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Youtube.com/OWN | instagram.com/tylerperry

Tyler Perry Was Broke Living in His Car - He Recalls in Tears That He Was Only 'Praying & Believing’

Gracious Egedegbe
Feb 23, 2022
01:40 P.M.

Tyler Perry's estimated net worth is $1 billion, making him one of Hollywood's biggest stars. However, he endured a difficult childhood and struggled to rise to his famous heights. Get inside his journey to success.


Tyler Perry is one of the biggest names in Hollywood. He holds many roles as an actor, director, producer, and screenwriter and has created many projects that remain relevant today.

Perry has built a dynasty thanks to his incredible talent, hard work, and management abilities. Thus, it is no surprise that he is one of Hollywood's wealthiest stars.

Portrait of American actor and director Tyler Perry [Left] | Photo of Tyler Perry when he was a kid. [Right] | Source: Getty Images

Portrait of American actor and director Tyler Perry [Left] | Photo of Tyler Perry when he was a kid. [Right] | Source: Getty Images

However, he did not find success easy to come by as he endured a traumatic childhood and multiple challenges before eventually finding a breakthrough.

While growing up, Perry faced brutal physical abuse from his dad, Emmitt, and severe sexual abuse at the hands of several adults. These abuses went on for years, and he never felt safe in his home or outside.


Perry revealed his childhood experiences during a chat with media mogul Oprah Winfrey. He described his early years as a living hell before adding that he felt like he died as a child.

Tyler Perry launches his new book "Higher Is Waiting" at the Gramercy Theatre on November 14, 2017. | Source: Getty Images

Tyler Perry launches his new book "Higher Is Waiting" at the Gramercy Theatre on November 14, 2017. | Source: Getty Images

Perry said he used his imagination to escape the difficulties he faced as a child. For example, whenever someone did something terrible to him, he imagined himself playing at a park his mom and aunt had taken him to.

Perry recalled a particular beating he received from his dad, which he said he would never forget. He said his father whipped him with a vacuum cord and added:

"To this day, I don't know why he did it. But I remember him cornering me in a room and hitting me[...]. He would just not stop. [...] I had to wait for him to go to sleep."


When Tyler's dad slept, he ran to his aunt Jerry's house and showed himself to her. Aunt Jerry picked up a gun and went to Perry's father. That same day, she told Perry's mom, Maxine, never to leave him alone with his dad.


Afterward, she took him everywhere she went. However, the beating did not end there. Perry's dad hit him another time, causing him to blackout for three days. After that, Perry lived in fear of his father and attempted suicide.

Perry also recalled suffering severe sexual abuse at the hands of four different adults, including a male neighbor, a male nurse, a man he knew from church, and his mom's friend before the age of ten. However, Perry's mom saved him and took him to church with her despite these difficult challenges.


Her faith in God inspired him, which helped him grow through that phase. Perry had a special bond with his mom and once revealed how he cherished her laughter above anyone else's. He said:

"The most important for me was my mother—that I could be a source of joy for her, that I could make her smile, that I could make her laugh, that I could tell a joke or that I could dance and see her smile and laugh. That's what meant the world to me."

Although Perry endured abuse from his father and witnessed him abusing his mom physically and verbally, he eventually forgave him but did not want to have a relationship with him.


When the entertainment mogul turned 41, he discovered that Emmitt was not his biological father. However, that realization did not stop him from forgiving him and supporting him financially. He told People about how he forgave his dad:

"[It took] a tremendous amount of prayer. But the biggest thing that helped me understand it is that me holding on to what I was holding on to wasn't hurting him[…]but it was killing me."

After forgiving Emmitt, Perry felt a huge burden lifted off his shoulders, and he felt lighter inside. Also, he decided to thread a positive and inspirational path because he never wanted to feel the way he did before forgiving his dad.

Tyler Perry and his mom, Maxine during Lionsgate Presents "Madea's Family Reunion" Los Angeles Premiere at Cinerama Dome on February 21, 2006. | Source: Getty Images

Tyler Perry and his mom, Maxine during Lionsgate Presents "Madea's Family Reunion" Los Angeles Premiere at Cinerama Dome on February 21, 2006. | Source: Getty Images



Perry did not grow up having mentors, and his dad and relatives knew nothing about business. In addition, he did not go to business school. Thus, he learned all he knows today progressively.

The young Perry was inspired to write out the stress he felt after watching an episode of Winfrey's talk show. He spent his 20s touring small theaters around the country and performing the plays he had written, produced, and starred in.

Perry dropped out of high school and gained knowledge any way he could. In his early 20s, he worked at the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans, where the annual National Association of Television Program Executives Conference was held.


Thanks to the job, he could sneak into closed gatherings using badges left behind in empty rooms. Thus, he met many influential people, including game show host Pat Sajak.

Perry started writing scripts in combination with selling cars and serving as a bill collector. Through his jobs, he saved up $12,000, with which he rented a space at a community theater in Atlanta. There, he produced work he had drafted in his free time.

