When the world thought they were getting a novel about the beloved television character Chandler Bing, Matthew Perry delivered something else entirely. An honest, open account of arguably one of the most famous actors in prime-time television and the brutal battle he fought with addiction.
His perseverance and desire to make people laugh kept him alive for ten exponentially successful seasons of Friends and fifty-four years. Sadly, as he alluded to in the prologue of his 2022 novel Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, he was gone too soon. Matthew Perry died on October 28th, 2023, sober.
I was in utter disbelief. Tears welled in my eyes as I thought about how vital Friends was to my childhood and my relationship with my sister. We still recite episodes to one another, send memes or jokes, and watch our favorite episodes when we are together, like a comfort blanket. I downloaded Perry’s memoir as an audiobook. I was putty in his hands once I heard his voice fill my ears and heart. One line early in the memoir sent chills down my spine.
“It is very odd to live in a world where if you died, it would shock people but surprise no one.”(18)
Perry honestly opened up to the public about the demons he had fought since his first drink at 14 years old. He tells the story of drinking with his childhood friends, the Murray brothers. Perry says he knew his relationship with alcohol was different than theirs; they were puking and felt sick. But Perry said, “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.”(60) Though he wondered what this feeling was, he didn’t realize that once addiction invaded him, it would consume his entire life.
Early in his memoir, Perry admits he wanted to get famous. He says everyone did “[he] figured being famous would fill the great hole that was endlessly growing inside of [him].”(60) He interrupts himself with an interlude to confess that fame ultimately doesn’t lead to a good life.
When Perry woke up in the hospital with his mother standing over him after his colon had burst, he said he didn’t want to know what had happened yet. He wasn’t ready. But ultimately, he admits “[his] greatest fear has come true, which is that [he] did this to [himself.]”
Perry was often scared of being left alone with himself. He would joke in his Chandler-like sense of humor, but in his memoir, he says, “Let’s not sugarcoat it. At forty-nine, I was still afraid to be alone. Left alone, my crazy brain (crazy only in this area, by the way) would find some excuse to do the unthinkable: drink and drugs. In the face of decades of my life having been ruined by doing this, I’m terrified of doing it again.”(10)
One of the most impactful aspects of the audiobook was hearing Matthew Perry’s voice, just after he had passed, detailing the events of his experiences. In an interview after the initial release of the memoir, he told Tom Power that the most challenging part of the entire process wasn’t writing the book but “reading it out loud for the audiobook [he] thought to [himself], wow, this guy has been through a ton of shit.” He felt sorry for the character he wrote about and had what he described as “an out-of-body experience reading it all aloud.”
His book is full of gruesome, painful revelations and dysfunctions. He talks about the open houses he attended where we would rummage through unsuspecting homeowners’ medicine cabinets and take just enough pills to go unnoticed. He talked about the series of calculations he would have to do in his head when he was addicted to Vikiton, taking 55 pills a day. He would count how many he needed in order to go home so he’d know if he had to get more. He even tells the worst story, the day he “took a bite into a piece of toast with peanut butter smeared on it, and all [his] top teeth fell out. Yes, all of them.”(212)
The overpowering theme encompassing all the sentiments and stories that surfaced after Perry’s death emphasized his passion for helping others. Perry writes, “The best thing about me, bar none, is that if a fellow alcoholic comes up to me and asks me if I can help them stop drinking, I can say yes and actually follow up and do it. I can help a desperate man get sober.” From an early age, he was a performer. He was usually the funniest guy in the room, and after his celebrity parents’ divorce, his loneliness festered as a need always to break the tension.
Perry does not retell his struggle for sympathy or even to make people laugh. He wrote this book because he genuinely believes his purpose in life is to help people. After his first few visits and millions of dollars spent attending different rehab and recovery centers, Matthew became so educated on the life of an alcoholic that he could practically recite the Big Book of Alcoholics from memory. He recalls the moment he picked up that book, describing it almost like a lightbulb going on in his head. “Reading [it] was both wonderful and horrible. It meant I wasn’t alone—there were others who thought like me —but it also meant I was an alcoholic and would have to quit drinking one day at a time for the rest of my life.”(62)
After accepting the nature of the illness and forming a relationship with his sponsor and friend Earl, Perry started new companies to help others. He writes, “I invested $500,000 in the company and turned my house in Malibu into a sober living place called Perry House.” He was successful in his mentorships and strived every day to make the work lighter on others, but he was never one to put himself first, especially during his time as Chandler Bing on the beloved television show Friends.
Shortly before he died, Perry said he didn’t just want to be remembered for his time on the show. In his interview with Tom Power and the Q, he said, “I would like to be remembered as somebody who lived well, loved well, was a seeker. And to help others.” Of course, Matthew Perry will always be remembered for his kindness, perseverance, and passion. But he will also always be Chandler Bing.
In his memoir, Perry writes about being the final member cast for the show that would change television. First piloted with the title “Friends Like Us,” this new sitcom was days away from the first day of production in 1994 and still had not cast Chandler. At the time, Perry was signed with another show about a futuristic airport security group that would never see the light of day. Finally, he got his hands on “Friends Like Us,” the new show everyone in Hollywood auditioned for.
The first time he read the script, he said, “When I read the script for Friends Like Us, it was as if someone had followed me around for a year, stealing my jokes, copying my mannerisms, photocopying my world-weary yet witty view of life. One character in particular stood out to me: it wasn’t that I thought I could play “Chandler,” I was Chandler.”(73) He knew he needed to be released from the other show and had to do it fast.
In the Friends Reunion special released in 2021, Marta Kaufman, Co-writer and producer of the series, talks about the life Perry brought to the character. Lines that weren’t even intended to make the audience laugh would outset applause on Thursday tape nights. This sensational series’ rise to fame changed weekly television. This was the first show that did not follow just one lead role but focused on a group of friends in their twenties. In the Recent Friends Reunion episode, Marta Kaufman says, “It’s supposed to be that time in your life when your friends are your family.” In the days of cable television, friends had ratings like they hadn’t seen before. Their weekly live filming was always perfect. Matthew Perry says, “They never messed up on Thursday nights; if they did, they only added embellishments for laughs.”
Throughout the memoir, Perry talks about how debilitating his struggles were and how his will to live was bordering on non-existent some days. But he was never alone. When he talks about the coma his body was in for two weeks after his colon burst, he says, “As it was, I was never alone in that room once. That was God’s love, in human form, made flesh.” It was his relationships with other people that healed him. It was the opportunity to be a sponsor that kept him sober. The series of girlfriends he believed were just too good for him ultimately beat down the self-confidence that television and unbelievable fame provided him with.
Gone way too soon, we were lucky to have Matthew Perry as a comedian, role model, and friend to so many people. His life will always be remembered by many generations of fans and celebrities who cherished their time with him. Perry had something special about him; he came alive on each television set, making his fans genuinely believe they knew what it was like to spend an afternoon in his comfortable leather barcalounger chairs.
Perry courageously fought The Big Terrible Thing most of his life, but he put his blood, sweat, and tears into his work. Rest in peace, Chandler Bing, my favorite sitcom character of all time. Could you BE any more missed?
Zoe Gellert is a freshman Staff Writer from Westchester, NY. She is majoring in psychology with an intended SLAM minor. You can almost always find her on the front porch, writing or hanging out outside. She also loves to play with her dogs, experience the city of New Orleans, go out with friends, and watch good documentaries.