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How Matthew Perry confronted his drug addiction, and spent his life urging others to seek help

‘Friends’ star, who has died aged 54, was a prominent campaigner for drugs reform and spoke candidly about his own battles with substance abuse

Roisin O'Connor
Monday 30 October 2023 03:16 GMT
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Matthew Perry opens up about time Jennifer Aniston confronted him over addictions

Matthew Perry, who has died aged 54, made no secret of his addiction struggles over the years, writing candidly about his substance abuse and attempts to stay sober in his affecting memoir, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing.

Released in 2022, the book chronicled the exacerbation of Perry’s addiction under the “white-hot flame of fame” after he shot to international stardom, aged 24, as the wise-cracking Chandler Bing in the hit sitcom Friends.

“Hi, my name is Matthew, although you may know me by another name,” he wrote in the book’s opening passage. “My friends call me Matty. And I should be dead.”

In the book, Perry recalled drinking heavily through the first two seasons of Friends, although he said he was never drunk or high on set, and then becoming addicted to the opiate pain medication Vicodin after a jet ski accident while filming Fools Rush In with Salma Hayek in 1996.

By the end of the 10th series of Friends, Perry became “entrenched in a lot of trouble”, he revealed years later.

At one point during his time on Friends, he was taking up to 55 Vicodin painkillers a day and was down to just 128lb (just over 9st) in weight. He said in a 2016 interview that he did not remember filming three seasons of the show because he was a “little out of it at the time”.

In his memoir, Perry also noted that fans would have been able to tell whether he was drinking or taking drugs in certain seasons, depending on his appearance.

“When I’m carrying weight, it’s alcohol; when I’m skinny, it’s pills; when I have a goatee, it’s a lot of pills,” he said.

Perry was eventually confronted by his concerned co-star Jennifer Aniston, who starred in Friends as Rachel Green.

“‘I know you’re drinking,’” Perry recalled Aniston telling him. “To be confronted by Jennifer Aniston was devastating. And I was confused. ‘How can you tell?’ I said. I never worked drunk. ‘I’ve been trying to hide it.’

“‘We can smell it,’ she said, in a kind of weird but loving way, and the plural ‘we’ hit me like a sledgehammer,” Perry wrote.

Perry’s drug use continued after Friends, with the actor explaining in his memoir that he “nearly died” four years ago when he was 49.

Perry’s colon burst due to opioid overuse, after which he spent two weeks in a coma, five months in a hospital, and nine months using a colostomy bag. His family were told he had a “two per cent” chance of living.

A couple of years later, Perry came close to death again after his heart stopped beating for five minutes.

Perry was in rehab in Switzerland at the time, but had lied to his doctors about having severe stomach pain in order to get prescribed hydrocodone, an opioid used to treat pain and as a cough suppressant.

Perry was due to have surgery to alleviate his pain, but he took hydrocodone the night before his surgery, which, combined with anaesthetic propofol during the procedure, stopped his heart for five minutes.

“It wasn’t a heart attack – I didn’t flatline – but nothing had been beating,” he said, explaining how eight of his ribs broke during CPR.

As a result, he was forced to pull out of appearing in Adam McKay’s Netflix comedy Don’t Look Up, despite having already filmed a scene.

Matthew Perry wrote of how he almost died on two occasions as a result of his drug abuse

Following 15 stints in rehab and therapy sessions, Perry described himself as “pretty healthy” by June 2022 and said he was motivated to help others struggling with addiction.

In 2015, he was honoured by Phoenix House, a nonprofit drug and alcohol rehabiliation programme, prompting Perry to joke that he was an “award-winning alcoholic”.

“I shouldn’t be getting an award; Phoenix House should be getting an award,” he told The Hollywood Reporter that year, while he was in the process of relocating his own sober-living facility, the Perry House.

“Phoenix House was kind enough to open their doors about four months ago when I went on a tour of [the Lake View Terrace facility],” he said. “Getting sober is a really hard thing to do, and I saw hope on the faces of the kids.”

He added: “I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my life and a lot of wonderful accolades, but the best thing about me is that if an alcoholic comes up to me and says, ‘Will you help me stop drinking?’ I will say, ‘Yes. I know how to do that.’”

Perry often spoke of his pride at helping others struggling with substance addiction

Perry said the fact the public knew about his substance abuse issues made it easier to become a spokesperson for addiction recovery, including a major interview he gave to People in 2013.

“When I was in big trouble, it was so public because I was on a TV show that 30 million people were watching,” he said. “The fact that I [am] on TV makes people listen a little bit more, so I take advantage of that from time to time.”

In recent years, Perry often spoke about how proud he was of his work in addiction recovery, and the fact that he used his platform to urge people to seek help.

“When you’re having a bad day, the best thing you can do is call somebody and ask them how they’re doing,” he said, “and actually pay attention and listen to the answer to get out of your own head.”

If you or someone you know is suffering from drug addiction, you can seek confidential help and support 24-7 from Frank, by calling 0300 123 6600, texting 82111, sending an email or visiting their website here.

In the US, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration can be reached at 1-800-662-HELP.

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