Tyler Perry

Screenwriter, Playwright, Filmmaker (1969-)
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Writer, actor, producer, and director Tyler Perry has built an entertainment empire that consists of successful films, plays and best-selling books.

Who Is Tyler Perry?

Tyler Perry was born September 13, 1969, in New Orleans, Louisiana. He had a difficult childhood, suffering years of abuse. In 1992 he directed, produced, and starred in the musical I Know I've Been Changed. His 2000 play, I Can Do Bad All by Myself, brought to life the character Madea, who would later headline a string of successful films. Perry has also developed several television shows, including House of Payne, and acted in such films as Alex Cross (2012), Gone Girl (2014) and Vice (2018). In 2019 he announced the opening of the $250 million Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta.

Early Difficulties

Born Emmitt Perry Jr. on September 13, 1969, in New Orleans, Louisiana, Tyler Perry has forged a highly successful path in the entertainment industry. One of four children, he had a difficult childhood, suffering years of abuse at the hands of his carpenter father. He once described his father as a man "whose answer to everything was to beat it out of you."

Perry also had problems outside the home, as he later admitted he was sexually abused by four different adults.

At one point, Perry attempted suicide in an effort to escape his difficult situation. At 16, he changed his first name to Tyler to separate himself from his father. Perry dropped out of high school, but he eventually earned his GED. Trying to find his way professionally, he held a series of unfulfilling jobs before discovering his true passion.

Career Beginnings: 'I Know I've Been Changed'

Watching an episode of Oprah Winfrey's talk show, Perry was inspired by a comment on the program about how writing about difficult experiences could lead to personal breakthroughs. He started a series of letters to himself, which became the basis for the musical I Know I've Been Changed. While the show tackled such tough subjects as child abuse, it also touched on forgiveness, a theme which has remained central in many of his works and reflects his deep connection to his Christian faith. 

After saving up $12,000, Perry debuted the show—which he directed, produced, and starred in—at an Atlanta theater in 1992. The musical's run lasted only one weekend and drew a measly 30 people to see the show.

Disappointed yet determined, Perry continued to work odd jobs while reworking the show. He staged the show in several other cities, but success still eluded him. Broke, Perry was living out of his car for a time. "Can you imagine a six-foot-five man sleeping in a Geo Metro?" he once told Essence magazine. 

In 1998, Perry tried one more time to win over theater audiences. He rented out the House of Blues in Atlanta for another production of I Know I've Been Changed. Soon Perry was performing to sellout crowds and the musical was moved to a larger theater. After so many years of hard work, he had finally earned critical acclaim as well as commercial success.

Birth of Madea

For his next project, Perry worked on an adaptation of evangelist T. D. Jakes's book Woman, Thou Art Loosed, which proved to be quite popular. His next effort, however, brought to life his most famous character, Madea. The gun-toting, sharp-tongue grandma first appeared in his 2000 play, I Can Do Bad All by Myself. Basing Madea on his mother and several other mature women in his life, Perry played the eccentric character himself wearing drag. She next appeared in Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2001).

Developing quite a following, Madea featured in a number of plays, including Madea's Family Reunion (2002) and Madea's Class Reunion (2003). Perry toured extensively with his shows. According to his website, 35,000 people a week saw one of his shows in 2005.

Films and TV Shows

'Diary of a Mad Black Woman'

That same year, Perry proved himself to be a box office powerhouse with the release of his debut film, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, starring Kimberly Elise as the scorned wife and Steve Harris as the adulterous husband. Perry appeared as three different characters in the film, including the legendary Madea. Eventually grossing more than $50 million, the film's success showed Hollywood that there was a market for urban African-American comedies.

'Madea's Family Reunion,' 'House of Payne'

Perry's plays continued to make a successful leap to the big screen. He took on the leading role in Madea's Family Reunion (2006), a film he also directed and produced which brought in more than $63 million at the box office. Establishing his own studio in Atlanta that year, he launched his first television series, House of Payne, on the TBS network. Starring Cassi Davis and LaVan Davis, this sitcom featured a multigenerational African American family.

'Daddy's Little Girls,' 'Meet the Browns'

Back on the big screen, Perry continued making films about family, morals and overcoming adversity. Daddy's Little Girls starred Idris Elba as a father who fights to regain custody of his three daughters, with help from a lawyer played by Gabrielle Union. In Why Did I Get Married?, Tyler explores the relationships of several married couples. The large cast included singers Jill Scott and Janet Jackson, as well as Perry sans his Madea costume. He then wrote and and directed Meet the Browns (2008), starring Angela Bassett as a single mother who takes her two children to meet her father's family after his death. The project was adapted for a TV sitcom the following year.

'The Family That Preys,' 'I Can Do Bad All By Myself'

Perry's next film release, The Family That Preys (2008), starred Kathy Bates and Alfre Woodward as two longtime friends who try to heal their broken families. In 2009 Perry released the hit film Madea Goes to Jail and also had a small role as Admiral Barnett in Star Trek. That same year, he wrote, directed and appeared as Madea in I Can Do Bad All By Myself, which co-starred Taraji P. Henson.

'Precious,' 'For Colored Girls'

Also in 2009 Perry teamed with Lee Daniels and Winfrey to produce Precious, a drama adapted from the novel Push by Sapphire. The Oscar-nominated film was directed by Daniels and starred Gabourey Sidibe. In 2010 Perry directed a film version of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, based on Ntozake Shange's 1975 play.

More Madea: 'Big Happy Family' to 'Family Funeral'

Perry continued to make successful films in the Madea franchise, including Madea's Big Happy Family (2011), Madea's Witness Protection (2012), A Madea Christmas (2014), the animated Madea’s Tough Love and Boo! A Madea Halloween (2016). With the announcement he was retiring the wisecracking grandma, Perry delivered the 11th and final installment of the series in 2019 with A Madea Family Funeral.

'Alex Cross,' 'Gone Girl,' 'The Paynes'

Perry's other credits as an actor include the title role of the crime drama Alex Cross (2012), the romantic dramas Good Deeds (2012) and Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor (2013) and the comedy drama The Single Moms Club (2014). Additionally, he enjoyed a supporting role in the acclaimed thriller Gone Girl (2014), starring Ben Affleck, and played Baxter Stockman in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016).

Perry also launched several TV series during this period, including Love Thy Neighbor, The Haves and the Have Nots, For Better or Worse, If Loving You Is Wrong and The Paynes

'Nobody's Fool,' 'Sistas,' 'The Oval'

Returning to directing, Perry helmed the psychological thriller Acrimony and the Tiffany Haddish romantic comedy Nobody's Fool in 2018, while also appearing that year as former Secretary of State Colin Powell in Vice. In 2019 he was set to debut two new shows on BET: Sistas and The Oval

Tyler Perry Studios

In October 2019 the entertainment mogul announced the grand opening of the $250 million Tyler Perry Studios on the site of a former 330-acre Confederate military base in Atlanta. The studio had already been in use while under construction, with features like Black Panther and series like AMC's Walking Dead filmed there. 

Books

Adding to his already dynamic career, Perry wrote the 2006 best-selling book, Don't Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings: Madea's Uninhibited Commentaries on Love and Life. The book went on to win two Quill Awards—Book of the Year and Best in Humor.

His second book, Higher Is Waiting (2017), touched more on spiritual issues and the importance of family.

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