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Perry's father also beat his mother and, having been unable to protect her when he was a child, Perry devoted his money and labor to his mother as an adult. "A lot of the fever, the crazy pace from when I was working, was about her having everything she ever wanted," he explains. "Which was so absurd, because it got to the point where during the holidays and Christmas there was nothing I could give her, because I had given her everything."
Perry's films, in which downtrodden women often escape abusive brutes to find happiness, could be seen as an effort to restage the conflicts of his own childhood. Today, Perry says he's forgiven his father, even though he remains unrepentant. Through the star's brother, the elder Perry sent him the message: "If I had beat your ass one more time, you probably would have been Barack Obama."
Unlike the president, Tyler Perry owns the building he works in. From the curb of Continental Colony Parkway just inside the western edge of I-285, Tyler Perry Studios looks surprisingly modest. Through the security gate, you can see little more than a featureless, cube-shaped 1960s-style building.
Only inside the campus do you notice the picturesque pond or the lobby's perpetual waterfall alongside the motto "A Place Where Even Dreams Believe." The backlot encloses a replica of a downtown Atlanta street, including the "House of Payne" fire department, the Zion Liberty Baptist Church, Momma's Soul Food — even a Creative Loafing bin. Perry has named his soundstages after icons of African-American entertainment like Quincy Jones and Ruby Dee, while blown-up portraits of such pioneering black artists as Sidney Poitier line the walls of the administrative offices.
While the buildings pay homage to his African-American predecessors, they also demonstrate that Perry has achieved more independence than most of them could have hoped for. He insists not just on artistic control of his work, but also financial control. In 2009 he told "60 Minutes," "He who has the gold makes the rules. If somebody else is gonna give you the money, then they're gonna be in control. They're gonna own it, they're gonna tell you how it goes. I wasn't willing to do that."
As his company's owner, Perry enjoys creative freedoms and lavish compensation, even by Hollywood standards. Despite his riches, he finds his fortune to be abstract, as if all the zeroes on his bank statements blur together. "Here's the thing about money," he confides: "You don't really know it's there. The bank tells you it's there. You see numbers, but you can't really touch it like I can touch this chair, or this rug, or drive a car. The money can buy those things, but you don't know that it's really there."
He takes more satisfaction in tangible belongings like his real estate holdings, which serve as visible proof of his accomplishments. In 2004, before he even started making movies, he'd amassed a fortune large enough to build a $5 million, 17,000-square-foot mansion in Fairburn he called the "Avec Chateau." The estate featured two prayer gardens, a man-made waterfall, tennis court, swimming pool and foyer with a life-sized knight in armor and an armored warhorse. At the time, he told Ebony, "I wanted to make a statement, not in any grand or boastful way, but to let people know what God can do when you believe. I don't care how low you go, there's an opposite of low, and as low as I went, I wanted to go that much higher. And if there was an opposite of homelessness, I wanted to find it."
Perry sees his homes as places of refuge. In 2009, for his 40th birthday, he gave himself an island in the Bahamas. Last year, Perry finished construction on his 36,000-square-foot French provincial mansion on the Chattahoochee River off Paces Ferry Road in Atlanta, and he also bought the 58-acre Dean Gardens estate — listed at $14 million — in Johns Creek last summer. But, for all his extravagance, he spends his off-hours quietly at home. "I don't necessarily like to be in the mix," he says. "I'm just as happy at home under the oaks with the dogs, walkin' and watching the fireflies, or down by the river walkin' around."
Perry isn't exactly a recluse, but when he's not working, he prefers calm, controlled environments to the crush of people that accompanies celebrity. Ironically, the success he credits to God hinders Perry's own ability to worship in the community. To get in and out of church, he has to arrive late and leave early. "People will stick notes in my hand as I'm praying," he says. "Résumé, head shot, phone numbers, that kind of stuff. And those kind of interruptions can get quite annoying when you just want to be in church and have a good time."
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