Tyler Perry says he is retiring Madea, the feisty, foul-mouthed grandma who launched his career and made him millions.
The Southern matriarch — long played by Perry in a gray wig, pearls and women’s clothing — will meet her end in 2019, the actor and filmmaker told SiriusXM radio host Bevy Smith on her show “Bevelations." Perry, 49, joked that it was time for him “to kill that old” lady, using a colorful word Madea might use to describe his signature character. “I’m tired, man,” Perry said. “I just don’t want to be her age, playing her."
Perry isn’t the only one who is “tired” of Madea. The character, whose moniker is short for mother dear, is undoubtedly Perry’s most famous. But Madea — with her crude language and penchant for physical attacks — has long drawn criticism for perpetuating damaging stereotypes of African Americans.
Perry first introduced Madea in “I Can Do Bad All by Myself,” one of dozens of stage plays he presented across the country in the late 1990s and early aughts. The character had already made Perry millions on the urban theater circuit when he brought her to the big screen in 2005 with the film adaptation of another play, “Diary of a Mad Black Woman.” (“I was only going to do Madea for this one play, but the fans wouldn’t let her go,” Perry told MTV News in an interview that year.) “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” made more than $50 million at the box office, launching Madea (and Perry) into mainstream fame.
Madea would go on to star in a sequel, “Madea’s Family Reunion,” and eight other films, including “Madea Goes to Jail” (another play adaptation, which featured a gun-toting Madea) and two Halloween-themed movies. Perry told Smith he is also embarking on a farewell stage tour, but Madea will make her last big-screen appearance in next year’s “A Madea Family Funeral.” Judging by the trailer, the funeral does not appear to be Madea’s, but, hey, you never know.
The Madea films have featured Perry in other roles as some of the character’s male relatives. In a 2012 interview with NPR, Perry said he drew inspiration from watching Eddie Murphy play multiple characters — including the Klump family matriarch — in the “Nutty Professor” franchise. He has said he based the Madea character on women that were influential in his life, particularly his aunt and mother.
“She would beat the hell out of you but make sure the ambulance got there in time to make sure they could set your arm back, you know what I mean? Because the love was there inside all of it,” Perry told “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross. “I know it sounds really strange, but that’s the old-school mentality. That’s why I think the character is so popular, because a lot of people miss that type of grandmother; everybody is so worried about being politically correct that she’s no longer around.”
One of Perry’s most prominent critics has been Spike Lee. The filmmaker has made thinly veiled references to Perry’s work, which he called “coonery buffoonery" in a 2009 interview with Black Enterprise. “I know it’s making a lot of money and breaking records, but we can do better,” said Lee, who also alluded to Perry’s TBS sitcoms, “Meet the Browns” and “House of Payne,” which ended their initial runs several years ago before going into syndication.
“The man has a huge audience, and Tyler’s very smart. He started out with these plays, and church buses would pull up, packed,” Lee said, noting that Perry had earned enough money to buy a jet. “But at the same time, for me — just, the imagery is troubling.”
At a 2011 news conference, Perry responded pointedly to Lee, whose comments had become a frequent and enduring interview topic. “Spike can go straight to hell. You can print that,” he said. “I am sick of him talking about me. … I am sick of him talking about black people going to see movies.”
But even as Perry has been heralded for giving opportunities to black actors, some have echoed Lee’s points. As commentator Jamilah Lemieux wrote of Madea in 2009, “Through her, the country has laughed at one of the most important members of the black community: Mother Dear, the beloved matriarch. I just can’t quite get with seeing Mother Dear played by a 6-foot-3 man with prosthetic breasts flopping in the wind. Our mothers and grandmothers deserve much more than that.”
Though Madea has maintained a strong box-office presence over the years, Perry has branched out in his work. He produced the Oscar-nominated 2009 film “Precious" and went on to write and direct “For Colored Girls," the film adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s acclaimed play. As an actor, Perry made an unexpected and well-received turn in David Fincher’s critically acclaimed 2014 film “Gone Girl."
Perry, who also established Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, is currently promoting his first R-rated comedy, “Nobody’s Fool,” which stars Tiffany Haddish, Whoopi Goldberg, Tika Sumpter and Omari Hardwick.
Madea, meanwhile, appeared to react to news of her impending demise in a video Perry posted to Twitter. “I’m here trying to hide from Tyler Perry because he say he’s gon' kill me,” she says in the video while dressed in a Deadpool costume. “But I wish that bastard would kill me after all I did for him.”
The video, which includes some crude language (because it’s Madea), includes several mentions of Perry’s forthcoming film.