Matthew Perry once prayed to God for fame. Now, his dream is to help others struggling with addiction
In a Q interview, Perry revealed why he doesn’t want to be remembered only for Friends
Click the play button above to listen to Matthew Perry's full conversation with Tom Power.
When Matthew Perry set out to write his new memoir, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, he hoped it would reveal a truth he learned the hard way: seeing your dreams come true doesn't solve your problems.
From 1994 to 2004, the Ottawa-raised actor starred as Chandler Bing on Friends, one of the biggest sitcoms in TV history. But he quickly discovered that success couldn't remedy his catastrophic addiction to alcohol and opiates.
"Not many books have come from the side of the addict ... certainly not somebody who's been on one of their favourite shows or whatever," Perry said in a live interview with Q's Tom Power at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto. "That message is very powerful because I thought [fame] would fix everything. And you know, it didn't — I still wanted to drink every day."
WATCH | Matthew Perry's full interview with Tom Power:
In the book, Perry details his long journey with addiction, fame and recovery. His relationship with drugs started when he was just 30 days old and was prescribed a barbiturate for colic, which he believes had a lasting effect on his sleep. He had his first taste of alcohol at 14 and started drinking every night by the time he was around 18.
"I finally felt at home, for the very first time, as soon as I drank alcohol," recalled Perry. "And I had a much different reaction than normal people have. Normal people have a drink and they feel a little, you know, woozy.… I have a drink and, for the first time in three weeks, life seems to make sense."
In 2018, Perry's substance abuse problems became so dire that he was hospitalized and given a two per cent chance of survival after his colon burst from opioid overuse. He was put on life support — extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), which does the work of the heart and lungs so they can rest — and his parents were prepared for the worst. "Five people had an ECMO machine that night and the other four died," he said. "And I survived."
For Perry, writing the book was easy, but reading it brought him to the terrible realization that he's lived "the most torturous life." Despite that, he said sharing his story has been the best thing he could do to help others going through the same struggle with alcoholism and addiction.
"Wonderful things happened in my life — I'm incredibly grateful for all of them," he said. "But that's the ticket for me, is helping people on a large scale or helping, you know, one guy and seeing the light turn on."
Friends, fame and fortune weren't enough to heal him
The first time Perry prayed was after reading an article that led him to the conclusion that fame was the answer to everything.
"That prayer was, 'Please, God, make me famous. You can do anything you want to me; just make me famous,'" the actor told Power. "Three weeks later, I got Friends — and God did not forget about the second part."
Landing the role on Friends helped Perry achieve his dreams, but he said it took only six months before he realized that fame and fortune couldn't fix his biggest problem.
"Alcoholism did not care that I was on Friends," he said. "Alcoholism wants you alone; it wants you sick; and then it wants to kill you."
When I die, I don't want Friends to be the first thing that's mentioned.- Matthew Perry
Out of respect for his Friends castmates, Perry had a personal rule to never drink or do drugs while on set, though he'd often work extremely hungover. At one point, he was taking 55 Vicodins a day and weighed 128 pounds. He said he doesn't watch the show because his changing appearance is a painful reminder of his addiction.
"I was on Friends, getting watched by 30 million people, and that's why I can't watch the show," he said. "I was, like, brutally thin and being beaten down so badly by the disease."
Now sober, the actor told Power he may finally start watching Friends because he's aware of the massive impact the show has had on millions of people. "It's become this important, significant thing," he said. "I've been too worried about this and I, you know, I want to watch Friends too."
Still, the actor said he doesn't want to be remembered only for Friends. His dream now is to help people.
"The best thing about me, bar none, is if somebody comes up to me and says, 'I can't stop drinking. Can you help me?' I can say yes and follow up and do it," said Perry. "And I've said this for a long time: when I die, I don't want Friends to be the first thing that's mentioned — I want that to be the first thing that's mentioned. And I'm going to live the rest of my life proving that."
Written by Vivian Rashotte. Interview produced by Catherine Stockhausen.