Actor Stories: How Tyler Perry Went from Homeless to Hollywood Mogul
Tyler Perry, the actor/director/playwright, proves that you can go from homeless dreamer to Hollywood Mogul if you believe in yourself and never stop trying
(Arranged by Carmichael Phillips)
If you think your struggles are overwhelming; if you think your dreams of success in the entertainment business are insurmountable; then you should reflect on Tyler Perry’s perilous journey. You’ll probably conclude that your plight isn’t nearly as grievous as it seems.
Tyler Perry, the actor/director/playwright, proves that you can go from broke, homeless dreamer to Hollywood Mogul if you believe in yourself and never stop trying.
“I don’t think the dreams die – I think that people give up. I think it gets too hard. There were so many dark days when I wanted to lie there and die.”
Tyler Perry’s struggle was real. It involves physical, verbal and sexual abuse as a child. It involves family discord and school failures.
But the part of Perry’s life we’d like to focus on are his struggles as a young actor and aspiring playwright. This piece caught our eye, from an interview he did with Oprah several years ago:
The director, playwright, and actor is the first black studio mogul in American history—but…years ago he was living in his car.
Tyler…grew up in New Orleans, in a physically abusive home. Outside the home he was also sexually abused, as he recently revealed on my show. The trauma left him confused and angry—one especially “nasty” outburst got him kicked out of high school—but he found an outlet in writing about his life.
In 1992, Tyler moved to Atlanta with the dream of staging his first play. When that effort failed (and failed, and failed, six times over), he was left homeless, disheartened, and broke—but not broken.
As Perry explains:
“[I] Moved from New Orleans to Atlanta, wrote the show, had all my money tied up in it. I had worked selling used cars, I had worked at hotels, I had saved my tax return, I’d saved $12,000 to put this play up, and I thought 1,200 people would see it over a weekend. Thirty people showed up. It was pretty devastating, because to do this, I had to leave the job I had.”
This is the kind of rejection that would lead most aspiring performers to move on to other pursuits and abandon their dreams altogether. But for the dreamer who chooses to continue the fight, great things can happen. That’s what Tyler Perry did.
“I went back to work, started trying to do the show again. And then I got an opportunity to do it and went to my boss and said, “I need time off.” They wouldn’t give it to me, so I had to quit. I tried to do the show again the following year. It failed again. But there was something in me that said, This is what you’re supposed to do.”
Rejection did not force Perry to quit. But it certainly brought him close to the brink.
“March 12, 1998. I had made the choice to do this last show. And this time there was a line of people around the corner trying to get in the place. From that moment on, the houses have been sold out everywhere.”
He kept on pursuing his dream, and in 1998 it finally took flight, when hundreds of mostly African-American fans lined up to buy tickets for the seventh staging of the show he’d devoted his life to, I Know I’ve Been Changed. Since then millions of people have turned out to see Tyler’s work.
Tyler Perry’s story is nothing short of miraculous. He overcame person pain and professional setbacks to become one of the most powerful men in the entertainment business. He owns his own studios, produces and stars in his own movies and is reported to have a net worth of over $800 million!
This story, of course, is not typical. Most actors will never achieve the heights that Tyler Perry has achieved. But his story is proof of the value of tenacity and perseverance, hard work and dedication.
One can only imagine the many times he considered giving up: the times he put on a play and no one showed up, the nights living in seedy motels or in his car, the times he lost all his money.
“There was something in me that said, This is what you’re supposed to do.”
Had he quit, he would not be the Tyler Perry we know today. He would not be starring in movies like Alex Cross (2012), Gone Girl (2014) and Vice (2018). He would not be the producer of television shows like Tyler Perry’s House of Payne or Meet the Browns. And he would never be the owner of his own movie studio, Tyler Perry Studios, a 330-acre converted military base in Atlanta, Georgia.
And, bonus, had Tyler Perry quit on his dreams when times got rough, we might never have been introduced to the hilarious “Madea”, his signature character that he performs in drag…and what a drag that would have been!
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