Matthew Perry Didn’t Want to Be Remembered for Only ‘Friends’ – His Battle With Addiction Reminds Us the Path to Recovery Is Never a Straight Line
Matthew Perry didn’t want to be remembered only as Chandler Bing, but for one important reason.
On Oct. 28th, 2023 — Matthew Perry, 54, was found unresponsive in his home in the Pacific Palisades, it was reported he sent his assistant out on an errand, and when she returned she discovered Perry face down in his hot tub. Though it is reported, there were no drugs were found on scene and there was no indication of foul play. The actor, known for his role as funny man Chandler Bing on Friends, was vocal in the media about his long battle with addiction.
Sometimes there’s a common misconception that addiction is a choice. That someone who struggles with alcoholism or relapses isn’t “working hard enough” or doesn’t “want it bad enough”. In the case of Matthew Perry, who spent over $9 Million dollars of his Friends’ fortune in-and-out of recovery, trying to be well, these judgements beg the question, “well then what does working hard enough look like”?
It doesn’t look the same for everyone. To steal a phrase from the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) recovery isn’t a line you cross, it’s a journey you take, and it looks different for everyone.
In his memoir Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing (2022), Perry didn’t just pull back the curtain on his high-profile romances and his anticipated behind-the-scenes stories from his time on Friends— he also explored his battle with addiction, or as he calls it in his title, “the big terrible thing”. That is, in a nutshell, addiction. The big terrible thing that lords over the addict’s life like an unforgiving God…it’s hard to imagine someone would choose that pain.
His Father Abandoned Him As A Baby To Become An Actor
In a heartbreaking scene from his childhood, Perry discloses in his memoir his troubled and confusing relationship with his father from jump. Before his cognitive brain had even fully developed, the young Matthew Perry was abandoned by his father, John Bennett Perry, 82, who had dreams of leaving Ottawa, Ontario in favour of Los Angeles, California in pursuit of ironically—becoming a famous actor.
John Bennett Perry would snag a few roles along the way, with his most recognizable role being in the Old Spice commercials throughout the 80’s. Little did he know of course, the son he was leaving behind in the rearview mirror like a distant memory, 2 decades later would be impossible to ignore. Along with his Friends‘ co-stars—who all infamously banded together to be ensured they received equal contracts— Perry would become one of six, of the first-ever TV actors to earn a $1 Million per episode pay cheque. Of course, at 1 year old, the young Matthew Perry didn’t know any of this. He only knew his father left and never came back.
“I’m told, my father took me out of my car seat, handed me into my grandfather’s arms, and, with that, he quietly abandoned me and my mother. Then, Mom finally got out of our car, too, and me, my mom, and my grandfather stood listening to the waters hurtle over the Falls and roar into the Niagara Gorge and watched as my father sped away, forever,” Perry said of the moment his dad abandoned his family. “My father sped away, to God knows where. He didn’t come back from work that first day, nor the second. I was hoping he’d be home after three days, then maybe a week, then maybe a month, but after about six weeks I stopped hoping. I was too young to understand where California was, or what it meant to ‘go follow his dream of being an actor’ — what the f–k is an actor? And where the f–k is my dad?”Matthew Perry , On being abandoned by his father
While Perry goes on to say “later in life” his dad became “a wonderful father”—the adult Matthew Perry understood the ramifications of his father’s decision to leave him and his mother to fend for themselves, while he was still a baby. Perry also agrees that his father’s dreams of becoming an actor, probably influenced his decision to pursue to same career path. One can imagine Perry secretly believed being noticed by the world, would heal the inner child wound he had of not being noticed by his father.
Still, Matthew Perry grew up in more of less idyllic circumstances. His mother, Suzanne Perry, 84, was the press secretary of then-Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau—Perry even spilled in his memoir, he grew up alongside Pierre Trudeau’s son; the 23rd Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. On a Jimmy Kimmel appearance in 2017, Perry disclosed a funny and memorable story of the time he “beat up” Canada’s most annoying Prime Minister, as a kid (all of Conservative Canada cheered at this news).
Despite playing a LaZ-Boy loving 20-something on TV, in his youth Perry was quite the athlete. He was a tennis prodigy and at one point in his Tennis career ranked as No. 14 in Canada. This career however, was short lived.
When he was 15, Perry moved from his mother’s home in Canada to live with his father, Perry Sr., in Los Angeles. His father, he alleged, was also an alcoholic, and while living with him he got to a point where he was drinking six vodka tonics every night, something he called “the best part of my day.”
