Tyler Perry opens up like never before in his new Amazon documentary, Maxine’s Baby: The Tyler Perry Story, which began streaming today. It’s not the first time the filmmaker has publicly spoken about his troubled childhood—which was plagued by poverty and a physically abusive father—or his struggles with alcohol addiction. But Maxine’s Baby directors Gelila Bekele and Armani Ortiz put all these stories together in a neat, heart-wrenching package in order to give viewers a more nuanced understanding of the complicated man beneath the Madea wig.
Perry has been open about his struggle with alcoholism since 2012, when he told Essence that he would imbibe nightly, using alcohol as a sleeping aid while he was grieving the death of his mother. Perry’s mother, Willie Maxine Perry—who inspired the Madea character—died at the age of 64 in December 2009, after a long battle with cancer.
“When she died, everything in me died,” Perry said in the documentary. His entire career up until that point, he’d said, had been motivated by a need to make money to support his mother, after years of watching her suffer abuse at the hands of his father. With his mother gone, Perry felt no motivation to continue his work.
“If I didn’t have contracts, and things lined up, 2009 would have probably been the end,” Perry said. “There was nothing to keep making me want to get out of bed and move through it. I started drinking stupid heavy, and that lasted for a few years. No holiday meant anything, because she wasn’t there. Nobody meant anything, because she wasn’t there.”
Perry goes on to say he found new meaning in his life after the birth of his son Aman in 2014, which helped him to slow his drinking and gave him a new reason to focus on his career.
He also told Essence in 2012 that a visit from then-President Obama served as a wake-up call. Perry recalls Obama visiting the filmmaker’s studio, and saying, “‘Wake up, kid. You know life is still going on. I know you miss her, I know you care but wake up. Life is still going on.’ I swear the day after he left was the day I just said, I am going to sleep without it.”