When it comes to the success of Friends, it’s impossible to overstate the significance of the hit sitcom that seemingly changed our lives forever, delivering a cast of characters who felt like family, and catapulting its lead stars into a new stratosphere of fame few could ever imagine. As audiences around the world came to tune into the daily lives of Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe and Joey, our concept of family changed. Suddenly, family became less about blood ties and those relatives you were forced to visit on holidays, but rather those friendships you invested in, those that saw you through each breakup, career change, and personal tragedy or triumph.
Today, it seems we’re still crazy about Friends and its lead stars. And when it comes to picking favourites, few can look past Matthew Perry’s Chandler, with his quick wit, charisma, and self-deprecating charm. But despite being the funny man on the screen, it appears Perry’s private life was one that saw him struggle with addiction and the challenges of newfound celebrity.
Opening up about his long struggle with addiction in his new memoir, Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing, Matthew Perry has laid bare the events of the past that almost threatened to destroy him. As he told People in a recent interview, the book is one that will “help people”.
In the book, Perry discusses some of his lowest points that include the fact that he almost died from a burst colon due to his excessive opioid use. At the time, the actor was just 49. Publicly, it was reported that the actor had suffered from gastrointestinal perforation, but it was far more dramatic and life-threatening. “The doctors told my family that I had a 2 per cent chance to live. I was put on a thing called an ECMO machine, which does all the breathing for your heart and your lungs. And that’s called a Hail Mary. No one survives that,” he wrote.
Perry spent two weeks in a coma and five months in hospital recovering from the incident, and later required a colostomy bag for nine months while his body healed.
But perhaps Perry’s greatest challenge was his struggle with addiction, which began with alcoholism while filming Friends. “By the time I was 34, I was really entrenched in a lot of trouble. I didn’t know how to stop. If the police came over to my house and said, ‘If you drink tonight, we’re going to take you to jail,’ I’d start packing. I couldn’t stop because the disease and the addiction is progressive. So it gets worse and worse as you grow older.”
For Matthew Perry, it was the cast that helped him work through his addiction as he admits that there were periods where he was sober, sometimes lasting for entire seasons. “Season 9 was the year that I was sober the whole way through. And guess which season I got nominated for best actor? I was like, “That should tell me something.’”
Speaking about the support of his co-stars, Perry added: “It’s like penguins. Penguins, in nature, when one is sick, or when one is very injured, the other penguins surround it and prop it up. They walk around it until that penguin can walk on its own. That’s kind of what the cast did for me.”
Perry has been admitted to rehab 15 times for his substance abuse and alcoholism. He’s also had 14 surgeries on his stomach as a result of the substance abuse. While he didn’t disclose to People just how long he’s since been sober, he says it’s still constant and daily work that sees him count each day. Still, he says he’s now “pretty healthy” and grateful for all the support he’s received in his lifetime. “I’m grateful to be alive, that’s for sure. And that gives me the possibility to do anything.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, help is available. Contact Lifeline on 131 114 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.