These are the life lessons I’m taking away from Matthew Perry’s death – the good, the bad, and the inspirational.
I was six when the final season of Friends aired in 2004. I don’t remember much during my formative years, but I do remember the episode when Chandler and Monica got married. Fast forward to 2023, and I’ve since binge-watched all 10 seasons at least six times already. It remains relatable despite the series being almost 30 years old, and it’s something my friends and I bond over constantly. We like to joke about how we all naturally fell into each Friends role (take a guess which one I am), and playfully jabbed at our group’s Joey, offering him a place to stay when he grew old.
You can only imagine the shock when the world was rocked by the news of Matthew Perry’s death. A pillar in our pubescent years taken far too soon. I was stunned when I first read the headlines, thinking it could’ve been a prank. Parasocial relationship aside, I found myself in disbelief because I watched him on screen for so long, it was hard to comprehend that he had passed. And being the person that I am, I’m out here mourning the best way I know how – writing about lessons I’ve learned from his life.
Check in with the funny friend
According to Athenna Crosby, a friend of Matthew Perry’s who met him the day before he died, he was “happy and vibrant” before he passed. During the course of their time together, he was still cracking jokes and speaking cheerfully. He even discussed plans about turning his memoir into a movie, telling his friend that he wanted Zac Efron to play the younger version of himself. And if you remember the fact that both Matthew Perry and Zac Efron starred in 17 Again together, you’ll know how adorable this idea was.
It’s hard to believe with all this information that the comedian was anything but happy before his death. However, the curse of the funny friend is one that continues to haunt us even now. It’s fun to crack jokes to get a smile on everyone’s face on a regular day. But based on the consensus of funny people all over the internet, it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You put yourself in a position where you’re expected to be happy all the time, and that in itself takes a toll.
While we can’t say for sure whether Matthew Perry’s death was a suicide or not (since we’re still waiting on that toxicology report), it’s a sign to check in with that friend of yours who always seems to be in good spirits. Are they sweeping negative thoughts under the rug while you’re out with your friend group? Did they have a chance to get something off their chest? We’re all ears.
Addiction and recovery aren’t linear
One of the things that made Matthew Perry an inspiration is his openness in addressing his addiction and his many attempts at recovery. A jet ski accident in 1997 was the beginning of his increasing struggle with Vicodin and worsening alcoholism. His rehabilitation was an up-and-down battle, becoming almost uncontrollable when he shot to fame at 24. His drug use continued after Friends, well into his late 40s when he came face to face with death not once, but twice. It hasn’t even been that long since Matthew Perry made a (mostly) full recovery, stating publicly in June 2022 that he was pretty healthy.
I’m not an addict by any means, but there’s something to be learned from his recovery journey. Despite giving sage advice to fellow addicts and even converting his former Malibu home into a sober living facility, the comedian struggled to stay consistently clean. After clinging on to his sobriety for 18 months, he talked about how he felt more anger than relief. In his memoir, he even asked the question, “Why have I been spared?”
Although we instinctually understand the negative consequences of drugs and addiction, going through the motions of removing these parts of your life isn’t an easy feat when they might be the only consistency you’ve known. The road is tumultuous and you might end up slipping back into old habits, as Matthew Perry did time and again. But it’s always worse before it gets better. Just because you’re in the midst of figuring out how to recover, it doesn’t have to stop you from extending advice and help to others.
Reflecting on depression
After Robin Williams’ suicide in 2014, the world began to reconsider what it meant to experience depression. Being depressed doesn’t only look like curling up in bed or being sad all the time. It also looks like a facade of cheerfulness, productivity, and affection – everything the greatest comedian in the world encompassed.
It was no secret that Matthew Perry had demons that he fought alongside his addiction. While fellow Friends cast members were sobbing their eyes out as they wrapped the series finale, he was left feeling empty. If he hadn’t said it out loud in interviews, it’s likely we would’ve never known how affected he was. Truth be told, even though I’m aware he spent most of his career depressed, it’s hard to reconcile the notion as I continue binging his filmography.
There’s a theory that depression makes the best creatives. So maybe it’s not all that surprising to know comics like Robin Williams and Matthew Perry were plagued with ominous and haunting thoughts. But that’s an unfortunate price to pay for the cost of their art. Even when promoting his deeply personal and profound memoir, Matthew Perry joked, “I apologise it’s not a pop-up book.” It just goes to show that depression has a way of sneaking up on you to throw you a painful curveball. And no amount of success or money can cure that.
Take the leap – but not literally
I know Matthew Perry would rather be remembered for his efforts in helping other addicts than for his role as Chandler, yet I can’t help but mention this one. In season nine of Friends (when the characters were in their mid-30s), Chandler chooses to quit his high-paying corporate job in search of something with a better work-life balance. He then focuses his energy on finding a new and more fulfilling career, even choosing to take on an unpaid internship to hopefully get him a place in advertising. Something almost completely unheard of in the real world.
I know this isn’t necessarily a lesson learned from Matthew Perry, but it is one that sticks with me. Taking on a junior role at 30 always seemed like such a shameful thing to me. In a world where we often conflate our identity with our jobs, being able to boast about having a senior position by a certain age appeared to be the dream to aspire to. But Chandler’s development reminds me to go at my own pace because I have nothing to prove to anyone.
No, I didn’t cry when I found out that Matthew Perry passed away. But rewatching Friends will always feel a little different now. If you find yourself mourning his death, give yourself the opportunity to be sad about it, share your grief, and honour his memory. For all you know, it can be surprisingly cathartic.
If you’re struggling with mental health issues or drug abuse, please contact a counsellor or reach out to drug rehabilitation centres for help.