Matthew Perry: The One where We lost Him

Matthew Perry

Matthew Perry: Mental Health Struggles and Efforts to Help Others

Matthew Perry, the beloved F.R.I.E.N.D.S star, was reported to have passed away in his LA home on the 28th of October. He was known to have brought to life the sarcastic, lovable, and iconic Chandler Bing. His perfectly timed humour and wry wit made him a fan favourite, and his death came as a devastating shock to many.

However, the person who brought smiles to millions of faces and provided comfort to a large audience ironically led a tragic life, replete with personal struggles with mental health issues. In his heartbreaking memoir, “Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing” he candidly discussed his battle with substance abuse and addiction, and his attempts to stay sober. His life was marked by highs and lows, and a continual struggle of trying to achieve sobriety and relapsing.

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Matthew Perry had been a great advocate of sobriety and addiction recovery. He used his platform to speak up about substance abuse and became a spokesperson for addiction recovery. About his book, he said – “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.” He even transformed one of his houses into a rehabilitation facility for others to overcome similar battles. Let’s take a look at his journey over the years.

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Matthew Perry’s History of Addiction and Recovery
1997 – Jet Ski Accident and the Beginning of Addiction

Matthew Perry had been a consistent drinker by the age of 18. His addiction was primarily to prescribed medication. It first began in 1997, when the actor met with a jet ski accident on the set of his movie “Fools Rush” – about three years after the premiere of the sitcom Friends. He was prescribed Vicodin, a medicine containing an opioid pain reliever (hydrocodone). At one point, his addiction to the drug was so severe that he took as many as 55 pills in one day, and lost significant weight. He stated “I couldn’t stop because the disease and the addiction is progressive. So it gets worse and worse as you grow older.” Perry’s addiction was just starting to surface when he was first cast on Friends and was manageable, but he admitted that by the time he turned 34, he was quite deep in trouble.

2000 – Pancreatitis and Opioid Overuse

In 2000, Perry was admitted to a hospital due to pancreatitis, a condition caused by both alcohol abuse and prescription drug abuse. His weight had dropped to 66 kgs due to the disease. The realisation about how damaging his addiction was began to hit Perry, and he recalled having thought “No. I don’t drink too much.’ Pancreatitis at the age of 30 was unheard of. Yay for me! Another record.” But, while in the hospital, Perry was prescribed Dilaudid, another drug with an opioid that alters the brain’s relationship to pain. Once again, Perry got addicted to it and did not want to leave the hospital as long as they kept administering it.

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2001 and 2011 – Rehabilitation

By 2001, Perry’s journey to sobriety had begun and he entered a rehabilitation facility for addiction to Vicodin, methadone, amphetamines, and alcohol, where he spent two and a half months. Struggling in his battle, he once again checked into a rehab facility in 2011.

2013 – Efforts to Help Others

Later, in 2013 was very aware of the perils of addiction, and sought to help others who had become prey to it. He converted his Malibu beach home into the Perry House, a centre that helped men battle alcohol addiction. In an interview in 2015, he stated that the one good thing that has come out of his struggles with addiction is that he is well-equipped with techniques to handle it, and can help others get sober.

2018 – Gastrointestinal Perforation and a Near-Death Experience

Perry nearly lost his life in 2018 after suffering a gastrointestinal perforation due to opioid overuse — he was told that he only had a 2% chance of survival. He was hooked up to an ‘ECMO machine’, which artificially carries out all the breathing for a person. He spent around two weeks in a medically induced coma while on that machine. Perry explained that the machine is considered to be a Hail Mary, and no one survives it. He spent five months in the hospital struggling for his life in the hospital. He was forced to use a colostomy bag (a pouch that collects faecal matter directly from the abdomen) for nine months, an experience that could only have been horrible. In later years, the idea of having to use a colostomy bag worked as a deterrent to using drugs for Perry.

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2021 – 2022 – Perry overcomes addiction

In his memoir, Perry reported that throughout his life, he had attended around 6,000 AA meetings, gone to rehab as many as 15 times, and been in detox 65 times. He also estimated that he spent approximately 9 million dollars trying to achieve sobriety. By the end of it, he had become well-versed with the tools required to manage his addiction. By 2022, Perry had largely overcome his addiction to alcohol and drugs, claiming to have led a healthy life since then. He had stated in multiple interviews that he was very grateful to be alive.

Perry’s struggle with Anxiety and depression

During the 2021 Friends cast reunion, Perry spoke about battling depression during the filming of the show – a fact that had eluded even his co-stars until the reunion. He admitted that despite Friends being the show that shot him to international fame, he could not bring himself to watch it because, to him, it was only a reminder of the tough years he spent trying to deal with his addiction, and caused him distress. He talked about how while watching the show, he could tell by his appearance exactly which kind of addiction he was battling. In his words from his memoir –

“I didn’t watch the show, and haven’t watched the show, because I could go, drinking, opiates, drinking, cocaine,” he later added. “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.” Perry also recalled that contrary to what audiences would think, stardom due to Friends made him feel extremely isolated and lonely. “I was in the white-hot flame of fame…..It would seem like I had it all. It was a very lonely time for me because I was suffering from alcoholism.” he said. Due to his substance abuse problem, he could not remember three years of the time he was acting on Friends. He also revealed that while filming, he suffered from severe anxiety. Being in front of a live audience felt like he faced a near-death experience every night.

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In his later years, Matthew Perry had been more determined than ever to try and help others who struggled with addiction and substance abuse. He believed that it was a miracle that he was the only person in his hospital to have survived his time on the ECMO machine, and took it as a sign that he was meant to use his platform and resources to rescue others from a similar fate. Perry was a great entertainer, and close to the hearts of millions of people worldwide. Despite his battles, he comforted audiences with his charm and humour. His struggles were lesser known, but a look at his life story tells of the fact that he had been a person with a heart of gold, who did not give up in the face of pain and suffering. He shall be dearly missed.

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