Matthew Perry Had His First Drink At The Age of 14
It’s widely believed in the recovery community that circumstances don’t define your addiction. That the addict will always find an ailment or success to drink about. New job promotion? Drink to that. Wife left you? Drink over that. Nothing special happened? Drink about that. And the list goes on and on. It’s impossible to say what makes an alcoholic. If it is nature or nurture or a cocktail of the two. Whatever the case, there’s one principal in recovery that is widely agreed on, once the invisible line has been crossed, there is no going back.
Matthew Perry recounts his first experience drinking alcohol at the tender of age of 14, and his recollection is a picture perfect example of the phenomenon of alcoholism. The relief, the weight off his shoulders, the “peace” the substance provided him is the unanimous early experience for the alcoholic. Chasing that high, searching for peace in the bottom of every bottle is a great shadow the powerful drug cast over Perry’s life.
“I was lying back in the grass and the mud, looking at the moon, surrounded by fresh puke, and… nothing bothered me. The world made sense; it wasn’t bent and crazy. I was complete, at peace. I had never been happier than in that moment. This is the answer, I thought; this is what I’ve been missing. This must be how normal people feel all the time. I don’t have any problems. It is all gone. I don’t need attention. I am taken care of, I am fine.”Matthew Perry, On his first drinking experience
Fame Should Have Made The Problem Better…Right? So, Why Did It Only Make It Worse?
“You can track the trajectory of my addiction if you gauge my weight from season to season — when I’m carrying weight, it’s alcohol; when I’m skinny, it’s pills. When I have a goatee, it’s lots of pills.”Matthew Perry
Even though to an outsider, it would seem like Matthew Perry was getting everything he ever wanted, only as the famous saying goes, “addiction doesn’t discriminate”. It doesn’t care about your class or social standing, it’s “an equal-opportunity destroyer”.
“By the end of season three, I was spending most of my time figuring out how to get 55 Vicodin a day — I had to have 55 every day, otherwise I’d get so sick,” he added, also revealing that he had detoxed 65 times in his life.
Matthew also recalled his Friends costar Jennifer Aniston once confronting him behind the scenes over his drinking. “Imagine how scary a moment that was,” he told Diane Sawyer at the time. “[Jen] was the one that reached out the most. I’m really grateful to her for that.”
Even with unlimited resources to have the best medical care, and psychological attention paid, Perry still struggled with addiction throughout his life.
In 2018, Perry shockingly ended up on life support and spent two weeks in a coma after his colon exploded because of his rampant and dangerous drug use. Matthew needed to have more than a dozen stomach surgeries and used a colostomy bag for nine months.
Following his recovery, Perry told People magazine that looking down at the scars from his surgeries served as a reminder to stay sober. In his memoir, he touches on the same subject that in the wake of his death, serves as a poignant reminder.
Looking Back at Landing the Role of A Lifetime
When the script for a buzzed-about new show called Friends Like Us came his way, Perry is instantly struck by the “world-weary yet witty view of life” of one character in particular. He was certain this role was made for him and it was clear Friends Showrunners, Marta Kauffman, 67, and David Crane, 66, felt the same way.
Perry beat out hundreds of other contenders for the role. When he landed the coveted role of Chandler Bing on Friends, Matthew Perry and his 5 co-stars (Courtney Cox, Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, and Matt LeBlanc) became overnight sensations.
Over it’s 10 season run, Friends earned 62 Primetime Emmy Awards, and to this day is celebrated no. 21 on TV Guide’s “The 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time”. The show’s characters influenced popular culture and it was even proven in a study conducted byThe University of Toronto, that Chandler’s widely popularized sarcastic inflection, definitively changed the way Americans spoke.
Even though it would seem, being on one of the most beloved TV show’s of all time and sporting one of the most recognizable (and sweetest) faces in the world, Matthew Perry would have finally felt worthy of the love and acceptance he longed for as a young boy, his memoir would suggest otherwise. In his book, Perry discloses several “crushes” he harboured on fellow A-List celebrities who were totally not out of his league…but it’s clear Perry didn’t see it that way.
Perry shared how his unrequited, long-withstanding crush on Jennifer Aniston was initially devastating. Perry famously asked Aniston out, 3 years before filming they were slated as co-stars on the show. In the beginning of filming Friends, seeing his crush everyday who turns out had eyes for David Schwimmer?!—in the reunion special it was revealed the Ross and Rachel love story wasn’t just acting!—was challenging if not painful for Perry.
