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Publisher: Flatiron Books
Although the title of Matthew Perry’s memoir might suggest three main topics dominate in it, one indeed prevails - the topic of his long-lasting struggle with alcohol and opioid addiction that took its toll on his acting career, love life, and, especially, health. That is why he begins with these memorable words: ‘’Hi, my name is Matthew, although you may know me by another name. My friends call me Matty. And I should be dead.’’ Luckily, honest, self-aware, and witty Matthew Perry is alive and well, and he brings us a disturbing, moving, and eye-opening confession about his battle with the big terrible thing. So, get ready to hear his story!
Can you imagine a five-year-old kid flying alone in an airplane nowadays? Probably not, right? Back in the 1970s, it was typical for children to fly without parental supervision. Such children would carry a little sign on their neck that said - ‘’an unaccompanied minor.’’ They also got various benefits like early boarding, kids-only lounges, and an escort to the plane. To most of those kids, these probably meant nothing. They only wanted to feel safe with a parent by their side.
At one point, Perry wanted to give his memoir a title - an unaccompanied minor, as the flights from Montreal, where he lived with his mom, to Los Angeles, where he would visit his dad, were frequent in his childhood. They left a mark in his life, not only because they reminded him his parents were not together, but mostly because they led him to feel abandoned and not enough. He writes, ‘’If I’d been enough, they wouldn’t have left me unaccompanied, right? Isn’t that how all this was supposed to work? The other kids had parents with them. I had a sign and a magazine.’’
Perry was born on a stormy August night in 1969, the son of ‘’two of the most gorgeous people on the face of the planet’’ - John Bennet Perry, a star from the Old Spice commercials, and Suzanne Marie Langford, former Miss Canadian University Snow Queen. However, only nine months after his birth, Perry’s parents decided they could no longer manage together - so, one day, they sat in a car with little Matty and drove to the Canadian border, where Perry’s maternal grandfather waited for them. Then, Suzane got out of the car with the baby and watched as her former partner sped away forever. ‘’Mom and I were both abandoned, in fact, before we’d even gotten to know each other,’’ writes Perry.
Perry learned from his early days that drugs help him get along. As a baby, he was noisy and needy - as many babies are. Unfortunately, doctors from that time advised his parents to calm their baby with a pill. ‘’There are baby pictures of me where you can tell I’m just completely fucking zonked, nodding like an addict at the age of seven weeks.’’ As he grew older, Perry kept this approach to addressing his neediness and discomfort. He writes, ‘’And like a baby, I didn’t want to do the inner work for so long, because if a pill fixes it, well, that’s easier, and that’s what I was taught.’’
Not only the pills fix the problems, but drinks, too, and that is another lesson he learned in his childhood. Once, he saw his mother crying in the kitchen and thought, why doesn’t she just drink? ‘’I have no idea how I got the notion that an alcoholic drink would stop crying”, he writes, ‘’but somehow the culture all around me had taught me that drinking equaled laughing and having fun, and a much-needed escape from pain.’’ The life of Perry’s mother was not easy - as no life of a single mother is. She was busy doing the work of two people and, understandably, stressed and unable to give her little son the attention he needed. So, he learned to be funny to calm her down enough so she would cook some food, sit with her son and hear him out. ‘’My job was to entertain, to cajole, to delight, to make others laugh, to soothe, to please, to be the Fool to the entire court,’’ Perry writes.
With his mother often out of home and his father miles away, little Matty constantly felt abandoned, lonely, and uncomfortable. And the first time these feelings disappeared was when he drank his first bottle of wine. While lying back drunk in the grass, looking at the moon, fourteen year old Perry realized, for the first time in his life, that nothing bothered him. He felt happy, complete, and at peace. There were no problems, and he needed no attention. He was taken care of.
When he was fifteen, Perry decided to move to his father's place in L.A. ‘’In Canada I was angry, and sobbing, and drinking, and me and my mom were fighting, and I wasn’t a full part of the family, and I sucked at school, and who knew if I was going to have to move soon anyway, and on and on and on. And damn it, a kid wants to know his father,’’ Perry writes. At that time, Perry actively played tennis and had been considering pursuing a career in sports. However, once he moved to L.A., he realized he could only become a solid club player - nothing more. So, he needed to look for a new profession, and acting seemed the right choice as he learned from his early days to break the tension at home by amusing others. ‘’If I was performing well, everything was safe, and I was being taken care of. I might have been an unaccompanied minor, but when I got laughs, there was a whole audience—my mother, my siblings, the Murray brothers, kids in school—who would stand and applaud me.’’
