Merry Christmas Eve, y’all. I know it may seem strange to be writing about addiction when I could be writing about the holidays, but I’ve just finished reading Matthew Perry’s book, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing: A Memoir, and I want to express my opinions about it before I forget the details. Perry, who is probably most famous for playing Chandler Bing on the 90s era sitcom, Friends, has led quite an astonishing life in his 53 years. Although I don’t remember watching many things with Perry as an actor, let alone “the star”, I was intrigued by all the hullabaloo about his life story, which was released on November 1, 2022. So I downloaded it five days after its release date, although I didn’t get around to reading it until this month. Overall, I thought it was a pretty interesting story. I can see why there was a lot of “buzz” (see what I did there) about it.
I really should have known more about Matthew Perry than I did before I read his book. Wikipedia tells me that I did once see Perry act, back in the day. He had a guest role on the show, Growing Pains, which was one of shows I watched regularly when I was a teenager. He played Carol Seaver’s (Tracey Gold) boyfriend, Sandy, who died in a car accident after driving drunk. I remember thinking he was way too cute for Carol, but in weird way, life imitated art for Matthew Perry. Drugs and alcohol have almost killed him on multiple occasions. He’s made many millions of dollars, and he’s pissed away millions on drugs, booze, and rehab, as well as bad business decisions and bad movies, caused by his addictions.
Growing Pains was just the beginning for Matthew Perry, both in terms of his acting career, and the subject matter of that particular episode. I was never a Friends fan, although I loved watching ER, which came on after Friends. Perry is probably most famous for playing Chandler on Friends, but he reveals in his book that he almost didn’t get the part, because he was committed to another, rather bizarre sounding show, that thankfully never took off.
Originally, the part of Chandler Bing had been offered to actor, Craig Bierko, who was one of Perry’s best friends. But Bierko passed on the part, opting for another show that also didn’t take off. Fate intervened, and Perry was soon making $1 million an episode, along with fellow friends: Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, David Schwimmer, Matt LeBlanc, and Lisa Kudrow. During this heady time, Perry also had a lot of girlfriends, including Julia Roberts, who was a huge movie star at the time, and was even once a guest star on Friends. You’d think he’d be on top of the world, and in many ways, he really was. But he’s also addicted to drugs— especially opiates— and alcohol.
Matthew Perry explains that he was born on August 19, 1969 in Williamstown, Massachusetts. His Canadian mother, journalist Suzanne Marie Morrison (nee Langford), had married Perry’s father, American actor, folk singer, and former model, John Bennett Perry. Perry calls his parents the “best looking” people in the world, but that wasn’t enough to save their marriage, which ended before Perry’s first birthday. In his book, Perry writes about driving to the U.S. border with his parents and his father leaving, never to return to the home. When he was a very young child, his mother would repeatedly send him, alone, from their home in Ottawa to Los Angeles for visitations with his father. This experience apparently really traumatized the young Perry, who writes that he was terrified of being alone on the plane. He mentions the incident repeatedly in his story. As he got older, he had great fears of being abandoned, which led to many breakups. As he got more attached to women, and they got to know him more, he would fear that they were going to dump him. So he’d dump them first… then plunge back into his drug and alcohol addiction.
Perry was a good athlete and, as a boy, was heavily involved in tennis. He also went to school with Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, whose father, Pierre, hired Perry’s mother as his press secretary. But he really loved acting, and at age 15, he left his mother, her second husband, and his half siblings to move to Los Angeles, where he embarked on a career in show business. Yes, he was successful, but he also had a multitude of personal problems, to include a terrible fear of intimacy and bent toward toward narcissism.
Although he made many friends and had some incredible girlfriends, none of them managed to stay in his life for the long haul. As soon as they would get close to him, he would panic, and that inevitably meant using drugs and alcohol to the point of almost killing himself. I’m not kidding. At the beginning of his compelling memoir, he writes about how his colon exploded, forcing him to use a colostomy bag for nine months, due to his abuse of opioids and its tendency to cause severe constipation. And he also had a very severe bout with pancreatitis, which is often caused by excessive alcohol consumption, that landed him in a hospital for a month while his pancreas “rested”. He couldn’t eat or drink anything for that entire month; all nutrients and fluids were delivered intravenously.