Tyler Perry attends the 91st Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland on February 24, 2019. | Source: Getty Images

Tyler Perry attends the 91st Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland on February 24, 2019. | Source: Getty Images

He wrote and produced the play "I Know I've Been Changed," about child abuse survivors. Unfortunately, the play did not do well initially and, at a point, did not bring in enough income for Perry to pay his rent.

Thus, he lived out of his car on and off for three months. In that time, he tweaked the play's production and worked out kinks until the play started getting noticed.


Although Perry and Bekele have split, she will still get a share of his wealth.



Perry did everything from set designing to selling snacks during intermission for the play "I Know I've Been Changed" despite his longtime promoter Arthur Primas telling him he should not be doing all that.

He continued touring relentlessly and gradually built a strong following among Black Americans, especially those who went to church. Most of his followers were older women like his mom.

Many of these people loved watching his character Madea, which became a must-see spectacle on "Chitlin Circuit," a loosely defined network of small theaters in American Black communities.


After seeing one in Los Angeles, Winfrey was enamored by Perry's plays and confessed to being changed by it. Moved by what she saw, she invited him to her talk show in 2001.

Backstage, the pair discussed money with Winfrey offering Perry a secret he was already learning on his own. She told him it was important for him to write his own checks and be fully in control. Winfrey became Perry's friend, sounding board, and catalyst.

He started raking in thousands of dollars and had already made over $100 million from theater ticket sales, moved merchandise worth $20 million, and earned $30 million through video sales before making his first movie or TV show.


Perry's Hollywood emergence did not come easy and seemed unlikely at first as he struggled to get television networks to air his shows.

However, when CW emerged following the merger between UPN and WB, they needed content, and he provided it readily. As a result, it aired as "House of Payne," which pulled in excellent ratings.

Through that, he has become enormously successful and has been running the numbers ever since, releasing new movies, shows and buying estates. It does not look like there is anything that can stop Perry.



Madea is Perry's most famous character. Despite being a feminine character, he chose to play it because it was based on his mother and several other mature women in his life, including his aunt.

Perry portrayed the character wearing drag and characterized Madea's sharp-tongue and gun-toting but funny personality incredibly well.

Madea has appeared in several Perry productions, including "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," "Madea's Family Reunion," "Madea's Class Reunion," and many more.



Today, Perry is a billionaire and one of the wealthiest entertainers thanks to his lucrative library of TV shows and movies, 330-acre Atlanta film studio, and multiple investments.

Perry took Architectural Digest on a tour of his sprawling Atlanta-based Tyler Perry Studios. The majestic edifice is larger than Warner Bros. and Walt Disney's Burbank Studios combined.

It features 12 newly-dedicated sound stages joined by an entire backlot neighborhood called Maxineville after his mom. The studio is the centerpiece of Georgia's growing film industry and a testament to Perry's vision, success, and generosity.


Despite Perry's enormous success, he has not forgotten his roots and upbringing and remains humble. For example, on August 28, 2019, he shared a snapshot showing a sign near the street where he made his first steps to fame.

The picture showed that the street was renamed after him, and it filled him with so many emotions that he shared his feelings with his fans. He wrote:

"Driving into work today I saw these signs on the highways being changed. My eyes filled with water knowing what God has allowed to happen in my life."


Perry said Atlanta had been the promised land for him. He said he came to the city with nothing and lived off Sylvan Road. He recalled how he ended up homeless and starving but never stopped praying and believing. He added:

"I was always keeping the faith, knowing that if I worked hard, did my absolute best, kept my integrity, honored every blessing, and remained grateful through it all that everything would work out. And it has, thank God."

Perry shared a scripture passage with his followers and encouraged them to pursue their dreams and stay the course despite setbacks.


Perry is undoubtedly a hard-working man, but this does not mean he does not have time for other things. The billionaire dated Gelila Bekele, an Ethiopian-born model, filmmaker, and activist, from 2009 to 2010. They share a son named Aman, who they welcomed in 2014.


Perry and Bekele kept their relationship private. Thus, no one knew they had split until he shared a post on December 16, 2020, revealing he was single and going through a mid-life crisis.

Following the couple's split, a source told People their focus was on being the best parents for their son. Perry is a doting father of his only child and told Essence of his dreams for Aman, saying:

"[..] In my mind what I would love to say is, 'Here are the keys to the studio[...] 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."


Although Perry and Bekele have split, she will still get a share of his wealth. The entertainment mogul said this himself during an interview with TI on the rapper's "Expeditiously" podcast.


The interview happened before the former lovebirds split, and Perry had only lovely words to say about Bekele though he did not mention her name. When asked why he was not married yet, Perry replied:

"I have someone who is wonderful, and she's getting her share of all of it."

He also expanded on why he chose to keep his family away from the spotlight, saying he and Bekele were good at that. Perry added that it was good for Aman's development to be away from the spotlight and be clear on who he is before people start telling him.

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