Perry shot his first movie when he was seventeen, and got the part pretty easily, without having to audition for it. One day, when he was at the coffee shop joking around with a bunch of girls, a man approached him and put a napkin with a note saying: ‘’I want you to be in my next movie. Please give me a call at this number.… William Richert.’’ It turned out Richert was amazed by how Perry charmed and amused girls and decided Perry had to be in the movie he was making based on his novel ‘’A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon.’’ The movie was not a big hit, but the whole experience - being a movie star, far from home, free to flirt, drink and hang out with actors - was magical to Perry and made his decision to become an actor even more firm.
At the beginning of his twenties, Perry had a few guest starring in series and was regularly auditioning, waiting to get a breakthrough role. And then, in 1994, it happened. A script for a new show called ‘’Friends Like Us’’ appeared and quickly became ‘’the hot read of the season.’’ After reading the script, Perry immediately identified with one character. ‘’It was as if someone had followed me around for a year, stealing my jokes, copying my mannerisms, photocopying my world-weary yet witty view of life. One character in particular stood out to me: it wasn’t that I thought I could play ‘Chandler,’ I was Chandler.’’ There was a problem, though. At the time, he already got a part in a sci-fi comedy called L.A.X. 2194, and was, thereby, off the market for other shows. That, however, did not stop him from trying to get an audition for ‘’Friends Like Us.’’
One morning, Perry’s friend Craig Bierko told him he was offered to star in two shows and could not decide which one to accept. One was the lead role in a show called ‘’Best Friends,’’ and the other one, you guessed it, was the role of Chandler Bing in ‘’Friends Like Us.’’ Although he knew he was Chandler, Perry did not want to be a bad friend, so he told Craig he should go for ‘’Friends Like Us.’’ Luckily, Craig decided to do the opposite and accept the role in the other show. So, that meant that Chandler Bing was still not cast! A couple of days later, Perry met with Marta Kaufman, one of the co-creators of ‘’Friends,’’ and acted as Chandler for her. He already read the script so many times by then and knew it by heart, so he did not need it at the audition. And, of course, he nailed it, and the pilot season had its final actor - Matthew Perry as Chandler Bing.
It is hard to be an addict, especially when famous, because everyone knows what is happening to you. And not just that - hardly anyone dares to complain about your horrific behavior when you are a star. When he filmed the movie ‘’Serving Sara,’’ Perry was on methadone, a quart of vodka a day, cocaine, and Xanax. He would show up on set every day, pass out in his chair, then wake up to do a scene, stumble to set and basically scream into a camera for two minutes. After that, he would again go back to his chair to nap. ‘’The movie people wanted the film to be completed, slap my name on a poster, and make $60 million. And Friends … well Friends was even worse—no one wanted to mess with that moneymaking machine.’’
In 2019, Perry ended up in a hospital because his colon exploded due to an overdose of opiates. After doctors put him on a ventilator, he vomited into it, and the vomit ended up in his lungs. He was on an ECMO machine and in a coma for fourteen days, with only a two percent chance of surviving.
When he woke up from a coma and heard what had happened and that he had a colostomy bag, Perry rolled over and didn’t want to talk or move for two weeks. ‘’I hated myself. I had almost killed myself. The shame, the loneliness, the regret, were too much to handle. I just lay there, trying to deal with all of it, but there was no dealing with it. It had already been done. I was afraid to die, which was in direct opposition to my actions.’’
For many years Perry has been trying to fill the void inside him, to find something that would make him better. Fame was no answer to his problems. Drugs weren’t either - by using them as problem solvers, he only risked staying without any problems on earth - he risked losing his life. In the end, the very fact he was alive was enough to fill his emptiness. As he writes, ‘’The answer to ‘Why am I alive?’ I believe lives somewhere in there. After all, it’s the only thing I’ve found that truly feels good. It is undeniable that there is God there.’’
Fans of Matthew Perry got used to expecting good laughs and entertainment from him. Although he could not hide his charm and humor, Perry is no longer a comedian and entertainer in this memoir but a vulnerable, lonely man who suffered a lot while struggling with addiction. So, “Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing’’ is not recommended to those who seek amusement but to those who want to hear an honest, moving, and eye-opening story that can resonate with everyone, especially those struggling with the big terrible thing.
Whenever you need a relaxation and good laugh, sit back and turn on one of the most famous, entertaining and enjoyable sitcoms of all times - Friends.
Matthew Langford Perry (born August 19, 1969) is an American-Canadian actor, comedian and producer. He gained in... (Read more)
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