram in spring 2022.
That November, Bryan took to Instagram again to reveal that he and Cartwright were expecting twins. “2 Heartbeats + 2 Sacks=TWINS! Here we go,” he posted with an image of the ultrasound and the hashtags #timetogetsnipped #thebryanbunch. Cartwright gave birth in May 2023, making Bryan father to seven children, including two sets of twins. “We’re good friends, we’re partners,” he says of their relationship status. Bryan’s Instagram posts and assessment of their relationship suggest they’ve arrived at a kind of equilibrium. Cartwright, for her part, declined to comment.
Clouds continue to hang over Bryan’s life. Legally speaking, the most pressing issue facing Bryan is an investor lawsuit filed by a man named Cameron Moore, who sued Bryan in Los Angeles Superior Court for breach of contract and unjust enrichment after Bryan failed to return a $60,000 investment Moore made through Bryan in a feature film titled Warning, starring Thomas Jane, and expected to get back per the deal he signed. Moore claims he was also denied potential profits after being given what a knowledgeable source suggests was a dubious contract that Bryan allegedly copied and pasted from a legit deal that the former child actor had signed with the film’s producers. The default ruling, issued April 11 after Bryan never responded to the suit, found Bryan liable for damages and costs, with the judge awarding Moore $108,940.67. Bryan confirms he’s aware of the suit but declines to comment on the case other than to say that Moore is “one of a kind, I’ll just leave it at that,” and that he’s “in the process” of complying with the judgment.
His only sibling, sister Ciri Bryan, believes her brother to be “a wonderful person and a great man” who can get back on track once he takes accountability for the wreckage of the past few years. “He threw everything that he worked so hard for and just torched it in all aspects of his life. I feel like he 100 percent knows the difference between right and wrong but, with addiction, that goes out the window,” says Ciri. “He got in way over his head, and it’s going to be really hard for him to admit that, but if he’s able to jump over that hoop, then he can do the hard work [it requires] in paying back the money he took from people and regaining trust.”
Adding insult to injury, sources say, is seeing Bryan emerge as a talking head on cable news. Though he made several appearances on Fox News, a rep for the network tells THR “he was a guest only and has not been booked since the arrest” in Oregon. He has since reemerged as a frequent guest on Newsmax. Last fall, for instance, after Matthew McConaughey urged politicians to “meet in the middle” on gun control in the wake of the school shooting in the actor’s hometown of Uvalde, Texas, Bryan accused McConaughey of hypocrisy. “Look at the movies that have made him a multimillionaire. I mean, there’s guns everywhere,” Bryan said, before backtracking, as if refusing to turn his back on Hollywood entirely. “I’m a big fan of Matt. I think he’s a really good guy. I’m sure he has a really great heart.”
In a later appearance, Newsmax host Jenn Pellegrino asked Bryan whether a show like Home Improvement would get made today, considering that “the nuclear family is really under political attack from the left,” and mused that if there were a reboot, Bryan’s character, Brad, might be nonbinary.
Bryan responded the show would not be greenlit today because Hollywood seems to have stopped catering to Middle America. What he loved about the sitcom was that it delivered a moral with every story. He then cited the episode that featured Brad getting busted with marijuana. “The way they dealt with it was not demonizing me as their son, they were trying to get to the root of why,” he says before pausing briefly to choose his words carefully.
It’s impossible not to think about the parallel between the episode and Bryan’s life today. How can he get back on track? What would be the lesson? Life is not a Hollywood sitcom, but Allen, America’s Dad, has an answer: “I know Zach’s heart. He’s got to figure out his own way.”
Bryan says he’s trying. “Every day is a new day and there are stresses and triggers, but I’m learning coping skills. I wake up, go on a nice walk, come back and kick it with the kids. I try to enjoy the little moments rather than try to dream for the big moments. It’s an interesting journey as long as we can stay sober. Then things are going to be good.” When it comes time to hang up the phone, Bryan says he’s not going to read this article. “I’m going to be too scared,” he says. “I am going to go to bed early tonight.”
A version of this story first appeared in the June 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.