The inspiring journey on how Tyler Perry became a billionaire – The Oscar winner has Oprah Winfrey on speed dial, put a roof on Prince Harry and Megan Markle’s head and transported aid to hurricane victims on his $150 million private jet.

How king of comedy Tyler Perry became one of the richest men in entertainment. Photos: @tylerperry, @madea/Instagram

Black Panther was filmed at his Atlanta studio, and Viacom and Oprah Winfrey both signed him for deals on their networks, but who is producer, director and actor Tyler Perry? And how did he become a billionaire?

Tyler Perry is a self-made billionaire who channelled a difficult childhood into huge personal success. Photo: @tylerperry/Instagram

Tyler Perry’s US$1 billion net worth
In September 2020, Perry was officially recognised as a billionaire. The media mogul’s wealth puts him in the same ranks as Winfrey, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

His 133.5 (330 acre) Atlanta film studio, Madea franchise and his stake in the BET+ streaming service are said to make up the bulk of his earnings, according to Forbes. The deal with BET’s parent company Viacom didn’t begin until 2019 when an existing deal with the Oprah Winfrey network ended, but Perry wasn’t always rich …

Tyler Perry credits his faith for getting him through the tough times. Photo: @tylerperry/Instagram

His films are inspired by family
Perry was born in New Orleans in 1969. He spoke with People magazine in 2019 about his troubled childhood, describing how his father was abusive and battled with alcoholism.

His aunt Jerry told Winfrey that she once pointed a gun at Perry’s father when she learned of his abuse. He is currently estranged from his father, and his mother Maxine died in 2009. He credits his faith for getting him through the tough times, saying, “I don’t know where I’d be” without the guidance of the church.

Via Instagram / @tylerperry

His gun-toting comedy grandma character Madea “is a cross between my mother and my aunt”, he told USA Today in 2019. Perry is a father himself – he has a son with his ex Gelila Bekele.

Tyler Perry as Madea, a character that’s made him almost US$300 million. Photo: @tylerperry/Instagram

Humble beginnings
Perry booked out a theatre for a three day run of his play Diary of a Mad Black Woman back in 2001 and, while the production sold out at the time, it didn’t create the buzz he’d hoped for, according to an interview with Forbes. When he turned it into a film four years later, however, his now famous Madea character debuted on screen and the newly-born franchise earned US$21.9 million in its opening weekend alone.

A total of 11 Madea films came out in 15 years in partnership with distributor Lionsgate, and, according to Newsweek, they grossed more than US$670 million at the box office and netted Perry about US$290 million in fees and profits. He went on to make 21 films total with Lionsgate, generating a grand total of US$1 billion in ticket sales, says Comscore.

Tyler Perry Studios
Perry bought 133.5 hectares of Fort McPherson – a 19th century army base – back in 2015. He forked out US$26 million for it and then built “one of the largest movie studios in the US … and the largest entertainment complex owned by a person of African descent in the world”, Atlanta magazine reports. The studio, where Marvel’s Black Panther was filmed, is now reported to be worth an estimated US$280 million.

Friends in high places
It should come as no surprise that someone as successful as Perry has the likes of Winfrey on speed dial and British royalty staying at his pad. The director, likely through mutual friend Winfrey, lent his eight bedroom, 12 bathroom Beverly Hills mansion to Prince Harry, Meghan Markle and their son Archie when the family moved to the United States to start a new life.

An aerial shot of Tyler Perry’s Beverly Hills mansion. Photo: Google Earth

“We didn’t have a plan,” Markle told Winfrey in her CBS interview. “We needed a house and he [Perry] offered his security as well, so it gave us breathing room to try to figure out what we were going to do.” They stayed at Perry’s US$18 million home for three months before buying their own home in Montecito.

Perry owns a US$150 million private jet, which he reportedly used to transport aid to Hurricane Dorian victims in the Bahamas in December 2019. In 2021, Perry received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Oscars for helping those in need during the pandemic.

Note: This story was originally published on SCMP and has been republished on this website.

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