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29 October 2023

Life of Friends star Matthew Perry was a tale of two halves

29 October 2023

Matthew Perry was the star of era-defining sitcom Friends, but behind the scenes his life was dogged with addiction.

The US actor was one of the best-known and best-paid television stars during the decade from 1994 when Friends first aired, following the lives of a group of six friends in their 20s living in New York.

Perry perfected comic timing and never failed to land a punchline in his role as Chandler Bing, earning him an Emmy nomination in 2002 and helping to create one of the most popular TV shows of all time.

However, he secretly battled substance abuse for decades.

Massachusetts-born Perry grew up in Canada where he attended school with Justin Trudeau – who is now the country’s prime minister.

After moving to LA, Perry starred as Chazz Russell in Boys Will Be Boys and also had roles in shows including sitcom Growing Pains before becoming a global superstar as Chandler.

“This was the only guy to play him,” creator of Friends Marta Kauffman said in the 2021 reunion special.

Perry was a natural fit for the role of Chandler, beloved for his sarcastic one-liners, and many of his mannerisms grew from the actor’s own behaviour.

He said in his memoir: “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.”

However, it was when he was first cast in Friends aged 24 that his alcohol addiction began to surface. By the end of the 10th series of the hit show, he became “entrenched in a lot of trouble”, Perry revealed years later.

He said in a 2016 interview that he did not remember filming three seasons of the show because he was a “little out of it at the time”.

At one point during his time on Friends, Perry said he was taking 55 Vicodin painkillers a day and was down to 128lb – just over 9st – in weight.

Alongside co-stars Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow and David Schwimmer, Perry became one of Hollywood’s most recognisable faces, reportedly earning 1 million US dollars per episode at the height of the show’s fame.

He joined his former co-stars for the highly awaited Friends reunion special in May 2021.

Despite hiding his addiction from public view for years, Perry detailed his struggles in his 2022 memoir, Friends, Lovers And The Big Terrible Thing.

In the opening, he wrote: “Hi, my name is Matthew, although you may know me by another name. My friends call me Matty. And I should be dead.”

Following 15 stints in rehab and therapy sessions, Perry described himself as “pretty healthy” in June 2022 and said he was motivated to help others struggling with addiction.

One of his major storylines in Friends was his initially secret romance between his character and Monica Geller (Cox), which evolved into marriage and the couple adopting twins.

Perry also starred in several films including 17 Again starring Zac Efron, Fools Rush In with Salma Hayek, and Getting In with comedian Dave Chapelle.

He featured in The Whole Nine Yards, and The Kid with Bruce Willis – who was a guest star in the sixth series of Friends.

Meanwhile his TV work included short-lived Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip and two Emmy nominations for his role as Joe Quincy in The West Wing – both from creator Aaron Sorkin.

In 2007, Perry also received an Emmy nomination for his role as Ron Clark in The Ron Clark Story about a restless but gifted young teacher.

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