Matthew Perry was best-known for his role as the beloved Chandler Bing on Friends, but that is not how he wanted to be remembered. At least, not entirely. At the end of the day, Matthew Perry wanted to be remembered for his advocacy—for helping others. The actor’s legacy stretched far beyond the hit NBC series, as he touched the hearts (and lives) of many people struggling with substance addiction. Being one of the first high-level celebrities to go to drug rehab, he was on a mission to help people and spread hope. And he did exactly that.
In his great catalogue of accomplishments, Matthew Perry ran a sober living house, advocated for addiction treatment, and worked endlessly to help other people achieve sobriety—all while he was working on his own recovery journey.
Unfortunately, his work was cut short. On October 28, 2023, at the age of 54, Matthew Perry died of an apparent drowning at his home in California. His sudden death has shocked fans around the world.
Nearly one year prior, in an interview with Tom Power in November 2022, Perry said, “When I die, I don’t want ‘Friends’ to be the first thing that’s mentioned. I want [helping people] to be the first thing that’s mentioned, and I’m gonna live the rest of my life proving that.”
He even wrote a whole book about it. The dedication at the front of the book reads, “For all of the sufferers out there. You know who you are.”
The Big Terrible Thing
Almost exactly one year prior to his death, Perry released his memoir titled, “Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing.” The memoir is an honest, candid, and heartfelt recollection of Perry’s life, from childhood ambition to fame, and even more prominently, substance abuse to addiction recovery. Between the pages, you can read about his first drinks at 14 years old, his decades-long struggle with alcohol abuse while filming Friends, his battle against opioid addiction, a health scare that nearly took his life, and his later years getting sober. You will also learn about the 6,000 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings he attended, the 65 times he detoxed, and the 15 times he enrolled in a rehab program.
At the time of publication, Perry was 18 months sober.
“Addiction, the big terrible thing, is far too powerful for anyone to defeat alone, but together, one day at a time, we can beat it down,” he wrote.
In his conversation with Tom Power, Perry explained that he wrote the book to share his story and spread awareness about the disease of addiction. He realized that keeping addiction secret, and struggling silently, is what hurts and hinders people most. By writing the book, he hoped to inspire others to get the help they need.
However, it took him some time to feel ready to share his story in its entirety. Perry struggled with substance abuse and addiction from a young age, but did not publish his book until 2022.
“I wanted to share when I was safe from going into the dark side of everything again,” Perry said of this lag. “I had to wait until I was pretty safely sober – and away from the active disease of alcoholism and addiction – to write it all down. And the main thing was, I was pretty certain that it would help people.”
On Instagram, he wrote in light of his memoir: “I want people to understand that they’re not alone. That there are people feeling exactly the way they’re feeling. That their behavior is not insane. That they have a disease and it’s not their fault.”
He continued, “There’s a famous lie that people don’t change. I happen to know that people do change and I see that every day. I see people getting better. I see the lights in their eyes coming on. They get through the terrible part of addiction, the detox, and they’re able to live a normal life as long as they do a certain amount of work every day.”
Matthew Perry’s History of Drug Abuse
Matthew Perry began drinking when he was just 14 years old. It started with Budweiser and Andres, and soon became vodka by the quart, the actor recounted in his book. Then, in 1997, the actor got into a jet ski accident, after which he was prescribed Vicodin to manage the pain. It was then that he became addicted to prescription painkillers.
In an interview with The New York Times, he explained how he navigated it all. “I would fake back injuries. I would fake migraine headaches. I had eight doctors going at the same time. I would wake up and have to get 55 Vicodin that day, and figure out how to do it.”
He continued, “It’s exhausting but you have to do it or you get very, very sick. I wasn’t doing it to feel high or to feel good. I certainly wasn’t a partyer; I just wanted to sit on my couch, take five Vicodin and watch a movie. That was heaven for me. It no longer is.”
By the age of 49, Matthew Perry spent half of his life in addiction treatment centers or sober living homes. He went into treatment 15 times throughout the course of his addiction. But he wanted people to know that relapse is often a part of the process. And, more importantly, it does not mean failure.
“If you lose your sobriety, it doesn’t mean you lose all that time and education,” Perry said. “Your sober date changes, but that’s all that changes. You know everything you knew before, as long as you were able to fight your way back without dying, you learn a lot.”
He also wanted people to know that recovery takes time. It’s not always linear and it’s not always easy. But it is possible. He explained to the Times in 2022, after 18 months of sobriety, “It’s still a day-to-day process of getting better. Every day. It doesn’t end because I did this.”
Addiction is a chronic disease, much like asthma or diabetes. It requires active management and monitoring. It requires a commitment to treatment. While it gets easier over time, those in recovery need to work to maintain it. But it is entirely possible to get to a place of happiness and achievement.
In an episode of The Late Show with David Letterman, Perry said: “My true message is that if you face this, then sobriety is possible, and I’ve never been happier in my whole life.”
Matthew Perry Helped Others Battling Drug Addiction
Matthew Perry set out to help anyone who needed it.
He said, just last year, “The best thing about me, bar none, is that if an alcoholic or drug addict comes up to me and says, ‘Will you help me?’ I can say yes and follow up and do it.”
People have attested to the generous and compassionate nature of Matthew Perry. And while we don’t have all these stories documented, we do have other examples of the star’s incredible work.
In 2013, Matthew Perry opened up his Malibu home to other men struggling with addiction and needing a sober place to heal. He named this sober living house The Perry House, and ran it through 2015.
Perry also supported addiction treatment and education for those incarcerated. In 2013, the star testified before Congress to support funding for drug courts and veterans treatment courts, which aim to provide an alternative to incarceration for low-level nonviolent offenders. In his testimony, he stated:
“I know firsthand the personal and societal devastation caused by substance abuse. When I found recovery from prescription drug abuse I dedicated myself to helping others. Drug courts are the single most effective program for getting serious drug addicts into life-long recovery, putting them back to work, back in school and back with their families.”
On top of this, Perry used his platform to reduce the stigma of addiction and to inspire others to get the treatment they need. In an interview with Diane Sawyer, he said, “For some reason, it’s obviously because I was on ‘Friends,’ more people will listen to me. So, I’ve gotta take advantage of that, I’ve gotta help as many people as I can.”
Matthew Perry’s Legacy Lives On
Prior to Matthew Perry’s death in October 2023, he was working on setting up a charity to help people struggling with drug abuse and addiction. In early November, in light of the actor’s death, the Matthew Perry Foundation was launched.
Created in his memory, the Matthew Perry Foundation has the primary goal of helping people who struggle with substance addiction. Their mission statement reads:
“The Matthew Perry Foundation is the realization of Matthew’s enduring commitment to helping others struggling with the disease of addiction. It will honor his legacy and be guided by his own words and experiences and driven by his passion for making a difference in as many lives as possible.”
Help is Available
Matthew Perry was able to overcome substance addiction, and his story – while it had its highs and lows – is ultimately one of healing. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse, addiction, or relapse, know that help is available and recovery is possible. If you are unsure where to turn, Turnbridge is just one call away.
Turnbridge is a recognized treatment center for young people struggling with substance use and mental health disorders. We are available at 877-581-1793 to help you during this difficult time.