If you haven’t heard of Tyler Perry, then you probably haven’t seen a stage show or turned on a television or gone to see a movie in the last 15 or so years. Tyler Perry is not just a name; he’s an industry and one of the highest paid entertainers in America.
From very humble beginnings, marked by poverty, abuse and dropping out of high school, he was influenced in his early 20s by watching an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show. In that show, Oprah was talking to her guests about how writing about one’s experiences can prove to be a good form of therapy. Inspired by that, Perry began keeping a diary and writing letters to himself in an attempt to move forward.
Eventually he packaged his letters into a musical entitled I Know I’ve Been Changed, a story about forgiveness and self-worth that he produced on his own using his life savings and staged at a community theater in Atlanta. Although the initial production was not a success, he continued rewriting and improving it and it eventually became a popular production in 1998.
From there, he wrote a play a year until 2000, when he introduced his iconic character Madea (played by Perry himself) in a play entitled I Can Do Bad All By Myself. If you’ve never seen an appearance by Madea, she is everyone’s worst nightmare of a grandmother, carrying a gun, smoking pot and generally offering her opinion whether it’s asked or not. Madea proved to be so popular as a character that Perry wrote a number of plays featuring the character over the next few years.
He ultimately transitioned to movies and his first movie, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, which was made for about $5 million, grossed over $50 million in the United States alone. He then developed Madea’s Family Reunion, which eventually made over $65 million. A lot of that success can be attributed to Tyler Perry and the co-stars of the movie being given a great platform – The Oprah Winfrey Show – to promote the film. And in 2009, Perry (along with Winfrey and others) were instrumental in getting the Academy Award-winning film Precious released.
Along with many more successful films since then, Perry also has produced Tyler Perry’s House of Payne, a television show which ran for 6 years on TBS, followed up by Meet the Browns in 2009, also on TBS. Recently, Perry has again partnered with Oprah Winfrey and her Oprah Winfrey Network to develop unique television series to be featured on OWN. (How Tyler Perry is helping Oprah save OWN will be the subject on an upcoming blog on this fine site).
Perry’s empire is based in Atlanta and he’s contributed generously to charities in that city and to other national charities. He supports Covenant House (a charity that provides shelter and services to homeless and abandoned youth) and the marketing campaign for one of his films, Good Deeds, announced that Perry’s company would be partnering with GiftCardGiver.com to collect unused gift cards and donate the proceeds to Covenant House. He’s also donated both food and sizable cash contributions to the Atlanta Community Food Bank to provide Thanksgiving meals to homeless families.
Just last fall, after seeing a report on Atlanta television station WSB about a Georgia woman with cerebral palsy whose specially-equipped van was stolen, Perry called the station asking for specifics and then bought the woman a replacement van from a local Atlanta car dealer.
Tyler Perry is a great example of someone not only surviving but thriving and determined to be grateful and pay it forward. So come this Christmas season, show him some love and go see Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas (which he wrote, directed, produced and Is starring in. Seriously, does this guy ever take a day off?)