On September 13, 2015, megastar Tyler Perry turned 46. And to celebrate his birthday, he made a somewhat startling Facebook confession. “I really don’t like people singing “Happy Birthday” to me,” he wrote. This rather downbeat opener was perhaps not what fans of such a generally positive celebrity were expecting. But the rest of Perry’s post explained the reason behind his admission, and it’s something many of us can relate to.
To truly appreciate where Perry is coming from, it’s perhaps best to tell his story from the beginning. You see, when Perry came into the world, he wasn’t actually called Tyler. In fact, his parents, Willie Maxine Perry and Emmitt Perry Sr., originally named him after his father. But Perry seemingly dumped the first name Emmitt just as soon as he legally could.
Why? Well, in 2009 Perry revealed some of the ill-treatment that he had suffered through as a young boy. In an open letter to his fans, he described one terrifying incident where his drunk and angry father attacked him. The star wrote, “[My dad] got the vacuum cleaner extension cord and trapped me in a room and beat me until the skin was coming off my back.”
Sadly, Perry claimed that that wasn’t the only time his father had mistreated him. Indeed, he wrote that Emmitt had consistently abused him – mentally and physically – until the age of 19. It appears that Perry wasn’t the only victim, either.
At one point in the letter, Perry recounted how his mother, Willie Maxine, had tried to take her kids and leave the house for good – only for his father to have the family arrested for stealing his car. And when Emmitt later picked them up from jail, he reportedly abused his wife for the entire journey home.
Perry further revealed that it wasn’t just his father who had abused him during his childhood. Indeed, the star shared one disturbing incident when the mother of one of his friends had got him alone and tried to seduce him; Perry himself had been just ten years old or so at the time.
And it didn’t stop there, as Perry also claimed that he had been sexually abused by a different friend’s father. On top of that, he reportedly later discovered that Emmitt had sexually assaulted another of his pals. Even Perry’s grandmother had mistreated him, the actor alleged.
According to Perry, he was often ill as a boy, and this would irritate his father. So when Willie Maxine went out one time, his grandmother apparently claimed that she was going to rid Perry of all of his ailments. How? “She gave me a bath in ammonia,” he wrote.
Furthermore, the abuse was said to have made such an impact on Perry that he would claim that he had attempted to take his own life. Leaning on his faith and learning to stop resenting those who had taken advantage of him helped him cope, however. And throughout it all, Perry seemingly never had a bad word to say about his mother.
Perry even credited his mother for partly inspiring his most famous recurring character, Madea. “She’s based on my mother and my aunt and a bunch of women I grew up with. She’s this amazing thing that’s happening,” Perry told MTV in 2005.
In fact, even when Perry later realized that Emmitt was not his biological father after all, the filmmaker apparently still didn’t harbor any ill will towards his mom. “I love my mother to death, but she lied to me,” he frankly told an interviewer in 2014. So, it seems that the former pre-school teacher could do virtually no wrong in her son’s eyes.
It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that Willie Maxine is behind the reason why Perry doesn’t like people singing “Happy Birthday” to him. As Perry related in his 2015 Facebook post, “Every morning that I can remember until I was 41, I woke up to the voice of my mother singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me.”
And even after Perry had become an adult and started his own life, Willie Maxine would still take the time to call and sing to him on his birthday. But then in 2009 Willie Maxine passed away. “How I miss her voice, off key and all,” Perry would later write.
So, that’s why Perry doesn’t like to hear anybody else sing “Happy Birthday.” He further explained, “Sure, saying it is fine, but the song… well, hearing it sung by one person makes me sad. I don’t mind a group singing it so much, but one singular voice haunts me.”
Perry went on to describe how he had awoken that morning and automatically tried to check for a message from Willie Maxine. “In the split second that it took me to wake up fully, I felt a wave of sadness come over me,” he later wrote. But it was his mother’s presence that lifted him up too.
Perry added, “Then I heard [my mom’s] voice in my head saying, ‘Baby, count your blessings. God is good.’” And that is exactly what he proceeded to do. “Needless to say, by the time I got through some of these ‘God thank you’s,’ I was feeling so much better. So on a high,” the star also revealed.
Fortunately, Willie Maxine lived long enough to see Perry rise above his tortured childhood and make a success of himself. And perhaps she would have been proud that, through the character of Madea, she helped inspire an arguably large part of that success.
Perry has gone on to become exceptionally wealthy too. As recently as 2014, for instance, Forbes listed Perry at number 56 on its highest-earning celebrities list. In the preceding year alone, the publication said, Perry had earned $70 million. From May 2010 to May 2011, moreover, he reportedly took home $130 million.
And Perry is still going strong. According to IMDb, the moviemaker has two projects completed and set to be released in 2018 or 2019. That’s in addition to three further TV shows and one movie that have already had screentime in 2018.
And, of course, there will be other birthdays on the horizon for Perry. In the future, then, perhaps people will know better than to give him their individual renditions of “Happy Birthday.” Indeed, if anybody really needs to sing Perry a song when he next turns a year older, maybe “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” would be the better choice.