Actor Matthew Perry Died October 28, 2023
Matthew Perry, known to most people as the lovable Chandler Bing on NBC’s massive 90s sitcom hit, Friends, passed away on October 28th of this year. Perhaps the other thing Perry was best known for was his lifelong battle with alcoholism and addiction. It’s only natural that when he died, many began to wonder, did Matthew Perry overdose?
Officially his cause of death was deemed “inconclusive” as the postmortem found no signs of overdose, nor any fentanyl, meth, cocaine or alcohol in his system. So all signs seem to indicate Matthew Perry died with his recovery intact. But that’s not the most important takeaway from his death. We’d rather focus on his life experience and what his recovery meant for the world.
Who Was Matthew Perry?
When we watch someone on TV week after week, it’s easy to begin to feel like we know them. Of course, logically we know that it’s an actor portraying a character. But in the peculiar way the human mind is wired, there’s a part of us that can’t separate all of that. The person feels familiar and comfortable even. The sitcom ‘Friends’ was an escape from reality for millions of Americans. Mostly a product of a more innocent, perhaps more naive, pre-9/11 America. Before we became the cynical, anxious and tightly-wound denizens of 2020’s America.
We’re used to imagining celebrities living these charmed lives and encountering few of the problems of everyday life the rest of us do. Of course, this isn’t true. Some celebrities have relatively normal, even privileged lives before they find fame and fortune and it’s the changes that fame brings, in part, that lead them to addiction. This wasn’t the case here, however. Addiction was an early and constant companion for Matthew Perry.
More About Alcoholism
While Matthew Perry wasn’t Chandler Bing, the person he really was may be more relatable to many of us than any character he ever played. The truth is, he was a Canadian-American who battled a substance use disorder and depression for most of his life. Most people in recovery (or active addiction) will find his story awfully familiar.
Growing up in Ottawa, Canada, Matthew managed to find trouble to get into as early as elementary school, smoking, stealing money from other students, letting his grades drop, and even bullying a fellow student (who grew up to become the current Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau!). In ‘Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing’, his autobiographical memoir, Perry talks about taking his first drink at 12 or 13 and the unfamiliar sense of relief and ease that washed over him. By the time Matthew Perry was 14, he was drinking daily.
Alcohol Addiction Follows Us Wherever We Go
Alcohol addiction would be his shadow for the rest of his life. Perry’s family relocated to California before he began high school and he continued with his love of tennis but found it difficult to fit in. His drinking began to accelerate and take a toll on his health. But he was very good at being one of those “functioning alcoholics” we know all too well.
Being a “functioning alcoholic” is both a blessing and a curse. While it can enable people to avoid some disasters, it also makes it easier to keep drinking. Rather than hitting bottom and surrendering, the functional alcoholic often hits bottom and bounces off and keeps right on going and that’s just as painful as it sounds.
The Difference Addiction Makes
Matthew Perry struck gold when he landed the ‘Friends’ gig. But it’s also a perfect illustration of what separates us alcoholics from “earthlings”. The role of Chandler Bing was the opportunity of a lifetime. Someone who just enjoyed drinking and partying too much would simply cut back or quit in the face of such a windfall. It’s common sense, right? You wouldn’t allow anything to jeopardize a career jackpot like that, would you?
Here’s the difference that addiction makes. Once the disease is active, common sense pretty much flies out the window. We lose almost all power of choice and reason. The drugs and alcohol talk louder than anything else. Now, Matthew Perry was the “functioning” type of addict of course, so he somehow managed to make it work for a while. But eventually, things got bad enough that his castmates had to intervene. More than once, he was admitted to a treatment center or alcohol detox.
Finding the Bottom and Finding Your Way Out of Addiction
Matthew’s weight plummeted to 128 lbs hanging from his lanky 6-foot frame at his lowest point in the filming of ‘Friends’. Drinking more than a quart of vodka a week and washing down more than 50 Vicodin tablets was steadily destroying his health. The drinking was a long-term issue and he became addicted to Vicodin following a 1997 Jet Ski accident. In May of 2000, he ended up in LA’s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center with a severe case of alcohol-related pancreatitis.
Towards the end of his time working on ‘Friends’ he was addicted to alcohol, Vicodin, methadone, and Adderall. He says he has no memory of the three years when all of this occurred. We won’t bother expanding on what happened to him after Friends–you can read his book for that or use your imagination. We’d rather get into his recovery for our conclusion.
Matthew Perry’s Recovery and Redemption
By his count, Perry attended somewhere in the vicinity of 6,000 AA meetings in his lifetime. You might say he ‘earned his chair’ but he also got something in return and gave something back. Despite the odds, Perry managed to put together some solid sober time. He never seemed to take his recovery for granted though and there are numerous accounts of his efforts to give back to the community without looking for anything in return.
In July 2011, he spoke before Congress on behalf of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals to advocate for drug court programs. Drug court programs help people with addiction get back on their feet rather than punishing them with jail. He also opened Perry House, a rehab center in his previous Malibu home. This earned him a Champion of Recovery award from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy in May 2013.
Lessons From Recovery
One thing Matthew Perry’s story can teach us is that addiction does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter how talented or wealthy or beloved you are. We’re all vulnerable to the pitfalls of alcohol and drug addiction. But this also means that we’re also all able to access the solutions to this problem. It’s no great mystery. Addiction is a beast. For most of us, it is the single biggest challenge we face in life. It’s fair to say that was the case for Matthew Perry too.
But your biggest challenge can also help you turn a weakness into a strength, believe it or not. Much the way steel is hardened through heat and impact, addiction can serve as the crucible of recovery. Much of recovery is about turning that pain into action and using it to grow and become a better person than we might otherwise have been.
North Jersey Recovery Center: A Reason For Hope
It might sound like a greeting card platitude, but the truth is it is never too late to get recovery. As long as you or your loved one are alive, there is a reason for hope. North Jersey Recovery Center has helped thousands of people just like you overcome addiction and build better lives in recovery. We can help you too, but you have to make the first move.
Pick up the phone and let’s give you a reason for hope today. Reach us at (877) 790-5873