“Hi, I’m Chandler. I make jokes when I’m uncomfortable.”
“Until I was 25, I thought that the only response to ‘I love you’ was ‘Oh, crap!’”
Whether you’re a Gen-Xer who grew up with the stars of NBC’s Emmy-winning series “Friends” after its 1994 debut or a Zoomer who discovered the show in the streaming era, you can probably guess at the source of these dark witticisms: Could it BE anyone other than Chandler Bing?
What you’ll find out after reading actor Matthew Perry’s harrowing memoir, “Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing,” is that such lines are also a case of art imitating life.
“I was Chandler,” Perry writes in his book, out Nov. 1, explaining that both he and his most famous character have used humor to compensate for their crippling fears, relationship anxieties and self-sabotaging behavior.
Where actor and character diverge is that Chandler finds happiness, marrying Monica Geller (Courteney Cox) and having twins; Perry, by contrast, only recently emerged from decades of intractable addiction, which culminated three years ago in a health crisis he was very lucky to survive.
Perry, 53, writes that he deeply regrets how his drug and alcohol abuse have cost him relationships. Now 18 months sober, he writes, he suffers from auditory hallucinations and will probably have to take Suboxone to treat opioid dependence for the rest of his life. This leaves him, he adds, in a consistent state of anhedonia: a reduced ability to feel pleasure.
With lines like “my mind is out to kill me, and I know it,” Perry opens a window into the mind of an addict, a place in which the struggle to get sober is a civil war and many battles are lost to relapse.
It’s cost him in every way. He writes that he spent more than $7 million trying to get sober. (Perry raised the estimate to $9 million in a recent interview.) His efforts included 15 stints in rehabilitation facilities and one in a mental institution; hypnosis sessions; 6,000 visits to AA and therapy twice a week for 30 years. While shooting an unused bit for Adam McKay’s 2021 film “Don’t Look Up,” he flew to a Swiss rehab and back on a private jet — $175,000 a pop.
Here’s what you’ll learn from his candid new memoir.
The one that scared him mostly straight
Perry details several near-death experiences. On one occasion, his heart stopped beating for five minutes. Later, he was popping pills laced with fentanyl (and paying $3,000 for them several times a week).
“It is very odd to live in a world where if you died, it would shock people but surprise no one,” he writes.
But a 2019 incident was his closest call, he writes. He fell into a coma for 14 days after his colon burst. Doctors told his family members he had a 2% chance of survival. ‘I was so full of s— it almost killed me,” he writes. It turned out to be a life-saving wake-up call. Today, the thought of needing a colostomy bag for life keeps him from using, coupled with the fact that alcohol and opiates “simply don’t work for me anymore”: Even on 1,800 milligrams of opiates a day, he could no longer get high.
The ones who got away
Perry writes that at age 19 he fell in love with Valerie Bertinelli on the set of “Sydney.” According to him, they shared “an elaborate makeout session” while Bertinelli’s husband, rock star Eddie Van Halen, was passed out a few feet away. He also writes that he made out with Gwyneth Paltrow inside a closet. Neither of these dalliances went very far.
One relationship still haunts him to this day. He was together with Rachel Dunn, a woman he met upon crashing her 23rd birthday party, for six years and almost asked her to marry him, but chickened out. “All my fears reared up like a snake,” he writes. “I often think if I’d asked, now we’d have two kids and a house. Instead, I’m some schmuck who’s alone in his house at fifty-three.”
He also shares an account of a lost love that “still hurts” — someone he met on a film set in 1999. He fell hard but she ultimately rejected him, making it clear that “my drinking was a problem.” Perry does not name the woman, though he did star alongside Neve Campbell in 1999’s “Three to Tango.”
More than 20 years later, Perry bought a ring and proposed to a woman while at a Switzerland rehab. But he was high on hydrocodone and later forgot the whole thing. It was months after his coma — still undergoing surgeries and still struggling to get clean. He was “desperate” and “didn’t want to be this injured and alone” during the peak of the COVID pandemic. Perry doesn’t name her, but last year People reported on a broken engagement with literary manager Molly Hurwitz.