In spite of his medical and psychological traumas, a lot of people would think that Matthew Perry is a very blessed man. He has good looks, charisma, athleticism, talent, and money. And yet, Perry writes that he’s often felt suicidal, and would trade everything for the chance to feel normal and at peace. Being sober, he writes, makes him feel close to God and peaceful. But even that isn’t enough to stop him from using drugs or drinking. In fact, I’m not even sure if this book is a declaration of his sobriety, as he’s relapsed many times after going to all manner of rehabs– expensive, exclusive ones in Utah, Malibu, and Switzerland, and “prison” like ones in New York and Philadelphia, usually flying to them on private jets.
I was heartened to read that Perry saw his behavior as narcissistic and self-centered. That tells me that he actually isn’t a narcissist. He is an addict, which causes people to behave like narcissists– (see my recent post about my father). But when he’s not loaded, he has the insight to see that he does frequently act like an asshole, and the world doesn’t revolve around him. That’s to his credit. His writing is very charming, and he seems like he would be a lot of fun to know, when his colon isn’t exploding. I can see why so many people like(d) him. I can also see why he’s made a lot of enemies.
And yes, Perry is in Alcoholics Anonymous, and has tried to “work the steps”. But even after long periods of sobriety, he always seems to relapse. I wouldn’t assume, after reading this book, that Perry has finally gotten “clean”, once and for all. It’s kind of poignant, in some ways, to think of this man in such a predicament. In other ways, it’s kind of infuriating, because there are many people who have nowhere near the blessings that Perry has had, and no means to get clean. He’s no better than they are; he’s just been a lot luckier in terms of his earning power. I also get the sense that Perry might think he’s more famous than he really is. As I mentioned up post, I never watched Friends, nor have I seen any of the movies Perry has been in. I read his book because of the press it generated. I can’t be the only one.
Perry writes about how his drug addiction started, back in 1997, when he was in a jet ski accident while working on a movie. He was in extreme pain, so a doctor gave him some Vicodin. The drug made his insides feel like “warm honey”, and he had to have more. Soon, he developed a habit of taking 55 pills a day, just so he could feel “okay”. He’d already had an introduction to alcohol, back when he was growing up in Canada. The booze made him feel “okay”, as he laid out in his backyard, pondering life. I’ve often heard that if someone has a very significant reaction at their introduction to alcohol, that’s not a good sign.
Addicts can be very endearing, and a lot of them, deep down, are basically decent people who are just very sick. I got that sense with Perry, too. As an actor, he knows how to behave in ways that seem genuine. It’s important to note that acting, by definition, isn’t genuine or authentic behavior. Actors make their money by convincingly playing roles. So, I couldn’t help but notice the usual veneer of bullshit in his writings, even though I admire him for being very candid, especially about the more humiliating and painful aspects of his story. I’m afraid that he’s always going to be an addict, though, and most addicts always have a layer of bullshit about them, even when they’ve been sober for many years. In this book, you can read about one former sponsor of Matthew Perry’s who said he hadn’t had a drink since 1980. That guy had seemed absolutely amazing… but their once “best friend” relationship has ended, and not on a good note. That time, the bad ending wasn’t because of Perry’s shenanigans, but those of his long sober friend’s.
In spite of what might sound like critical remarks about Perry’s character, I did enjoy reading Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing. I think it’s well-written and very candid. Many readers will find it very engaging; it’s often even a funny book. Perry does use a lot of frank language, including a lot of profanity. I don’t care about excessive profanity myself, but I mention it because some readers might not like the cursing. He includes some photos, especially of him as a youngster, most of which are in color. He sure was cute; I think we had the same bowl cut hairstyle, which was all the rage in those days.
I’m glad that Perry knows he has a problem and is working on fixing it. I’m even happier to know that he realizes what excessive drug and alcohol use has cost him, on so many levels– from girlfriends (or potential wives, which he’s said he’s always wanted), to the chance to have children, to millions of dollars of his money, to his health. I understand that he has an illness, and that being an addict doesn’t inherently make him a bad person, even if it can cause him to act in ways that are disappointing, dangerous, or deranged. I feel empathy for him… but I think I feel even more for those who love him. And I wouldn’t call this book a triumph, either, because he hasn’t been sober for very long, at this writing. So we’ll see what happens. I do wish him the best, and I hope this time, sobriety works for him. Otherwise, he could be among the celebrity deaths we’ll read about in 2023 or 2024…
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