“At first it was like, she would walk in, I’d be like, ‘Hey, good to see you.’ And I’d go to my dressing room and just go, ‘Oh, I’ll never, I’ll never be able to be with her,’” he recalled. “But how can you not have a crush on Jennifer Aniston, you know? But I did at one point just go, ‘All right, that’s enough.’”Matthew Perry, On crushing on his co-star
In His Search For Love, Self Sabotage Proved To Be The Romantic’s Ultimate Enemy
Listening to Perry recount his series of “crushes” unrequited or otherwise—most notably with Julia Roberts, it is clear Perry’s low-self esteem was the ultimate form of self-sabotage. Perry’s utter “lack mentality” or “scarcity mindset” is deafening and it is clear his perception that he was less than these women he perceived as out of his league cast a dark shadow over his romantic life. In the case of the beautiful and timeless Julia Roberts, with whom Matthew Perry had a brief relationship with — his self sabotage was so clear, even Perry himself remarked on it.
“I had been constantly certain that she was going to break up with me. Why would she not? I was not enough; I could never be enough; I was broken, bent, unlovable,” Perry writes in his memoir. “So instead of facing the inevitable agony of losing her, I broke up with the beautiful and brilliant Julia Roberts.”
He adds, “She might have considered herself slumming it with a TV guy, and TV guy was now breaking up with her. I can’t begin to describe the look of confusion on her face.”
In the face of rejecting love or being rejected by love, there was a tried-and-true solution that had always been there. The ultimate numbing agent that could make it all go away. To the cruel mistress, Perry returned.
After The Friends Season Finale, Matthew Perry Felt “Emotionally Numb”
After Friends, Perry’s career failed to reach the same heights he had enjoyed during his time on the show. Despite his involvement in projects such as Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, The Odd Couple, and films like 17 Again, none of these roles brought him the level of fame and notoriety he had experienced on Friends.
During HBO’s highly anticipated Friends reunion (2021) fans couldn’t help but noticed Matthew Perry appeared notably different from the exuberant and charming Chandler he had portrayed on-screen years earlier. While Perry did note he had undergone an emergency dental surgery just a days prior to the reunion’s filming—some fans didn’t feel they were getting the full story. Perry struggled to articulate his thoughts coherently and appeared more contemplative (if not dejected) than his fellow cast members. To his co-stars surprise, Perry took the opportunity to open up about his battle with depression during the filming of the beloved sitcom—a revelation that many of his co-stars were unaware of until the reunion.
Still, Matthew Perry viewed his express purpose on this planet as one with meaning, he was still decoding before he passed
“Now, all these years later, I’m certain that I got famous so I would not waste my entire life trying to get famous. You have to get famous to know that it’s not the answer. And nobody who is not famous will ever truly believe that.Matthew Perry, On what “fame” really means
In this day and age, we are all so caught up with chasing the dragon, whatever our own version of that may be. In fact, for so many of us in the modern world, it is fame. It would be wise to heed the warning of someone who has been there and back again that this pursuit is an empty one.
Meaning comes from not what we get, but what we give away. In his later life, this was a lesson Perry learned well and leaned into the fullest.
Opening A Sober Living Home and Helping Others
The best thing about me is that if an alcoholic or drug addict comes up to me and says ‘Will you help me?’ I will always say ‘Yes, I know how to do that. I will do that for you, even if I can’t always do it for myself.’Matthew Perry, On “giving freely what he was given”.
In 20xx, Perry teamed up with addiction specialist Earl Hightower to transform Perry’s former home in Malibu, California into a sober living residence for men. The Perry House is a transitional space, helping recovering addicts ease back in to their regular lives. Sadly, Perry sold the treatment facility in 2015, citing unmanageable overhead costs as he was looking to relocate the business to a more affordable and accessible location.
Remembering Matthew Perry’s Legacy
In the aftermath of his passing, his memoir, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing has once again risen to the top of the bestseller charts, marking the second time this has occurred, the first being upon its initial release. Perry’s legacy serves as a poignant reminder of the significance of demonstrating love, kindness, and patience to individuals while they are still with us.
If you are battling addiction or you are in a relationship with someone who battles addiction, there is help. There are rooms you can go to and resources available to find community and share your story. You’re not alone. There are friends who’ll be there for you.
“And have you ever stood on the water’s edge and tried to stop the wave? It goes on regardless of what we do, regardless of how hard we try. The ocean reminds us that we are powerless in comparison.” – Matthew Perry, 1969-2023.
May he rest in peace.
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