Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey had a frank conversation about the most difficult time in his life during the episode that aired Wednesday.
He discussed, in great candor, physical abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of his father, and sexual abuse by several others.
“Predators know when a child is an easy mark,” Perry said.
He remained silent for years, not wanting to cause his mother pain. After she passed away last year, he said, he felt it was time to bring it out into the open.
“He knows and I know that because of who he is, this is going to be a pivotal moment not just for him but for millions of men who have survived the unthinkable and have never told a soul, especially their wives,” Winfrey said at the beginning of the show.
By the time he was 10, Perry said, he had been sexually abused by both a woman and several men, and was subjected to regular beatings by his father. His Aunt Jerry was in the audience and confirmed his recollections. She lived around the corner from Perry’s family when he was young, and said she once pointed a gun at Perry’s father after young Perry was beaten.
“That is Madea,” Perry said during the show, pointing to his aunt and referring to his gun-toting, no-nonsense character.
Perry become emotional almost from the beginning of Wednesday’s show, and teared up as photos of himself as a boy were displayed.
“It’s hard for me to look at that child,” Perry said. “I feel like I died as a child. My father – he hated me so much and I couldn’t understand why. I was sickly all the time, I had asthma. He hated that about me.”
As a coping mechanism, Perry said he learned to escape mentally, explaining, “Every time somebody was doing something to me that was horrible, I could go to this park in my mind.”
He also credits his faith for seeing him through.
“I was suicidal. I thought, what is the point of living? My mother was my saving grace. She would take me to church with her. I wanted to know this God who made her so happy. I don’t know where I would be without faith in my life. She didn’t have much but she gave me Jesus.”
Winfrey noted that at 41, Perry has his 10th movie coming out, “For Colored Girls,” and is second only to James Cameron in terms of Hollywood earning power. Yet material wealth don’t erase childhood trauma, said Winfrey, who has been candid about her own abuse as a young person.
“I remember three abusers in particular,” Winfrey said. “By the third time I thought, I must have a banner on my head. I must be drawing this to myself.”
Perry responded, “Predators know when a child is an easy mark.”
He said that he’s been in five serious relationships, and that every one of those women have helped him understand part of his past and begin to deal with it.
“So many men will not talk about this. I had to do it to be free,” Perry said. “Everyone who is abused, there is a string to the puppet master. What I started to do was untie the strings.”
Perry’s father is still alive. “I don’t care” what he thinks about his going public, Perry said. He said there is “no remorse” on the part of his father, but he supports him financially, and pays for the home he lives in.
“I forgave him,” Perry said. “The same amount of strength to take it, is the same amount of strength it takes to let it go. As a man I am not going to sit here and let myself suffer anymore.”
Perry has often said that watching Winfrey’s show many years ago, long before they met, first inspired him to begin writing. He brought that up again Wednesday. By that time, both he and Winfrey, and probably everyone in the audience, were in tears.
“On behalf of all the people who will never get the chance to sit here and tell you how much you have changed their lives over the past 25 years, I just want to thank you,” he told his friend.
The two team up again on Nov. 5. On that day, the audience will consist of 200 men who will share stories of being abused, as Perry did on Wednesday.