45 Fascinating Facts About PCAs People's Champion Tyler Perry

By Vannessa Jackson Nov 13, 2020 12:00 PMTags
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Watch: Tyler Perry Named E! PCAs Champion of 2020

He's a force to be reckoned with!

Tyler Perry is the 2020 E! People's Choice Awards People's Champion. The much deserved honor comes on the heels of an incredibly successful and inspiring year for the filmmaker. A little over one year ago, Perry opened his amazing 300-acre studio compound in Atlanta, Georgia.

A venture that only proved more crucial as the coronavirus pandemic swept the country. Perry and his team found extraordinary ways to keep filming amid the pandemic and adhere to strict COVID-19 safety guidelines.

He's also spent his more than three decade career championing marginalized voices in the industry and working to create greater equality in-front of and behind the camera (not to mention huge box office and TV success, a bevy of awards and more!).

While Perry has always remained an open book, there are still so many things to uncover about the star. Like his real first name, or what he believes his secret of success is. 

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Tyler Perry's Most Charitable Moments

Scroll through the gallery below to learn everything you didn't know about the prolific Hollywood star.

Don't forget to tune in to the 2020 E! People's Choice Awards this Sunday, Nov. 15 at 9 p.m. to see Perry accept the People's Champion Award.

There's no doubt he'll deliver some truly inspiration words during his speech!

(Originally published Nov. 4, 2020 at 5 a.m. PT)

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1. Emmitt Perry Jr. was born on Sept. 13, 1969, in New Orleans (he later changed his name to Tyler).

2. He has a brother and two sisters.

3. Perry was a good student but was kicked out of high school after an argument with a counselor turned nasty, and he never went back. He eventually earned his GED. 

4. He defines the concept of creating your own opportunities if none immediately arise: He quit his job as a bill collector (he was also a bartender, waiter, used car salesman and many other things) and, with $12,000 he had painstakingly saved, he directed, produced and starred in his own musical, I Know I've Been Changed, which premiered in 1992 when he was 22. About 30 people showed up the first weekend, he estimated.

5. At times was so broke he had to live in his car. "Can you imagine a 6-foot-5 man sleeping in a Geo Metro?" he quipped to Essence in 2009.

6. He toured with it for years and, on its seventh staging, at the House of Blues in Atlanta in March 1998, people started lining up. He attributed the abrupt change in the play's reception to a turn his life had taken offstage. "Spiritually, I'd gotten to a better place in my life," he told Variety. "It was about adult survivors of child abuse who have forgiven their abusers and I hadn't forgiven my father. Once I forgave him, the show took off. My hand to God. It went from being nobody in the audience to selling out. So when people asked what changed? I became in truth about it."

7. He was inspired to write I Know I've Been Changed by none other than Oprah Winfrey after hearing on her daytime show when he was 19 or 20 that writing about personal trauma could be cathartic (Perry suffered abuse as a child). It was the first thing he ever wrote.

8. His signature creation, Mabel "Madea" Simmons—a composite of his mother Willie Maxine and his gun-toting Aunt Mayola—made her first appearance in his 2000 play I Can Do Bad All by Myself and stole the show when an actress didn't show up to a performance in Chicago. Perry, who was only supposed to be onstage as Madea for a few minutes, beefed up his role with the other performer's lines and stayed on the whole time.

9. Perry cites Eddie Murphy playing his whole family, including the women, in Nutty Professor II: The Klumps for allowing him to think he could even get away with playing a female character.

10. His play Diary of a Mad Black Woman is the production that first caught Hollywood's eye, and he went out to L.A. to discuss a possible film adaptation in 2001.

11. In 2005, Perry produced (but did not direct) Diary of a Mad Black Woman, which also marked Madea's first appearance on the big screen. It cost $5.5 million to make and grossed $50.6 million.

12. He established Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta in 2006. "People who are not getting their due need to be in the positions of power, from women to people of color," he told Variety. "That's what I was doing in Atlanta, building that sense of power for myself so that I can hire more people of color, hire more women, and open the door to diversity."

