Tyler Perry , original name Emmitt Perry, Jr. (born September 13, 1969, New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.), American playwright, actor, screenwriter, producer, and director whose works—in which he often portrayed the character Mabel (“Madea”) Simmons, an outspoken grandmother—combined humour, religious wisdom, and personal triumph.
Perry had a difficult childhood. He grew up with a physically abusive father (he later changed his name to disassociate himself from his father), attempted suicide, and dropped out of high school, although he eventually passed a high school equivalency exam. After he heard television personality Oprah Winfrey suggest that writing down personal experiences could be cathartic, Perry began to keep a journal, which evolved into his first play, I Know I’ve Been Changed. Perry worked a number of odd jobs to raise money for its first staging, which took place in Atlanta in 1992. His self-funded production—in which he also starred—received almost no attention and sent him into extreme poverty. In 1998, however, he restaged the play and sold out performances for eight days in a row before moving it to Atlanta’s nationally acclaimed Fox Theatre. Perry’s work was distinct in its blend of traditional theatre with African American Southern entertainment, which had been largely untapped by larger commercial enterprises.
Perry’s second stage production, a 1999 adaptation of Woman, Thou Art Loosed! by T.D. Jakes, grossed more than $5 million in five months. Perry’s trademark character, Madea, was created in his play I Can Do Bad All by Myself (2000; film 2009). The brutally honest, rambunctious gun-toting grandmother, whose name comes from the frequent African American contraction of “Mother Dear,” was played by Perry in drag. She was a recurring figure in a number of his later plays, such as Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2001; film 2005), Madea’s Family Reunion (2002; film 2006), Madea’s Class Reunion (2003), Madea Goes to Jail (2005; film 2009), Madea’s Big Happy Family (2010; film 2011), A Madea