Willie Maxine Perry, the inspiration behind one of the most iconic film characters of the past decade and the mother of Hollywood heavyweight Tyler Perry, has passed away. She was 64 years old.
[movieperson id="364367"]Tyler Perry[/movieperson] announced the news on his Web site Tuesday afternoon, in a message of very few words. "Willie Maxine Perry, February 12, 1945 to December 8, 2009," he wrote in a picture next to himself posing with her on the red carper at the "Madea's Family Reunion" premiere. "Thank you for all your prayers."
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Perry has said in the past that he based his most popular creation -- a sassy, gun-toting, endearingly wise old lady named Madea -- on his mother. The 40-year-old writer/director/producer has spent the last decade portraying the character in drag and inserting her into such plays and films as [movie id="270585"]"Diary of a Mad Black Woman,"[/movie] [movie id="388652"]"Madea Goes to Jail,"[/movie] the recent [movie id="421529"]"I Can Do Bad All by Myself"[/movie] and his hit TV show "House of Payne."
Forging his own unusual path to the top of Hollywood, Perry has stepped beyond the so-called "Chitlin' Circuit" that first brought him fame to gross nearly $400 million worldwide at the box office. In addition to such #1 hits as "Madea Goes to Jail" and "Why Did I Get Married?," Perry recently joined forces with Oprah Winfrey to executive-produce the critically acclaimed film "Precious" and even had a cameo in J.J. Abrams' hit "Star Trek" reboot this past summer.
Tyler Perry has said in the past that he and his siblings were physically abused by their father, Emmett R. Perry Sr., and that his mother endured a great deal of that abuse as well.
According to the Journal-Constitution, Willie had been sick since last August. She was a preschool teacher who had worked at the New Orleans Jewish Community Center and was by all accounts a huge influence on Perry's upbringing and career.