13. The same year, the first of the TV series he has created and executive produced, House of Payne, premiered on TBS after he signed a reported $200 million deal with the network. Madea showed up in a few episodes, too.

14.  Also in 2006, he directed his first feature film, Madea's Family Reunion, which obviously he also starred in. He won't watch it, knowing what a shoddy directing job he did because, as he has admitted, he didn't really know what he was doing yet.

15. But the year wasn't over: Perry also had a best-seller in 2006 with the humorous Don't Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings: Madea's Uninhibited Commentaries on Love and Life. Another book, Higher Is Waiting, about the importance of spirituality and family, came out in 2017.

16. Along with Oprah and director Lee Daniels, Perry served as an executive producer on the Oscar-winning 2009 drama Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire.

17. Perry's first movie role outside of his own productions was playing Admiral Barnett in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek.

18. Despite having a very troubled past with the man who raised him Emmett Perry (who wasn't Tyler's biological father), Perry continued to look out for Emmitt Sr. financially, partly because his mother asked him to, but they didn't have a relationship. "I believe in being respectful because that's what the Bible says you're supposed to do," he told Winfrey in 2010. He started writing more about his childhood around then, he explained, because "that's what I do when I need freedom from something. Because it's hard to keep smiling."

19. Talking to People in 2017, he said he was better able to understand Emmitt Sr. the more he learned about the man's own terrible, violent childhood. "…[H]is was way more horrific than mine," Perry said. "So it kind of formed the person that he was."

20. In 2010, he talked about having been in love "with the wrong woman" a few years prior. "And it was really bad for me and hurtful," he told Winfrey. "Maybe I'm still dealing with that. 'Cause I never cried in a relationship before."

21. That bad breakup was certainly no impetus to publicize his private life. So few were the wiser up until a couple months before Perry became a dad to son Aman in 2014 with girlfriend Gelila Bekele. Oprah and Cicely Tyson are the child's godmothers.

22. Perry also told Oprah that he didn't like the spotlight that came with great wealth, but he topped Forbes' list of the highest-paid men in entertainment between 2010 and 2011 all the same, with $130 million.

23. And it's not as if he didn't enjoy having the money. A New York Times profile from 2007 notes that, in addition to being in the middle of building a 30,000-square-foot home in Atlanta, Perry's real estate portfolio included three other homes in Atlanta, a place in the Hollywood Hills and an apartment in Manhattan. And he drove a Rolls Royce.

24. He sold the massive Atlanta mansion in 2016 for $17.5 million, at the time the largest sale price on record in the area. It went back on the market earlier this year for $21 million.

25. Perry was honored with the Chairman's Award at the 2010 NAACP Image Awards, and the following year won for Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture for For Colored Girls.

26. Perry was a close friend of Whitney Houston's and was among those who spoke at her funeral. During her toughest days battling drug addiction, he would regularly communicate with her family, lend his plane and do anything he could to get her the help he knew she needed. "I felt a huge responsibility to do all I could to help her," he later said on Oprah's Next Chapter.

27. When Houston's daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, told him she wanted to try acting, he had her appear on his sitcom For Better or Worse. "I wanted to keep an eye on her," he admitted to Winfrey, but also, "I know what it's like to lose a mother, and that child has had a lot of pain in her life—a lot of pain." He said they were still in touch and she had just texted him that morning. (Bobbi Kristina died in 2015, three years after her mother, having never recovered after being found unconscious under water in her bathtub at home.)

28. Perry credits his casting as a telegenic lawyer in David Fincher's Gone Girl in 2014 for changing how Hollywood thought of him as an actor, paving the way for more interesting opportunities.

29. The idea for Boo! A Madea Halloween, or at least the title, came from a joke Chris Rock's character makes in Top Five—which he reached out to Perry for permission to include in his film. When a Lionsgate executive heard the crack about audiences going to see "Boo! A Madea Halloween," he thought that sounded like a great movie—or two, with a sequel following in 2017.

