I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my life. I’m still working through it personally, but the best thing about me is that if an alcoholic or drug addict comes up to me and says, ‘Will you help me?’ I will always say, ‘Yes, I know how to do that. I will do that for you, even if I can’t always do it for myself.’ So I do that, whenever I can. In groups, or one on one.
And I created the Perry House in Malibu, a sober-living facility for men. I also wrote my play The End of Longing, which is a personal message to the world, an exaggerated form of me as a drunk. I had something important to say to people like me, and to people who love people like me.
When I die, I know people will talk about Friends, Friends, Friends. And I’m glad of that, happy I’ve done some solid work as an actor, as well as given people multiple chances to make fun of my struggles on the world wide web…
but when I die, as far as my so-called accomplishments go, it would be nice if Friends were listed far behind the things I did to try to help other people. I know it won’t happen, but it would be nice.”
– Matthew Langford Perry
(August 19, 1969 – October 28, 2023)
“Friends,” the iconic sitcom, became a global phenomenon and was hailed as one of the most influential soft power tools ever created by US diplomacy (if they ever intended it to be). Amidst the laughter and the camaraderie, a silent cultural shock lurked—one not intentionally addressed. We admired Chandler for his witty, golden boy charm, but behind the scenes, Matthew Perry was battling real-world addictions. For us Malagasy teenagers and young adults trying to fit into the normative New York state of mind portrayed on screen, Joey was the struggling one, Phoebe the socially unconventional, and Chandler just had a minor smoking habit.
This episode marked my realization of how challenging it must have been to support a friend in trouble, especially when they don’t recognize the depth of their own struggle. In the 1990s, amidst the humor of ep.3 s.1 “The One with the Thumb” a life lesson on friendship unfolded. The story revealed the immense time, energy, and financial support required to help a friend in need. Cigarettes were ingrained in our society; parents smoked in cars, and pink ribbon campaigns warned us about their dangers.
This differs significantly from ep.18 s.5 “The One Where Rachel Smokes,” where she took up smoking just to fit in. As we approached the new millennium, it took five years for viewers worldwide to accept the negative impacts of smoking behavior. Chandler’s persistent sneaking of leftover cigarette puffs from his friends subtly hinted that he was still vulnerable to relapse. The standout moment in Season 1, Episode 3, was Chandler’s line, “Oh, Satan’s minions at work again…,” and this line resonates quite differently in 2023 as we try to make sense of Matthew Perry’s sudden death by drowning.
What those in the support system need most is empathy, emotional availability, and acceptance that you might falter but must always give your best effort. With Perry’s passing, it’s crucial to remember that depression is often invisible. Many, whether actors, celebrities, or ordinary people (aren’t we all playing a part?), hide their pain to please others. They endure, masking their struggles, bidding yet another minute, another smile, another step toward better well-being. I recall a close relative who mirrored Robin Williams’ wit but battled internal demons. We had very few options when trying to save him from himself because we knew how kind and wonderful he was to others, but not to himself.
There is no neat conclusion to this reflection. I wish I had a ready-made prayer or some comforting words to offer. But really, I have nothing.