A Once Homeless Tyler Perry Is Now a Billionaire

Tyler Perry has a lot to celebrate. With the unveiling of the movie maker’s Tyler Perry Studios in which he’s the first African American to own a studio outright, Perry continues making history. Forbes Magazine now lists Perry as a billionaire. 

Tyler Perry
Tyler Perry | Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

Tyler Perry’s experience with homelessness

Perry’s upbringing is a classic rags to riches story. Born and raised in New Orleans with a struggling single mother and abusive father, Perry used comedy to get him through difficult times.  

With no formal education, including dropping out of high school, Perry’s infatuation with storytelling happened by chance. While working at the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans that housed the annual National Association of Television Program Executives conference, Perry snuck into closed gatherings for a crash course in the industry. 

Source: Instagram

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An episode of Oprah Winfrey that encouraged journaling inspired Perry to write his feelings out. From there, he wrote a script for a stage play, I Know I’ve Been Changed, that delved into various forms of childhood abuse. He saved $12,000 to produce the play, moving to Atlanta at some point. But it took years to take off.

While in limbo, Perry lived out of his car on and off while he made changes to the production. He tells CNN in a recent interview:

“Atlanta has truly been the promised land for me,” he says. “I came here with nothing, lived off Sylvan Road, ended up homeless and starving, but I was always praying and believing.”

Hollywood’s initial resistance to Tyler Perry

I Know I’ve Been Changed eventually garnered enough traction and made enough money for Perry to continue to create. He churned out more stage plays, touring the country in the “chitlin circuit,” a phrase used to describe underground Black plays. His success is attributed to his infamous Madea character.

While touring, Perry sold merchandise and filmed the stage plays for video and DVDs for purchase. He set his sights on Hollywood, feeling prepared as he’d already amassed more than $100 million from play ticket sales, $20 million worth of merchandise, and collected $30 million in revenue from selling videos of the performances according to Forbes

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RELATED: The Tyler Perry’s Madea Character Criticism Is Nothing New; Spike Lee and Dave Chappelle Had Issues

Hollywood was slow to come around to Perry’s genius, telling Perry his characters would never resonate with a massive audience on-screen.

“ ‘Black people who go to church don’t go to the movies,’ ” Perry tells Forbes an executive told him. “I came from a place where Black people had already embraced me and loved me. I was completely happy there, and still am.” 

Tyler Perry reaches billionaire status; owns all of his content 

Perry played on the ignorance of executives to cut groundbreaking deals in which he’d keep ownership of his content. For example, Forbes reports that his initial deal with Lionsgate is unprecedented.

“He would put up half the money, collect half the profits and keep control of the content,” the report reads. “The studio held the right to deduct all marketing costs from his cut, which Perry knew would be minimal, considering his following, as well as another 12.5% in distribution costs. The sweetener: Perry would eventually own it all outright.”

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With 14 films under his belt, Forbes estimates that Perry’s earned $670 million at the box office, netting him about $290 million in fees and profits. This does not include Perry’s multi-million dollar deals with OWN, BET+, and TBS.

And who can forget Perry’s historic purchase of his own studio with no backing elsewhere? He allows others to utilize the space for filming.

Recent projects filmed at the new Tyler Perry Studios include Black Panther, Bad Boys 3, Coming to America 2, and The Walking Dead. All of Perry’s movies and television shows are filmed at his studios. 

Perry’s net worth is now estimated to be $1 billion dollars and growing. Congratulations Mr. Perry!