Tyler Perry’s inspirational journey from the hard streets of New Orleans to the heights of Hollywood’s A-list is the stuff of American legend. Born into poverty and raised in a household scarred by abuse, he fought from a young age to find the strength, faith and perseverance that would later form the foundations of his much-acclaimed plays, films, books, and shows.
It was a simple piece of advice from Oprah Winfrey that set his career in motion. Encouraged to keep a diary of his daily thoughts and experiences, he began writing a series of soul-searching letters to himself. The letters, full of pain and in time, forgiveness, became a healing catharsis. His writing inspired a musical, I Know I’ve Been Changed, and in 1992 Tyler gathered his life’s savings and set off for Atlanta in hopes of staging it for sold out crowds. He spent all the money but the people never came, and once again came face-to-face with the poverty that had plagued his youth. He spent months sleeping in seedy motels and his car but his faith – in God and, in turn, himself – only got stronger. He forged a powerful relationship with the church, and kept writing. In 1998 his perseverance paid off and a promoter booked I Know I’ve Been Changed for a limited run at a local church-turned-theatre. This time, the community came out in droves, and soon the musical moved to Atlanta’s prestigious Fox Theatre. Tyler never looked back.
And so began an incredible run of thirteen plays in as many years, including Woman Thou Art Loosed!, a celebrated collaboration with the prominent Dallas pastor T.D. Jakes.
In the year 2000, I Can Do Bad All By Myself marked the first appearance of the now-legendary Madea. The God-fearing, gun-toting, pot-smoking, loud-mouthed grandmother, Madea, was played by Perry himself. Madea was such a resounding success, she soon spawned a series of plays –Madea’s Family Reunion (2002), Madea’s Class Reunion (2003), Madea Goes To Jail (2005) – and set the stage for Tyler’s jump to the big screen.
In early 2005, his first feature film, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, debuted at #1 nationwide. His ensuing films, Madea’s Family Reunion, Daddy’s Little Girls, Why Did I Get Married?, Meet The Browns, The Family That Preys, Madea Goes to Jail, I Can Do Bad All by Myself, and Why Did I Get Married Too? have all been met with massive critical and commercial success and have delighting audiences across America and around the world.
2006 saw the publication of Tyler’s first book, Don’t Make A Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings: Madea’s Uninhibited Commentaries On Life And Love, which shot to the top of the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list and remained there for eight weeks. It went on to claim Quill Book Awards for both “Humor” and “Book of the Year” (an unheard of feat for a first-time author), and spread Tyler’s unique brand of inspirational entertainment to a devoted new audience.
It is a brand that is quickly becoming an empire. In 2007, he expanded his reach to television with the TBS series House of Payne, the highest-rated first-run syndicated cable show of all time, which went into syndication after only a year. His follow up effort, Meet the Browns, was the second highest debut ever on cable – after House of Payne.
Not one to rest on success, Tyler and his 300 Atlanta-based employees have been hard at work. For Colored Girls, based on Ntozake Shange’s 1975 play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, was released in November 2010 and featured an all-star cast including Janet Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg, Thandie Newton, and Kerry Washington. Perry also helped release Academy Award-nominated Precious, a movie based on the novel Push by Sapphire, in conjunction with his 34th Street Films banner, Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Films, and Lionsgate. Shortly after that film, Madea’s Big Happy Family hit the big screen in April 2011 to wide success. Tyler can also be seen starring alongside Thandie Newton and Gabrielle Union in Good Deeds, and in the title role of Rob Cohen’s Alex Cross. In the pipeline for 34th Street Films is the March 2013 release of Lionsgate’s comedy We the Peeples.
In the fall of 2008, Perry opened his 200,000 square foot Studio in Atlanta, situated on the former Delta Airlines training facility campus of more than 30 acres. The Studio consists of 5 sound stages, a post production facility, a pond, a back lot, a 400-seat theater, a private screening room, and designated areas for entertaining and hosting events.
But listen to him and you’ll hear a man who hasn’t forgotten about the people that have helped him reach the top of a mountain he could once only dream of climbing. He has been intimately involved in civil rights cases, including the trial of the Jena 6 in his home state of Louisiana. He has donated generously to charities that focus on helping the homeless, such as Feeding America, Covenant House, Hosea Feed the Hungry, Project Adventure, and Perry Place – a 20-home community that Tyler built for survivors of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. In July 2009, Tyler sponsored a trip to Walt Disney World for 65 children after learning that a suburban swim club had turned them away because of the color of their skin. He has also built 2 churches and has donated generously to the NAACP.
In January 2010, Perry pledged $1,000,000 via The Tyler Perry Foundation to help rebuild the lives of those affected by the earthquakes in Haiti.
Tyler Perry practices what he preaches, and what he preaches has endeared him to millions of fans drawn by that unique blend of spiritual hope and down-home humor that continues to shape his inspiring life story and extraordinary body of work.