Writer, actor, producer, director. Born Emmitt Perry Jr. on September 13, 1969, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Tyler Perry has forged his own way in the entertainment industry, building an empire that consists of successful films, plays, and even a best-selling book. 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."
At one point, Perry even 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 a general equivalency diploma, or GED, later. Trying to find his way professionally, he held a series of unfulfilling jobs before discovering his true passion.
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 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 sell out crowds and the musical was moved to a larger theater. After so many years of hard work, he finally earned critical acclaim as well as commercial success.
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 has starred 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.
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.
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), which he also directed and produced, which scored well with movie goers bringing in more than $63 million. Now a major media figure, Perry established his own movie and acting studio in Atlanta that year. He also launched his first television series, House of Payne, on the TBS cable network. Starring Cassi Davis and LaVan Davis, both of whom have worked with Tyler previously, this sitcom features a multigenerational African American family.
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.
Back on the big screen, Perry has continued making films about family, morals, and overcoming adversity. Daddy's Little Girlsstarred Idris Elba as a father who fights regain custody of his three daughters with help from a lawyer played by Gabrielle Union. InWhy 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. Examining the struggles of a single mother, Meet the Browns (2008) starred Angela Bassett who takes her two children to meet her father's family after his death. In August 2008, it was announced that the film is being adapted into a television sitcom, which will premiere in January 2009.
Perry's next release, The Family That Preys (2008), features two talented veteran performers, Kathy Bates and Alfre Woodward, as two longtime friends who try to heal their broken families. Next up for Perry, another film installment featuring one of America's best-known grandmothers, Madea Goes to Jail, which is slated for release in 2009. He also has a role in the latest big screen volume of the Star Trek saga—another 2009 release.
Despite all of his work in film and television, Perry continues to write and produce new plays. His latest effort, The Marriage Counselor, is currently on tour.