Matthew Perry, ‘Friends’ Star, Dies at 54


Matthew Perry, who gained sitcom superstardom as Chandler Bing on the show “Friends,” becoming a model of the ability to tease your pals as an expression of love, has died. He was 54.

The death was confirmed by Capt. Scot Williams of the Los Angeles Police Department’s robbery-homicide division. He said the cause was not likely to be determined for some time, but there was no indication of foul play.

Several news outlets reported, without a named source, that Mr. Perry was found unresponsive in a hot tub at his home in Los Angeles. He had publicly struggled with drinking and drug use for decades, leading to hospitalizations for a range of ailments. By his own account, he had spent more than half his life in treatment and rehab facilities.

“Friends” ran for 10 seasons from 1994 to 2004. It chronicled the never-too-dramatic dramas and in-jokes and exploits of a group of six young friends living in New York City. Chandler was the yuppie of the group, with a well-paying white-collar job his friends did not entirely understand. He wore sweater vests but also moodily smoked cigarettes.

Other “Friends” characters generated humor through their goofiness or haplessness; Chandler cracked jokes. He was often inspired by the airheadedness of his roommate and best friend, Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc), a struggling actor, and by the blunders of another buddy, Ross Geller (David Schwimmer), a paleontologist more competent in science than everyday life.

During one episode, for example, Ross joined the group looking bizarrely tan and said he had gone to a tanning place one of them had suggested. “Was that place the sun?” Chandler asked.

That speech pattern — the sarcastic rhetorical question asked in a tone of mock disbelief — was typical of Chandler. He was known on the show for wondering things like “Could she be more out of my league?”

Mr. Perry himself brought this bit to the show, and it became a familiar way for Americans to talk — proof of the status of “Friends” as one of the most popular shows in sitcom history.

For a while Chandler was in a secret romance with another core member of the “Friends” group, Monica Geller (Courteney Cox), a chef. Ultimately, the two of them achieve happily stable monogamy, marry and move to the suburbs. (In the spirit of the show, distilled into its theme song, “I’ll Be There for You,” Chandler’s new home has a “Joey room” for his old roommate.) Their steps toward adulthood helped bring an end to the group’s post-adolescent idyll and, with that, the story of “Friends” itself.

Mr. Perry, like his co-stars, eventually earned $1 million per episode. He was rich, famous and handsome. But behind the scenes of “Friends,” his substance abuse was already an issue.

In his 2022 memoir, “Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing,” Mr. Perry recalled Jennifer Aniston (who starred in the show as Rachel Green) coming to his trailer one day and saying, “in a kind of weird but loving way,” that it was clear he had been drinking too much. “We can smell it,” she added.

“The plural ‘we,’” he wrote about that moment, “hits me like a sledgehammer.”

The whole cast confronted him at one point in his dressing room.

A Jet Ski accident in 1997 helped set in motion Mr. Perry’s addiction to pain killers. A year and a half later, he was taking 55 pills a day. He checked into a rehab facility weighing 128 pounds. “Of course, ‘Matthew Perry is in rehab’ became a huge news story,” he wrote.

In the years to come, his addiction would lead to a “medical odyssey,” The New York Times wrote in a profile last year, including an exploded colon, a stint on life support, two weeks in a coma, nine months with a colostomy bag and more than a dozen stomach surgeries, among other travails.

Lisa Kudrow, who played Phoebe Buffay on “Friends,” wrote in her foreword to Mr. Perry’s memoir that the single question she was asked most about “Friends” was “How’s Matthew Perry doing?”

Matthew Langford Perry was born on Aug. 19, 1969, in Williamstown, Mass. His mother, Suzanne (Langford) Perry, worked as a press secretary for the Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau. His father, John Bennett Perry, was a character actor.

His parents divorced when he was a baby, and Matty grew up largely with his mother and stepfather, Keith Morrison, in Ottawa. He was one of Canada’s top-ranked junior tennis players.

When he was 15, he moved in with his father in Los Angeles, hoping to devote more time to tennis and leave behind unhappiness he felt about his place in his mother’s second family.

After a couple of years in Los Angeles, Matthew decided that he had figured out what would make him happy.

“Fame would change everything, and I yearned for it more than any other person on the face of the planet,” he wrote in his memoir. “I needed it. It was the only thing that would fix me. I was certain of it.”

In 1988, still a teenager, he made his film debut, starring alongside River Phoenix in “A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon.” He appeared on several sitcoms. It was clear that he was an up-and-coming actor — but he remained that way for several years. One day, when he was 24, alone in his small Los Angeles apartment, he got on his knees and prayed to become famous, no matter what else would happen to him in the process.

Three weeks later, he was cast in “Friends.”

Early on, Courteney Cox, whose career to that point had outpaced her fellow cast members’, announced to the group, “There are no stars here,” Mr. Perry recalled in his memoir. “This is an ensemble show. We’re all supposed to be friends.”

Mr. Perry continued: “So we did what she suggested. From that first morning we were inseparable. We ate every meal together.”

During his years on “Friends,” Mr. Perry starred in a number of movies that flopped commercially, like “Almost Heroes” (1998), with Chris Farley, and “Three to Tango” (1999). He got good reviews for his supporting role as a likable, beleaguered dentist in “The Whole Nine Yards” (2000), starring Bruce Willis.

After “Friends,” Mr. Perry starred in a few more TV shows, like “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” (2006-07), written by Aaron Sorkin, and an adaptation of Neil Simon’s play “The Odd Couple” that ran on CBS from 2015 to 2017.

In his memoir Mr. Perry poignantly described struggles with self-esteem and commitment through several romantic relationships, including some with prominent actresses, like Julia Roberts. He never married or had children.

He had several half siblings from his parents’ remarriages. Information about his survivors was not immediately available.

Since “Friends” went off the air, its fan base has only grown. The show has even helped people around the world learn English.

Two years ago, Mr. Perry, by his own account newly sober, appeared in a televised reunion of the “Friends” cast, in which its stars revisited some of the show’s most famous sets like the Central Perk coffee shop to reminisce about old episodes.

That came after years in which Mr. Perry resisted talking about “Friends.” He wrote in his memoir that he admired Kurt Cobain’s refusal to play “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Led Zeppelin’s aversion to “Stairway to Heaven.”

He did gain a new attitude toward publicly recalling his past thanks to writing, he told The Times last year. In a single interview, he spoke again and again about the idea that his confessional stories might help fellow addicts.

“Whenever I bumped into something that I didn’t really want to share,” he said, “I would think of the people that I would be helping, and it would keep me going.”

Elisabeth Egan, Orlando Mayorquin and Jin Yu Young contributed reporting.

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