The one with Julia Roberts
When Julia Roberts only agreed to appear on “Friends” if she could be in Chandler’s storyline, showrunner Marta Kauffman encouraged Perry to send the actress flowers. That kicked off a romance between the two, according to Perry — beginning with the (so very 1990s) exchange of flirty messages over fax machines. They were already a couple by the time they began filming.
But like the vast majority of Perry’s relationships, it ended when he felt he was letting his guard down, reigniting a lifelong fear of abandonment. Perry traces these issues in part to his father leaving the family when Matthew was a baby and his mother was 21.
“If I drop my game, my Chandler, and show you who I really am,” he writes, “you might notice me, but worse, you might notice me and leave me.”
The one with Jennifer Aniston
Years before they were both cast in “Friends,” Perry asked Jennifer Aniston out. She declined, but he would continue to “crush badly” for her.
The one with the casting gossip
Perry writes that one of his best friends, Hank Azaria of “The Simpsons” fame, auditioned to play Joey twice. When Matt LeBlanc scored the part, Perry was initially “a little jealous” of his “leading-man looks.”
Another close friend, Craig Bierko, a former co-star on “Sydney,” was first offered the part of Chandler, according to Perry, but turned it down. After Perry was cast and the show became an immediate hit, he says he and Bierko didn’t speak for two years.
Landing the part of Chandler saved Perry’s life, he writes. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been “out of the realms of possibility” for him to have “ended up on the streets of Downtown L.A. shooting heroin.” He writes that heroin was a line he was terrified to cross. “It is because of that fear that I am still alive today.”
The one with the backstage drama
Perry points out that you can tell how and what he was using throughout the various “Friends” seasons. First, he dropped 10 pounds of “alcohol fat” between the pilot and the first episode. His weight fluctuated between 128 and 225 pounds while making the show. If he was carrying weight, it was alcohol abuse. If he was thin, it was pills. If he had a goatee it was “lots of pills.” By the end of Season 3, he spent most of his time trying to obtain Vicodin — 55 pills a day. Sometimes he’d go to open houses just to steal some from medicine cabinets.
Although he asserts he was never high while filming “Friends,” he’d often be sick or hungover. Once, Perry passed out on the Central Perk couch and LeBlanc had to nudge him awake to say his line. Later, Aniston called him out for drinking again, telling him, “We can smell it.” Season 9 was the only year he was “completely sober.”
The one where things got worse
Even before “Friends” wrapped in 2004, addiction was already exacting a toll on Perry’s post-TV career. Perry writes that around March 2001, while filming “Serving Sara” (2002), he was on methadone, Xanax and cocaine and drinking a full quart of vodka a day. He showed up to film a scene, only to realize it had been shot a few days earlier. He shut down the film’s production (and postponed his “Friends” scenes) so he could go to a Marina del Rey detox center. He was living in a rehab facility in Malibu when Chandler and Monica tied the knot. As for “Serving Sara,” he says producers later billed him $650,000 for the breach and dragged him into postproduction to dub over his slurred lines.
Again in rehab around November 2020, his heart stopped after doctors administered propofol that interacted with the hydrocodone in his system. Paramedics saved his life with CPR but broke eight ribs in the process, ultimately costing him scenes with Meryl Streep in “Don’t Look Up.” (Just before the incident he was able to shoot a scene with Jonah Hill, but his scenes were cut from the finished film.)
In recent years, Perry’s front teeth fell out while he was biting into a piece of toast. He removed and replaced all his pearly whites.
The one with the fisticuffs
Perry beat up Justin Trudeau when they were kids — well before the latter became Canada’s prime minister. Perry’s Canadian mother was the press secretary for Justin’s father, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, and little Matthew resented the time she spent at work.
Years later, he was set up on a date with Cameron Diaz after she stopped seeing Justin Timberlake. Diaz got immediately stoned and accidentally punched Perry in the face, he writes.
Also, he accidentally hit his own idol, Chevy Chase, in the balls.
The one with hope
Perry has been “mostly sober” since 2001, “save for about sixty or seventy little mishaps.” He would give up his fame and wealth in a heartbeat to “not have a brain that wants [him] dead.” But he’s slowly “acquiring a taste for reality” and is determined to figure out his purpose.
“There is a reason I’m still here. And figuring out why is the task that has been put in front of me.”
—Christina Veta, Los Angeles Times