Empire Stories: Lee Daniels' climb to fame

He wasn’t handed success – he went out and took it for himself.

He wasn’t handed success, he went out and took it for himself.

He’s been a writer, an actor, a producer and was only the second African American nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Director.”

Yes, he’s the man who created “Empire," but Lee Daniels lived a lifetime before Lucious and Cookie. This is his story.

Born on Christmas Eve in Philadelphia, Lee Daniels was a teenager when his father, a police officer, was killed in the line of duty. To pay for school, Daniels earned money as a receptionist for a nursing agency.

But soon after, he quit to start a nursing agency of his own -- and by the age of 21, employed more than 5,000 nurses. He sold the company and used his skill at casting nurses to become a casting agent for actors. He cut his teeth working on Purple Rain.

Daniels then started his own production company: Lee Daniels Entertainment. It was an immediate success, with its feature film debut in 2001 – the Academy Award winner “Monster’s Ball.”

In 2006, Daniels launched himself into the world of directing with the film “Shadowboxer.” While the film was poorly reviewed by critics, it would later become a cult classic.

However, one failure was enough. His next directorial effort would announce his skills to the world.

“Precious” would go on to land six Academy Award nominations, including one for Daniels – and the widespread acclaim catapulted Daniels into the stratosphere of Hollywood's hottest directors. And four years later, he would direct the biggest financial hit of his career.

"The Butler" would go one to gross more than $100 million and introduced Daniels to actor Terrence Howard and from there, history would be made. 

Daniels would reunite with Howard in 2014 in a little show called “Empire,” which Daniels co-created, directed, wrote and produced. But this is just the beginning. Daniels is gearing up to direct a biopic on comedian Richard Pryor, with Eddie Murphy stepping in for the iconic role.

Lee Daniels has never followed the rules – he’s an innovator, a trail blazer and a dreamer. And when it comes to the world of entertainment, what more could you ask for?

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