The late Matthew Perry was isolated, alone and fighting opioid addiction

Matthew Perry became an activist for people who were addicted to drugs and alcohol, offering them help whenever he could while struggling to maintain his own sobriety. He died at the age of 54 in his home in Los Angeles (LA), California on Saturday.

The actor, whose most popular role was the sarcastic Chandler Bing on the American television series Friends in the 1990s to early 2000s was going through difficult times with his mental health. The sitcom became a pop culture phenomenon all over the world, but Perry said he didn’t want to be remembered for Friends, that he would prefer to be remembered for another role he played in people’s lives – that of advocate for those experiencing setbacks with their mental health. 

Mira Sorvino, an Academy Award and Golden Globe-winning actress and anti-human trafficking advocate known for many roles including Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion with Friends star Lisa Kudrow, posted Perry’s words on her X page on social media, “as the way we remember him. There will never be another like him – he lit up so many hearts in so many ways. Godspeed to Paradise!”

The note said: “I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my life. I’m still working through it personally, but 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! So, I do that, whenever I can. In groups, or one on one.”

The actor created Perry House in Malibu, a sober-living facility for men. He wrote the play The End of Longing, which he said was his “personal message to the world, an exaggerated form of me as a drunk” — because he had something important to say to people like himself, and to people who love people like him.

“When I die, I know people will talk about FriendsFriendsFriends. And I’m glad of that, happy I’ve done some solid work as an actor, as well as given people multiple chances to make fun of my struggles on the world wide web. But when I die, as far as my so-called accomplishments go, it would be nice if Friends were listed far behind the things I did to try to help other people. I know it won’t happen, but it would be nice.”

Rescuers reported that Perry drowned (TMZ) and that he was found in his hot tub when emergency responders arrived after a call for help from his assistant.

Perry was born in Montreal, Quebec and lived in Ottawa, Ontario with his journalist mom before moving to LA at age 15 to live with his actor dad. He was a top-ranked tennis player, 17th in singles and third in doubles on the junior national circuit in Canada.

He achieved fame through the Friends series, as well as other popular TV shows such as the memorable Second Chance (1987-88), about getting a second chance to change things after death. Perry appeared in 21 episodes of the show in the early days of his career. 

He later co-starred with the late Chris Farley in the comedic film Almost Heroes (1998) and in the romantic comedy Three to Tango (1999) opposite Canadian actress Neve Campbell; in The Whole Nine Yards (2000) with Bruce Willis, Fools Rush In (1997) with Salma Hayek, Aren’t You Even Going to Kiss Me Goodbye (1988), She’s Out of Control (1989), and Parallel Lives (1994) but most people still say his role in the Friends series from 1994-2004 eclipsed them all for his ability to make them laugh.

Could he BE any funnier? Even the Canadian prime minister, who Perry said he once had a physical altercation with, thought so.

All lead cast members came together in 2021 for Friends: The Reunion show. Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, and David Schwimmer were present, along with favourite characters including Maggie Wheeler, who played Janice Litman-Goralnik. Outside of that Max (formerly HBO Max) production, the six friends hadn’t been together in one room since 2004, when the comedy series ended, except for once at a dinner party at Courteney Cox’s house in Oct. 2019 (IMDb).

Fans noticed that he seemed removed and quiet on the Friends reunion set. Some thought he was slurring his words. When viewers showed concern about his appearance, “representatives for Matthew Perry clarified that he had an emergency dental surgery prior to filming,” IMDb.

Quote from the reunion show (IMDb):
James Corden: How much do you stay in touch?
Lisa Kudrow: Yeah, no, we stay in touch for sure. Maybe not every day.
James Corden: Sure.
Lisa Kudrow: But, you know, we have such a bond from having done this show and forged this very tight relationship that, you know, any time you text or call someone, they’re going to pick up. They’ll be there.
James Corden: Matthew, who doesn’t pick up?
Matthew Perry: I don’t hear from anyone.

Perry was very open about his addiction to drugs and alcohol after he, seemingly, became more self-aware. In an interview with journalist, and former ABC World News Tonight anchor Diane Sawyer, he confirmed that he was experiencing drug-related illnesses while playing the role of Chandler Bing on Friends. He became emotional watching himself in an episode of the show.

“It’s very hard to watch that,” Perry said, of a scene of himself in character making a joke about the size of Monica’s brimmed hat. “I feel so sorry for that guy.” He was “out of control.” A slim figure in a white billowy dress shirt who weighed in at 155 pounds, “on my way to 128 pounds,” was on the TV screen. He said his younger self didn’t know what was happening to him.

“I feel too sorry for that guy. He’s going through too much. And it’s me. And I remember that. And I didn’t understand what was going on. But again, I’m sorry, I am so grateful,” to not have to be that anymore. “It’s hard to watch.”

Perry seemed to want to talk about his illness, about how his mental and physical health declined as his addictions took hold. “Secrets kill you,” said Perry. “Secrets kill people like me.” 

Sawyer read aloud, the first line of his 2022 memoir Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing: “Hi, my name is Matthew. Although you may know me by another name, my friends call me Maddy, and I should be dead.” 

He told Sawyer that he “escaped death really narrowly on Friends,” likely due to the long-term physical effects of drug abuse, which landed him on the operating table. There was undoubtedly a mental counterpart to the physical side-effects. Behind the scenes his friends tried to help, particularly Jennifer Aniston, who reached out to him. “She says, ‘We know you’re drinking,’” said Perry.

At one point in the interview Sawyer said to Perry, “You’re on methadone, Xanax, a full quart of vodka a day?” Perry replies “mm-hmm … 55 Vicodin [pills] a day.” (This was edited for television and could have been taken out context in the clip.) He told Sawyer about some of the low points in his life. “I was in a dark room meeting with nothing but drug dealers and completely alone,” he said.

Perry kept trying to improve his condition and even revealed his secret. A (TMZ) reporter said that he went to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings 6,000 times and to rehab 15 times. 

His ex-fiancé, Molly Hurwitz said, “No one in my adult life has had a more profound impact on me than Matthew Langford Perry. I have tremendous gratitude for that, for everything I learned from our relationship.”

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Al Anon, an invaluable resource for those who love someone struggling with this destructive disease.”

The two ended their relationship over two years ago. Hurwitz painted another side of the actor joking about his character. “As the Friends reunion was approaching, we rewatched the show together. ‘F*ck, I was so good!!!…See what I did there???’ We rewound and studied scenes. Our respect and appreciation of humor is something that connected us. Being with him as he rediscovered his brilliance was magical.”

by Cherryl Bird – Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Twitter @ladycbird | Instagram @cherrylbird

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