How Marlon Wayans 'Put These Pieces of My Broken Self Back Together' After the Deaths of His Parents (Exclusive)

The comedian — whose latest special, ‘Good Grief,’ arrives on Prime Video on June 4 — credits lessons from his mom as his inspiration: "She taught me to take my broken heart and turn it into art"

<p>Xavier Collin/Image Press Agency/SplashNews</p> Marlon Wayans

Xavier Collin/Image Press Agency/SplashNews

Marlon Wayans

Grief has been Marlon Wayans' biggest motivator recently.

"That was my girl," he says of his mother Elvira, who died in 2020. As the youngest of 10 siblings, "I was her baby," he adds, opening up to PEOPLE in this week's issue. "She felt I was special."

In fact, the lot of Elvira’s kids proved exceptional — and exceptionally funny. The social worker and her husband, Howell, a supermarket manager, raised the family in New York City public housing. Marlon’s older siblings Keenen, Damon and Kim blazed a unique and hilarious trail to comedy stardom in the early 1990s with their hit Fox variety show In Living Color.

Shawn and Marlon followed with their own sitcom, The Wayans Bros., and successful slapstick films like White Chicks and the Scary Movie franchise.

Related: Marlon Wayans Opens Up About Losing Nearly 60 Loved Ones and His ‘Real-Life Pain’: ‘I Live Differently’

Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage Keenen, Marlon, Damon and Shawn Wayans
Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage Keenen, Marlon, Damon and Shawn Wayans

For Marlon, 51, it all goes back to their parents, especially his mom, fostering an environment of love and laughter. “I wouldn’t change anything about my childhood,” he says. “I feel like the luckiest kid who ever lived.”

So when Elvira died and his dad followed in March 2023, Marlon felt lost. “It broke me,” he says, describing his “deep pain and depression.” His search to find light in that darkness is at the heart of his latest comedy special, Good Grief, premiering June 4 on Prime Video.

For more on Marlon Wayans, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now, or subscribe here.

Again, he has his mom to thank. “She was a creative. She taught me to take my broken heart and turn it into art,” he says, “and so that’s what I did.”

Last year Marlon was 15 minutes from stepping onstage when he learned of his father’s death. “After my set, I cried on the stage,” he says.

<p>Marlon Wayans/Instagram</p> Howell, Marlon and Elvira Wayans

Marlon Wayans/Instagram

Howell, Marlon and Elvira Wayans

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“After my mom’s death I gained 25 lbs. I was shrinking, I was heavy, and I wasn’t myself. And then I was just hurt. So when my dad passed, I was like, ‘All right, let me put these pieces of my broken self back together.’” He undertook a spiritual journey that included “praying more, walking, meditating,” he says. As for the pain now, “I’m not carrying it anymore.”

And these days the father of three has taken up the mantle of being a Wayans family elder. “I used to throw parties, now it’s barbecues and birthday celebrations,” he says. With 45 nieces and nephews, “I just try to pour into them. I’m filling the space my parents left behind.”

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