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Even with a string of six hit films, a sitcom deal worth $100 million, and the ability to do anything he'd like in Hollywood, Tyler Perry was still haunted by his past.

"I had just finished a couple of movies and had been famous for a long time, among black people," says Perry, whose latest film The Family That Preys, opens this week. "When I walked around, I got all this support, high-fives and all this stuff."

He was the most famous African-American star Caucasians had never heard of, until he started appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show. It was there he began telling his rags-to-riches tale, one that included an abusive father—Emmitt, a carpenter—while growing up in New Orleans.

"He used his hands to pour concrete and hammer nails," Perry told O Magazine last year. "He also used those hands to beat me. My father—a man with a third-grade education who was orphaned at 2 and sent to work in the fields at 5—understood only the physical. He thought he could beat the softness out of me and make me hard like him."

Instead, the abuse almost led Perry to kill himself as a teenager. He still has the scar on his left wrist as evidence of his suicide attempt.

But even then, he had an inkling of hope. He liked to draw—and get lost in his own imagination. He had no desire to follow in his father's footsteps and work construction.

He found more solace with the women in his life—mother Maxine (a pre-school teacher) and his Scripture-quoting grandmother. "Women are usually the center of everything in the household," he laughs. "You don't say, 'I'm going to my grandfather's house; you say I'm going to my grandmother's house.'"

Observing strong women eventually led Perry to prefer writing female roles to male ...

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