“Friends” actor Matthew Perry opened up about his decades-long addiction in his new memoir “Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing” (available now). Now, in a recent interview with CBC, he details the juxtapositions of his struggles with the disease of addiction with playing funny-guy Chandler.
“I had a rule that I would never drink or do drugs while working,” Perry says. “Because I had too much respect for the five people I was working with. So I was never wasted while working.” When he wasn’t filming, he was taking 55 Vicodin a day. “I weighed 128 lbs, I was on Friends getting watched by 30 million people — and that’s why I can’t watch the show, ’cause I was brutally thin,” he says.
Perry also shares his frustration at the hand he was dealt in an exclusive cover story interview with People. “It’s not fair that I had to go through this disease while the other five didn’t. They got everything that I got, but I had to fight this thing — and still have to fight this thing,” he added.
Perry tells People that his memoir is “[full] of hope.” But he definitely doesn’t shy away from the hard periods of his life, which include multiple gastrointestinal surgeries, 15 visits to a rehabilitation center, and a complicated relationship with sobriety. The memoir even opens with a heavy disclosure: at 49, Perry nearly died.
Perry tells People he experienced a gastrointestinal perforation — a serious medical condition that describes a hole in the gastrointestinal tract — as well as a burst colon resulting from opioid use. After two weeks in a coma and months in the hospital, Perry recovered, but initially, the “doctors told my family that I had a 2 percent chance to live . . . I was put on a thing called an ECMO machine, which does all the breathing for your heart and your lungs. And that’s called a Hail Mary. No one survives that.” The experience left Perry feeling “grateful to be alive,” per People.
Another epiphany Perry experienced happened in rehab when meeting with a counselor who saved his life by simply validating his struggle. Perry shares with CBC, “He told me, ‘Just remember, it’s not your fault.'” Perry then asked the counselor to repeat himself. “I went, ‘What do you mean it’s not my fault? I’m the one who is doing it.’ And he explained addiction and alcoholism to me and he saved my life.” He adds, “Because I then knew I wasn’t weaker, it wasn’t my will that was screwed up, that I have this disease and I need to get help.” He continues, “There are people who will help you. It won’t go away, it never goes away.”
With the memoir, Perry says he wanted to share his story to help others who may be dealing with the disease of addiction firsthand. But he had make sure that he was in a good place before doing so. “I wanted to share when I was safe from going into the dark side of everything again,” he tells People. “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.”
The writing experience — though it can be intimidating to share your life so publicly — has shown Perry his own strength.
“What I’m most surprised with is my resilience,” he tells People. “The way that I can bounce back from all of this torture and awfulness. Wanting to tell the story, even though it’s a little scary to tell all your secrets in a book, I didn’t leave anything out. Everything’s in there.”
But it’s still difficult for Perry to watch himself struggling on television. Until now, he hasn’t watched “Friends” because he knows exactly what substances he was taking during the show. “I could tell season by season by how I looked. That’s why I don’t wanna watch it, because that’s what I see.”
Now he’s opening up to the idea. “I think I’m gonna start to watch it, because it really has been an incredible thing to watch it touch the hearts of different generations,” he says to CBC. “It’s become this important, significant thing,” he goes on. “It was really funny and all the people were nice. I’ve been too worried about this, and I wanna watch Friends too.”
If you or someone you know is in need of substance-related treatment or counseling, you can reach the Substance and Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) on its Treatment Referral Routing Service helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
— Additional reporting by Melanie Whyte