Tyler Perry (1969- )

Tyler Perry being interviewed, 2016
Courtesy AMFM Studios LLC (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Tyler Perry is a world-renowned actor, director, producer, writer, and philanthropist. Born Emmitt Perry, Jr. on September 13, 1969 to Willie Maxine Campbell Perry and Emmitt Perry, Sr. in New Orleans, Louisiana, Perry changed his name to Tyler to distance himself from his father. Perry’s father was a carpenter and Perry’s mother was a preschool teacher who worked at the New Orleans Jewish Community Center.

Perry had a difficult childhood and suffered years of abuse at the hands of his father. Perry also admitted he was sexually abused by four adults at different times during his childhood. To escape the dysfunction of his childhood, Perry attempted to commit suicide twice during his teenage years. He also dropped out of high school, moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and later earned his GED.

After watching Oprah Winfrey and being inspired by her comments on how writing is cathartic, Perry began writing a series of letters to himself which became the foundation of his first musical, I Know I’ve Been Changed, which was first presented on stage in Atlanta, Georgia in 1992. Spending his life savings of $12,000 to debut his first musical, Perry was disappointed that only 30 people were in attendance. Perry continued to work odd jobs while revising the show. After many failed attempts to restage the musical, which exhausted his resources, Perry became homeless. A small Geo Metro car became the home of this 6’5’’ man. In 1998, Perry tried his play one more time at the House of Blues in Atlanta. In this instance his production was performed in front of a sold-out crowd, forcing it to later move to a larger venue, the acclaimed Fox Theatre in Atlanta.

In 2000, Perry created and performed for the first time a character named Madea, a pistol-packing grandma with gray hair, who became the feature in several of his subsequent plays and movies including Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Madea’s Family Reunion, and Madea Goes to Jail. Perry expanded his reach to television in 2007 with the TBS series House of Payne, followed by Meet the Browns.

In October 2012 Perry entered into an exclusive multi-year partnership with OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, to bring scripted shows to television. In 2016, Perry opened the Tyler Perry Studios (TPS) on 330 acres that were formerly the Fort McPherson Army base in Atlanta, Georgia. Tyler Perry Studios afforded the actor, producer, and director the unique capability of housing and maintaining both crew and acting talent for extended periods of time while shooting film and television on multiple state-of-the-art sound stages.

In addition to writing Higher is Waiting, a New York Times bestselling book in 2017, Tyler by 2019 had developed seven television series, 17 feature films, 20 stage plays and more than 400 job opportunities for the Atlanta community. Perry and longtime girlfriend Gelila Bekele, have one son, Aman Tyler Perry, born on November 30, 2014.