Seasons three through six of Friends had some of Chandler Bing’s funniest and most character-defining moments. There he is handcuffed, without pants, to a filing cabinet; remaining in “time out” in a box for nearly a full episode; hooking up with—and later marrying—Monica…We all remember them fondly. The one who doesn’t? Matthew Perry, who says these seasons were a blur due to his problems with substance abuse.
WTF Happened to…Matthew Perry?
But to truly understand what the fuck happened to Matthew Perry, we go back to the beginning. And the beginning began when he was born on August 19th in Williamstown, MA, the son of two prominent people: actor John Bennett Perry and mother Suzanne, who later served as press secretary to Canadian PM Pierre Trudeau (father of Justin, who Perry says he beat up in school).
Perry developed an interest in acting after he served it up on the tennis court as a youth, moving from Canada to L.A. to live with his father, starting with small bits on shows like 240-Robert (1979)—a series that starred his father and is considered lost—and HBO sketch series Not Necessarily the News (1983), along with more popular fare like Charles in Charge and Silver Spoons. After TV movie Morning Maggie, Perry got his first consistent acting job on the Fox sitcom Second Chance aka Boys Will Be Boys, retitled to focus more on Perry’s character, Chazz. It only lasted one season, but the year it ended, 1988, was a turning point for the actor.
Although most of us haven’t heard of the titles, Matthew Perry was getting steady work. There was TV movie Dance ‘Til Dawn alongside Christina Applegate, Alyssa Milano and Tracey Gold; a one-off on sitcom Just the Ten of Us; a two-episode stint on fantasy Highway to Heaven; and his feature debut, A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon (River Phoenix was Jimmy). In 1989, he appeared in the Tony Danza-starring comedy She’s Out of Control, not to mention a three-episode arc on Growing Pains, playing Gold’s boyfriend who drinks and drives, resulting in his death—as part of the “very special episode” craze.
Around this time, he would call it quits on being credited as Matthew L. Perry, which seemed like sort of a good luck charm, since he landed his first lead in a sitcom, co-headlining CBS’ Sydney (1990, with Valerie Bertinelli and Craig Bierko, the fool who turned down Friends a few years later). But it was hardly a good luck charm, with Perry looking to becoming trapped in a series of TV movies and shows, playing Desi Arnaz Jr. in Call Me Anna (1990) and doing one-offs on Beverly Hills 90210 (1991), Dream On (1992), Sibs (1992) before sticking another series, 1993’s Home Free, for ABC, which lasted just 11 episodes (with two unaired). There would also be TV movies such as Deadly Relations (1993) and Parallel Lives (1994), as well as L.A.X. 2194, an unaired pilot that he was too busy doing to initially take a little show called Six of One…He, too, did Doug Liman’s DTV Getting In…And yes, Perry would be getting in the business in a major way that same year…
After Bierko dropped out, Matthew Perry joined the cast of Six of One fortunately renamed to Friends, as the youngest member, playing Chandler Bing, the sarcastic one of the group. Either way, he was a fan favorite. Perry and the cast would end up earning up to $1 million per episode in the last two seasons (up from $22,500 in the first season). This money, tragically, would come in handy…
It was during this run that Perry went full-on with his drug addiction—he always wanted to be famous but neglected to take into account some of its trappings—first becoming addicted to Vicodin following a jet ski accident in 1997, something that later turned into a 55-pill/day habit, only enhanced by the mounting pressures of shooting Fools Rush In (1997), an innocent yet generic flick that proved a major departure from the TV environment. In 1998, Perry co-starred opposite Chris Farley in Almost Heroes. Far from a Farley/Spade pairing, it remains a tarnish on Farley’s filmography. 1999 would bring another non-challenging rom-com, Three to Tango, while the next year saw the decent enough The Whole Nine Yards, which excels more due to Bruce Willis and his chemistry with Perry and everyone else in the cast. The same year, Perry suffered from pancreatitis, brought on by alcohol abuse, something his Friends co-stars tried and failed to get him off of. By 2001, Perry was heavily into alcohol, Vicodin, methadone, and amphetamines.
This came to a head in 2002 while Perry was filming Serving Sara with Elizabeth Hurley. With less than two weeks left in production, his addictions truly started affecting his work, as his quart of vodka/day habit sent him to much-needed rehab…but only because he thought he would die. To date, Perry estimates he spent around $9 million to get sober, going to rehab more than 60 times.
The next few years would see a two-episode stint on Ally McBeal and Perry giving drama a legit go, with three episodes on The West Wing (2003)—earning two Emmy nods—and co-starring in his first play, David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago (more commonly known for its big screen adaptation, About Last Night). But he couldn’t avoid comedy, next starring in the pointless sequel The Whole Ten Yards (2004), and directing an episode of Scrubs alongside his father.
Following Friends’ end in 2004, many in the cast wondered what would come of their careers. Perry waited until 2006 to get in front of the camera, starring in TV movie The Ron Clark Story to Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG nominations. So began a fairly reliable pattern of passable but still forgettable TV and movie work that still seems to be active. There was the promising but failed, one-season Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, playing the head writer of an SNL-esque show; 2007’s Numb, which went DTV in the US despite a strong enough turn as a depressive with depersonalization disorder; indie attempt Birds of America (2008); the casually charming 17 Again (2009) with Zac Efron—which capped off the decade and surprisingly and unjustly still remains his most recent feature.
The 2010s started off with potential, with the creators giving him a voice in the video game Fallout: New Vegas based on his avid love for the series. 2011 brought another series, ABC’s Mr. Sunshine—which Perry co-created and wrote episodes of—but that was canceled after just nine episodes. Perry again returned to drama with a four-episode arc as an attorney on The Good Wife (2012-2013), which he’d reprise for a 2017 three-episode run on The Good Fight. Perry yet again was given a shot at headlining a sitcom, playing a sportscaster on Go On, which, yes, was canned after one season. The same year that ended, Perry gave back in a most noble way, opening a Malibu rehab center that unfortunately shut down in 2015—but that’s twice as long as most of his shows at least…That same year, Perry latched onto the Oscar Madison role in an Odd Couple reboot, which miraculously lasted three seasons. In 2016, Perry returned to the stage, writing The End of Longing, which played London and off-Broadway. In 2017, Perry seemed to want to let his fans in more on his personal life, playing famous boozer Ted Kennedy in TV movie The Kennedys: After Camelot.
And then his colon exploded. No, really. His aggressive OxyContin abuse in the latter part of the decade led to an exploded colon, leaving him with a colostomy bag. His abuse also put him in a coma with two weeks on life support, with doctors giving him a 2% chance of survival, detailed graphically and effectively in his 2022 memoir, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing.
And still Matthew Perry survived and has been sober since 2021. Could he be any luckier?
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/what-happened-to-matthew-perry/