Entertainment mogul Tyler Perry recently sat down with AARP to talk about one special moment with an iconic actress that lent credence to his outstanding character, his journey in the industry and empowering himself and Black folks.
On August 2, The 52-year-old director and actor shared life-changing moments in his almost 20-year career. One particular moment he’s proud of– yet never shared until now– was his ability to help the late, legendary actress Cicely Tyson financially sustain herself during the last 15 years of her extraordinary life.
Tyler revealed that for Tyson’s first film, Sounder, she only earned $6,000 for her Oscar-nominated role in 1972.
“I’ve never said this publicly, but I took care of Ms. Tyson for the last 15 years of her life. She was a proud woman, and the only reason I mention this is because she wrote it in her book. This woman had done so many amazing things, but she wasn’t well-compensated for it.”
“She made $6,000 for Sounder, you know? I wanted to make sure she knew that there were people who valued her,” he continued. “So, she did one day of work on my 2007 film Why Did I Get Married? I paid her a million dollars. I loved working with her. And it makes me feel great that I was in a position to give this incredible woman some security in her latter years.”
Tyler’s own journey to success hasn’t been easy. At the start of his career as a playwright, he revealed that he invested $12,000 into a play that tanked. Tyson ended up homeless and making his Geo Metro his crib for three months.
“It was the early ’90s, here in Atlanta. I had this dream of being a playwright and had written a play called I Know I’ve Been Changed, which was about child abuse survivors and the power of prayer. I was working as a bill collector, and I had saved $12,000. I spent all my money to put this play up, and it didn’t work. I lost it all. For three months, I lived in a Geo Metro that I was hiding from the repo man.”
Tyler also spoke about what empowering himself, and his skinfolk looked and felt like for him. The 52-year-old mogul recalled when he was a boy and the pride his father had about earning pennies as a contractor compared to the white man who sold the home for 100 times the value of his father’s $800 salary.
“My father was a subcontractor. He came home one day and was happy because he had made $800 building a house,” he recounted. “But he told me that the white man who owned the house later sold it for $80,000. That didn’t make sense to me. I wanted to be the owner of the house.”
“I never felt like I needed to look outside of my own race for success. I knew that if I mined what was in our community, what I had in me, it would work.”
And work it has, Tyler is the owner of a studio that houses 12 soundstages and employs thousands of people. The father of 7-year-old Aman even made sure he spiritually cleansed the land of the studio that was once a Confederate stronghold hell-bent on keeping Black folks oppressed.
He also attributed his spirituality to his lineage, saying, “That never-give-up thing came from my mother and my aunts and the ministers and preachers in my family. I can trace the preachers back to slavery. My great-great-great-great-grandfather was a minister. That faith is in my DNA.
About what he felt when he bought the massive acreage for the studio, Tyler expressed, “From the moment I walked onto the property, I was haunted by it. Sometimes when I’m walking here at night, I get a chill from all the things that have happened here. So, as we built each of the 12 soundstages, we buried Bibles underneath them, as a way of refocusing the spirit of the place. I wanted this to be a place where everyone was welcome.”
After working diligently to pave a way for himself, Tyler has figured out that the key to real success is to pay it forward– humility, kindness, diligence and faith.
And we love to see it!