Matthew Perry was a beloved figure to many worldwide, thanks to his iconic portrayal of Chandler Bing on the hit show Friends. Despite his charming wit and infectious smile, Perry struggled with addiction throughout his life. In fact, he even referred to it as the “big, terrible thing” in the title of his memoir, which he released last year. Although he has largely stepped out of the limelight, Perry continues to be remembered as a treasured celebrity by fans everywhere.
Last year, I delved into the pages of Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, written by Matthew Perry. To say it was an eye-opening read would be an understatement. The memoir was a combination of juicy celebrity tales, infused with Perry’s signature humor and self-deprecation, reminiscent of his iconic character on Friends. However, it was also a harrowing account of a man spiraling out of control and determined to destroy himself. The book left me with a mix of emotions, at times uncomfortable, but ultimately compelling.
According to the writer, it’s not financially wise to indulge in the 17th drink when you’re making a million dollars every week.
According to Perry, he was a typical example of an instant addict. He became an alcoholic at the young age of 14 and got hooked on painkillers after his first prescription following a jetski accident. Driving a red Mustang convertible across the desert while high on drugs, he experienced an intense feeling of euphoria. He recalls thinking, “If this doesn’t kill me, I’m doing this again.” Fortunately, he survived that experience.
Exactly one year after the publication of his book Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, Matthew Perry was found dead in his Los Angeles home in what appears to be a drowning incident. The actor, who was only 54, is being remembered by his friends and fans for his talent and endearing personality. Morgan Fairchild, who played Perry’s on-screen mother, described him as a “brilliant young actor”, while Mira Sorvino praised his “singular wit”. Even the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, who had known Perry since childhood (and was famously beaten up by him, according to Perry’s memoir), fondly recalled the “schoolyard games we used to play”. Perry’s untimely passing has left a void in the entertainment industry and in the hearts of those who knew and loved him.
It’s true that Perry’s career may not have skyrocketed beyond Friends, but many would say that he was the true star in a group of six incredibly talented actors. It’s easy for someone to play the role of the charming, witty guy who’s always making jokes, but Perry brought something more to the table by giving Chandler both energy and emotional complexity.
While many recognize Matthew Perry for his deadpan delivery, as Perry once said, “that Chandler Bing transformed the way that America spoke,” he was also a brilliant comic with impeccable timing and physical prowess. In a memorable scene, captured in this clip, Perry flawlessly portrays the agony of dating anxiety and the desperate need to use the restroom. It is a testament to his talent that he managed to maintain his composure over 10 seasons and 236 episodes, all while battling a severe addiction.
According to Perry, the survival of his career was largely due to the success of Friends and the unwavering support of his co-stars and real-life friends. He acknowledged that he may not have been able to maintain sobriety if he had pursued a career as a journeyman actor, as the financial gains would not have been worth the sacrifice of his sobriety. Perry expressed gratitude for the opportunities that Friends provided, including the ability to earn a staggering $1 million per week, which motivated him to stay on track with his sobriety and maintain a responsible lifestyle.
Perry’s role in the ensemble was quite challenging, as he had to portray a platonic friendship between two cynical characters and turn it into a heartfelt romance. While Chandler and Monica’s love story was the central focus of Friends, it didn’t rely on any artificial plot devices or strategic “breaks” that were often used in other pairings throughout the series. In both TV and real life, it takes more courage to be vulnerable and consistently offer love than it does to succumb to doubt and play hot-and-cold. Perry’s character demonstrated that a smart or even mean guy could also be the nice one who’s worth marrying.
Despite its age, the relationship between Chandler and Monica in the TV series remains a shining example of a truly equal partnership. Even as a teenager, I was struck by the touching moment when Chandler expressed his affection for Monica, saying: “They can say that you’re high maintenance, but it’s OK, because I like … maintaining you.” As someone who is far from easygoing and navigating their thirties as a single woman, this declaration of love still resonates with me as one of the most desirable I’ve ever witnessed.
It’s no surprise that Perry was adored for his personality. In his own words, he expressed that he had once considered it a burden, but had recently come to terms with Friends being his legacy, stating “If you’re going to be typecast, that’s the way to do it.” However, as news of his passing spread on Sunday morning, one can almost imagine Perry raising a skeptical eyebrow. As he once wrote, “I didn’t stand a fucking chance,” highlighting the overwhelming shock felt by fans worldwide.
During the later seasons of Friends, Perry’s behavior on set was a cause for concern. It was not uncommon for him to be drunk, high or hungover, prompting Jennifer Aniston to express her worry. In fact, there were times when even a “sober companion” couldn’t keep him on track. Perry’s incoherence during a read-through led the entire cast to stage an intervention. Although Perry was not reckless enough to risk 17 drinks on set, he was known to try for 16. It’s worth noting that during the airing of The One With Monica and Chandler’s Wedding in May 2001, Perry was residing in rehab. Aniston’s love and concern for Perry were evident when she stated, “‘We can smell it,’ in a kind of weird but loving way.”
In Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing, Perry’s entertaining celebrity stories and unwavering positivity take a backseat to his raw and honest tale of addiction. The book reads like a memoir in progress, with the author’s colon exploding just three years before its publication and his 14th surgery for drug addiction occurring in January 2022. Perry’s upbeat tone never wavers, even as he candidly admits the toll his addiction has taken on his body. “I may have rock-hard abs now, but they certainly didn’t come from sit-ups,” he quips.
As I read Perry’s account of his experience supporting other addicts, I couldn’t help but notice that he was somewhat vague about his own recent struggles with addiction. It almost felt like a deliberate attempt to downplay his current reality and emphasize that he had overcome his past troubles. However, even Perry couldn’t deny the fact that his greatest achievement was simply staying alive. He often reflected on how rewarding it was to help others in similar situations, and he took pride in being able to offer hope to those in need.
Despite the seemingly serious tone of the book’s concluding chapter, it appears that Perry is speaking from beyond the grave, reminiscing about the faces of his beloved family members as if he has already departed from this world. Despite the book’s emphasis on embracing the future, this final passage takes on a more reflective and introspective tone.
Perry’s death may have come as a surprise to the world, but he had already accepted that his addiction would eventually lead to his demise. In fact, he had written about it in a book that sold over six figures. Perry had revealed that his biggest surprise was not dying sooner due to his addiction.
In his preference for opiates over cocaine, Perry wrote about two kinds of drug addicts – those who seek to go up and those who want to go down. He fell into the latter category and described his desire to melt into his couch and feel euphoric. One can only hope that he has found a sense of joy and contentment that rivals the happiness he experienced on that fateful morning in the red Mustang.
If you’re based in the US, you can reach out to SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 988 via call or text. For those in the UK, Action on Addiction can be contacted at 0300 330 0659. Meanwhile, those in Australia can seek assistance from the Opioid Treatment Line at 1800 642 428 or the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline at 1800 250 015.