30. Perry signed a deal with Viacom in 2017 that included an exclusive first-look deal with Paramount Pictures and an expectation of 90 episodes of original content for BET and the company's other TV networks, the latter of which kicked in in May 2019 after his deal with OWN expired. As of August 2019, The Paynes was moving from OWN to BET, but another Perry creation, The Haves and the Have Nots, remains at OWN and has been renewed through season nine.

 

31. When he was cast as Gen. Colin Powell in Adam McKay's Vice, Perry called the former secretary of state to get his blessing. Apparently they clicked. "He sent me his book, I sent him mine, he texts me now and then," Perry told Variety.

32. "He's got skills," McKay told Variety about Perry, describing how well he played a heavily improvised scene with Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld. "There's no question we'll be seeing him in many more dramatic roles, if he wants."

33. Asked what the secret of his success was in 2012, Perry told CBS This Morning, "I celebrate simplicity. I celebrate where we come from, and...we're all in need something of something so simple. We all want to know how to forgive. We all want to know how to love. We all want to know how to laugh. And that simplicity, I think, is what has resonated with so many people with me around the world." That's why the mantra at Tyler Perry Studios, he said, was "the place where even dreams believe."

34. A decade after Tyler Perry Studios first opened in Atlanta, Perry moved the whole operation to the historic 330-acre site of the former Ft. McPherson Army base, making it one of the largest studio complexes in the country. The compound boasts 200 acres of green space and 37 buildings constructed between 1889 and 1910 and he planned to build 14 sound stages. The LA Times noted the photographs of him with Oprah and President Obama in his office.

35. Perry isn't the first African American to head up a studio, but, as he pointed out to the Times, "no other African American has had something of this size, of this degree, without a partnership or conglomerate or some major company behind it."

36. Asked that question about success again (he gets it a lot), Perry said in a video posted in 2013 that "truth be told, it was nothing but the grace of God." He said it again. "You can plant seeds all day long, you can go around giving your business card to people, you can go around knocking on doors and auditioning. You can do that every day of your life and nothing, for most people, happens. When a seed is planted in the ground, all you can do is water it…and believe. That is what allowed me to be in the position I am in now. I planted my seed, I worked really hard. I had one idea, and that was to do a play."

37. Since 1998, Perry has written and/or directed at least one play and one film a year. Per the Times, Perry is one of three directors, the others being Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg, to have had nine of his films open with $20 million or more.

38. After writing on social media that he would help out the hurricane-devastated Bahamas as soon as it was feasible, Perry came through, sending his own plane on at least two trips to deliver water, diapers, personal hygiene items and other supplies.

39. Meanwhile, fatherhood certainly suited Perry. "He's so beautiful and strong and amazing," he gushed about his son, Aman, on The Real in 2016. "And he's a healer for me 'cause I look at him and see myself as a little boy. And I'm able to give him all the love and all the things that I never had."

40. From day one, Perry's plan has been to leave his studio one day to Aman. "[My dream] for him is to be the best that he can be," he said in 2018 on Essence magazine's Yes, Girl! podcast. "All that he wants to be, no matter what that is. In my mind what I would love to say is, 'Here are the keys to the studio. I'll be somewhere smoking a joint on an island, you go do this. I'm 80-years-old now, go do your thing. 'But, if that's not his dream I just want whatever it is that he does to be special and amazing."

41. Madea has been in nine plays and 10 films that have grossed more than $500 million worldwide. Her final movie, according to her creator, was 2019's A Madea Family Funeral.

42. At the 2020 Emmy Awards Perry was honored with his first Emmy as the recipient of the prestigious Governors Award. Perry thanked the academy and gave a touching speech about the lessons he learned from his grandmother that helped him along the journey.

43. Perry has always remained very active in the Black community and vocal about showing his support for causes he finds important. When Rayshard Brooks was killed after being fatally shot by the police in Atlanta, Perry paid for his funeral.

44. He opened up Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta in 2019. He's the first African-American actor-director-writer-producer to own a studio outright with no partners or corporate backing

45. Perry found ways to give back to many people directly effected by the coronavirus pandemic. In early 2020, he paid for the groceries of elderly and high-risk customers at grocery stores in Louisiana and Atlanta.

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