Jess Cagle and Dana Falcone
October 18, 2017 11:56 AM

 

Before Tyler Perry ever made audiences laugh as Madea, he dealt with years of childhood abuse at the hands of the man he called “dad.”

Outside of the physical and verbal attacks at home, Perry, now 48, also survived sexual assault by other adults in the New Orleans community where he grew up.

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“It wasn’t a pleasant childhood,” he tells PEOPLE’s Editor-in-Chief Jess Cagle in the latest episode of The Jess Cagle Interview (streaming now on People TV).

The actor-writer-producer opens up about how he managed to forgive his father figure — and how he later learned that Emmitt Perry Sr. isn’t his biological parent.

“He had a lot of issues,” Perry reveals. “But the thing that helped me get over it and still take care of him today is, I took a moment to find out more about him and his childhood and where he came from, and his was way more horrific than mine. So it kind of formed the person that he was.”

The Hollywood powerhouse learned that Emmitt and his siblings were abandoned as kids and turned over to a 14-year-old girl after being found in a Louisiana drainage canal.

“Every time they would do something wrong, she would tie them in a sack, hang them in a tree and beat them,” Perry recalls. “The brutality that he suffered was extreme, so he had no tools in dealing with being a father, being compassionate, being kind. All of that, I feel, had been beaten out of him.”

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Learning about Emmitt’s brutal past helped Perry accept his flaws as a father, and even find a silver lining.

“To his credit, we were never hungry, he never left the family, he always brought every dime he made home to my mother,” the filmmaker says. “So in return for what he did then, I still do the same thing for him even though we don’t have a relationship.”

RELATED VIDEO: Tyler Perry Donates $1 Million to Hurricane Harvey Relief With a Portion Going to Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church

 

The Tyler Perry Studios founder notes that making amends with Emmitt helped him finally find success with his play I Know I’ve Been Changed after struggling throughout the ’90s in Atlanta. “I ended up homeless during that time, struggling to just to find food to eat during those years,” Perry reveals. “I call it ‘the planting time’ when I was planting in my life and waiting for the harvest. So [in] ’98 it all turned around.”

He explains of the semi-autobiographical show, “It was about adult survives their child abuse. Here’s the irony in it — it was about an adult survives their child abuse who had forgiven their parents for the abuse, and I hadn’t forgiven my father at the time. So I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the day I forgave him, not two weeks later the show began to have success.”

Perry further explores his journey of forgiveness in his upcoming spiritual memoir, Higher is Waiting. “I wish everybody had the ability to tap into it,” Perry, still an Atlanta resident, says. “Because it’s life-changing.”

Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween hits theaters Friday, and Higher is Waiting is out Nov. 14.

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