The tragic life of Matthew Perry, the beloved actor who made sarcasm fashionable as Chandler Bing in ‘Friends’

Matthew was born in Massachusetts in 1969 and raised in Ottawa, Canada, where he attended elementary school with Justin Trudeau
In frame: Matthew Perry
In frame: Matthew Perry

In a heartbreaking turn of events, Matthew Perry, renowned for his portrayal of Chandler Bing on the beloved sitcom Friends, has passed away at the age of 54. His untimely demise has left fans worldwide in deep sorrow. Perry was discovered dead in his Los Angeles residence on Saturday, with preliminary investigations suggesting he passed away from drowning in a hot tub. Law enforcement has ruled out foul play in the tragedy.

Matthew was born in Massachusetts in 1969 and raised in Ottawa, Canada, where he attended elementary school with Justin Trudeau, who later became the Prime Minister of Canada. As a teenager, Perry relocated to Los Angeles, where he embarked on an acting career. In the late 1980s, he played Chazz Russell in Boys Will Be Boys and starred alongside Christina Applegate in the teen movie Dance 'Til Dawn. It was his portrayal of Chandler in Friends that catapulted him to international stardom. Chandler, known for his quick-witted, sarcastic one-liners, earned Perry a Primetime Emmy nomination in 2002.

In the early 1990s, Perry was already a recognised face in the world of television when Marta Kauffman and David Crane approached him to take on the role of Chandler in Friends. Remarkably, Perry was the only actor not required to audition for the part, and at the age of 24, he became the youngest to join the cast as the sarcastic and insecure Chandler.

Friends is an iconic show that catapulted all six of its lead actors, including Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, David Schwimmer, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, and Perry, to overnight stardom in the realm of television. Their popularity transcended borders, making them beloved figures around the globe. The series enjoyed a successful 10-season run, and when it concluded in 2004, it left an indelible mark on fans, leading to a wave of collective sadness as viewers bid a tearful farewell to their cherished friends on the small screen.

Friends captured the audience's imagination like few shows ever have. The six actors breathed life into their characters, and Perry, in particular, portrayed Chandler with such finesse that it appeared an extension of his true self. Striking similarities existed between Perry and his character, both being known for their witty humour and sarcastic repartees. In a reflection of his character's origins, Perry came from a broken home and struggled with years of mental health issues.

In his 2022 memoir, titled Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing: A Memoir, Perry candidly acknowledged that, despite earning immense popularity for Friends, he couldn't bring himself to watch the hit sitcom. Watching the show served as a stark reminder of the challenging times he endured due to his battle with addiction. 

Perry expressed, “I didn’t watch the show, and haven’t watched the show because I could go, drinking, opiates, drinking, cocaine.” He continued, “I could tell season by season by how I looked. That’s why I don’t wanna watch it because that’s what I see.”

Perry's struggles with addiction were an ongoing battle. His addiction to Vicodin began following a jet-ski accident in 1997, leading him to complete a 28-day rehab program that same year. Viewers of Friends may recall his fluctuating weight during the show's run, with many attributing these changes to Perry's hard-partying lifestyle, which ultimately fuelled his addiction.

His weight dropped to a mere 145 pounds (66 kg) due to pancreatitis in his later years. He sought rehabilitation once again in February 2001 for addiction to Vicodin, methadone, amphetamines, and alcohol. Perry later estimated he had spent a staggering USD 9 million on his journey to sobriety. His addiction had a profound impact on his life, to the extent that he couldn't recall three years of his time on Friends, spanning from seasons three to six.

Perry's struggle with addiction wasn't his only challenge. Despite the immense fame he garnered from Friends, he experienced loneliness. He reminisced about that period, stating, “I was in the white-hot flame of fame. The six of us were just everywhere all the time. From an outsider's perspective, it would seem like I had it all. It was actually a very lonely time for me because I was suffering from alcoholism. It was going on before 'Friends,' but it's a progressive disease. I wasn't a massive party guy. I wasn't a bull-in-a-china-shop kind of drinker.”

Despite his visits to rehab in 1997 and 2001, Perry continued to have a thriving acting career. Friends was in production and at its zenith in terms of popularity, and Perry also appeared in several feature films. In between his two trips to rehab, he was hospitalised for two weeks with acute pancreatitis, resulting in a weight loss of 20 pounds. This condition is attributed to both alcohol and prescription drug abuse.

Perry's commitment to sobriety was unwavering, but it didn't come without challenges. He once drove his Porsche into an empty house after being released from the hospital, although he wasn't under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Perry remarked on the incident, saying he swerved to avoid a courier van and crashed into a porch.

In a continued effort to help others struggling with addiction, Perry opened his Malibu home as a rehab facility. However, financial difficulties led to the sale of the property. Perry was candid about his battle with addiction. In 2013, he media, “I couldn't stop. Eventually, things got so bad that I couldn't hide it, and then everybody knew.” Remarkably, he stated that he was never under the influence of drugs or alcohol while working on 'Friends.' He emphasized, “I was never high at work," and "I was painfully hungover.”

Perry's addiction also took a toll on his personal life. He was in relationships with Yasmine Bleeth in 1995, Julia Roberts from 1995 to 1996, and Lizzy Caplan from 2006 to 2012. In November 2020, Perry became engaged to literary manager Molly Hurwitz, but their engagement ended in 2021. Although the reasons for his breakups were not openly discussed, speculation suggests that addiction played a role in each case.

Following the conclusion of Friends, Perry's career never reached the same heights he had once experienced during the show. While he took on roles in series like Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and The Odd Couple, and films such as The Triumph (earning Golden Globes and Emmy nominations), Birds of America, and 17 Again, none of these roles matched the stardom of Friends.

When the much-anticipated Friends reunion occurred in 2021, Perry appeared visibly different from the exuberant and charming Chandler he had portrayed years earlier. Due to an emergency dental surgery a few days before the filming, he struggled to speak coherently and seemed more contemplative compared to his co-stars. During the reunion, he also shared that he had battled depression during the filming of the hit sitcom, a revelation unknown to many of his co-actors.

In his memoir, Matthew revealed that while the rest of the cast was ‘sobbing’ at the conclusion of 'Friends' in 2004, he felt ‘numb’ and ‘nothing.’ The irony was undeniable—this man, who had made millions fall in love with his character, made sarcasm fashionable and evoked laughter with his one-liners, was a lonely soul grappling with numerous demons throughout his life.

Matthew’s untimely passing is a poignant reminder that behind the smiles and laughter he shared with the world on television, he grappled with significant challenges in his personal life. His enduring legacy as Chandler will forever hold a special place in the hearts of fans worldwide.

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