Perry, Tyler: Profile of Actor-Writer-Director

Tyler Perry plays several roles (Madea, Uncle Joe, Brian) and is the writer, producer, and director of his new picture, Madea Goes to Jail. His journey from the hard streets of New Orleans to Hollywood’s power elite has been nothing short of impressive and inspirational. 


Born into poverty and raised in a household scarred by abuse, Tyler 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 Tyler’s career in motion.  Encouraged to keep a diary of his daily thoughts and experiences, Tyler began writing a series of soul-searching letters to himself—letters full of pain, forgiveness, and, in time, a healing catharsis.  The letters 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 Tyler 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 he 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 Perry never looked back.


I Know I’ve Been Changed was a poignant story of failure and redemption, and it resounded with urban audiences who identified with its themes and exalted in its spirit.  In Tyler they’d found a voice for their longings, and an outlet for their entertainment, and so began an incredible run of eight plays in as many years, including Woman Thou Art Loosed!, a celebrated collaboration with the prominent Dallas pastor T.D. Jakes.       


But if audiences were buoyed by Tyler’s faith, they were bowled over by his humor.  No way around it: the man was plain funny.  Nowhere was this more in evidence than in 2000’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself, which marked the first appearance of the now-legendary Madea.  A 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) and Madea Goes to Jail (2005)— and set the stage for Tyler’s jump to the big screen. 


In early 2005, Tyler’s first feature film, DIARY OF A MAD BLACK WOMAN, debuted at #1 nationwide.  By the end of its first weekend in theatres, two things had happened: the film had earned $22 million, and Tyler Perry—writer, actor, and producer—had become a superstar.  Tyler’s ensuing films, MADEA’S FAMILY REUNION, DADDY’S LITTLE GIRLS, WHY DID I GET MARRIED MEET THE BROWNS and THE FAMILY THAT PREYS have all met with massive critical and commercial success, 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 Perry’s unique brand of inspirational entertainment to a devoted new audience. 


It is a brand that is quickly becoming an empire.  In 2007, Tyler expanded his reach to television with the TBS series “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne,” the highest-rated first-run syndicated cable show of all time, which has gone into syndication after only a year.  Not one to rest on success, Tyler Perry and his 300 Atlanta-based employees are hard at work on new projects including “Meet the Browns” a ten-episode pilot (based one of Tyler’s plays) for a TV series; A JAZZ MAN’S BLUES, a 1940s-era film drama (currently in pre-production)


In the fall of 2009, Perry also opened his 200,000 square foot studios in Atlanta situated on the former Delta Airlines campus on more than 30 acres.  Employing hundreds of local Atlantans, his new studio consists of 5 sound stages, a post production facility, a pond, a back lot, a 400 seat screening room and designated areas for entertaining and holding events.


But listen to Tyler Perry (and you can: he even has his own online talk show), and you’ll hear a man who hasn’t forgotten about the people that have helped him reach the top 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, and charities that focus on helping the homeless, such as America’s Second Harvest, the Atlanta Food Bank, and Perry Place – a 20 home community Tyler built for survivors of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.  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.