Matthew Perry smiling at Policy Exchange for Drug Courts

Matthew Perry On Addiction

Last updated: December 31, 2017

Matthew Perry is one of the most iconic actors of the 90s for his role as Chandler Bing on the NBC sitcom, Friends (1994-2004). The character was always full of quips, self-loathing, and a naïve charm. Yet despite the success of the show, a salary of $1 million an episode, and the light-hearted tone, Perry suffered addiction to alcohol and opiates.

To hear Matthew Perry talk about it, before he was making millions, he believed that was the goal – likely idealizing his future self, “I was a guy who wanted to become famous… You want the attention, you want the bucks, and you want the best seat in the restaurant” (New York Times, 2002). However, what Perry realized was that once he had made it, it wasn’t enough; he didn’t know what to do with it. “It’s kind of like Disneyland…” Perry said, regarding the success that accompanied Friends, “For me it lasted about eight months, this feeling of ‘I’ve made , I’m thrilled, there’s no problem in the world.’ And then you realize that it doesn’t accomplish anything and it’s certainly not filling any holes in your life.”


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A Complicated Relationship With The Spotlight

Matthew Perry was born in Williamstown, Massachusetts. His parents, John Bennett Perry and Suzanne Morrison, divorced when he was a child. As a result, Matthew Perry lived with his mother in Ottawa, Canada until he was 15. At the time, Perry pursued tennis, ranking nationally in Canada, but when he moved to Los Angeles to be with his father, he found himself outmatched on the court and knew tennis as a career wasn’t going to work. So he went with his backup career: actor.

Matthew Perry landed a handful of roles and guest appearances on various shows, but made his big break at 24 when he was cast as Chandler Bing on the new NBC series, Friends – he was the youngest of the ensemble and woefully unprepared for stardom.

Friends was a roaring success and opened a window of opportunities for Matthew Perry. In 1996, he was cast in the romantic comedy, Fools Rush In, co-starring with Salma Hayek. That’s when the pressure took hold of Perry. He recalls feeling overwhelmed to the point of nausea on his first day of shooting, the weight of a $24 million movie on his shoulders. While Friends was filmed before a live studio audience, a film was a closed, completely quiet set with scenes shot out of order, “You’re meeting the girl and, the day before, you married the girl.”

For Matthew Perry, this process was overwhelming, made all the more so by the his obsessive nature and need for perfection. When Perry was pursuing tennis, he’d practice for ten hours a day, but it wasn’t limited to tennis either. When Perry was in school, he’d spend three hours crafting the perfect voice answering machine message. Then, he’d get feedback from his friends and spend another three hours honing it to be better; funnier.

Between 1997 and 1999, Matthew Perry made two more films: Almost Heroes and Three to Tango. Both of these critically flopped at the box office. He had a hit in 2000, when he was cast opposite Bruce Willis in The Whole Nine Yards. But later that same year, while he was filming his next movie in Dallas, Texas, Perry started to feel pains in his stomach and was hospitalized for pancreatitis – a rare inflammation as a result of drug and alcohol abuse.

Alcoholism and Opiate Addiction

Matthew Perry had his first taste of alcohol at the age of 13. He continued drinking and in 1997 when he suffered a jet ski accident, his doctor prescribed him opioids for the pain. Perry recalls taking the pills without question, “I did and I felt better than I ever felt in my entire life. I had a big problem with pills and alcohol, and I couldn’t stop.” (People, 2013).

Matthew Perry checked into rehab that same year (1997) for addiction to pain medication, but as he’s often quoted, “You can’t have a drug problem for 30 years and then expect to have it solved in 28 days. Getting sober is a really hard thing to do.”

Perry would never drink on set, it was one of the rules he made for himself, but by 2000, he admits he was often detoxing back stage, sweating and shaking. At worst, he “went to work in extreme cases of hangover”. While Perry thought he was discreet, his costars caught wind of the problem. Lisa Kudrow (known for her role as Phoebe Buffay on Friends) stated, “When Matthew was sick, it was not fun. We were just hopelessly standing on the sidelines… hurting a lot. Matthew is one off the funniest people… he’s charming and hilarious. Most of our hard laughs came from Matthew.” Perry admits that most of the cast approached him about getting help, but he was in denial.

Matthew Perry’s problems worsened and he was drinking heavily on the set of Serving Sara. But in May of 2001 with less than two weeks of filming left, Perry recalls having one, brief moment of clarity, “this very lovely spiritual moment when everything’s clear for one split second and I realize, I’ve got to go save myself.” Perry got on the phone with the people who were willing to help, flew to L.A. the next day, and checked into rehab.

When Matthew Perry left rehab, he finished filming Serving Sara and the latest season of Friends. Executive producer, Marta Kauffman, approached Perry during the first episode of the following season (after his stint in rehab) saying, “I’m so happy you’re back.” It wasn’t until she saw him sober that she realized how much he hadn’t been there; present.

Sober Since 2001

Matthew Perry has checked into rehab since getting sober in 2001, but as a preventative measure. He has abstained from alcohol and opiates. Perry took his Malibu mansion, retrofitted it, and donated it to be used as a sober living home where recovering addicts can go in between rehab and the real world as a way to bridge the gap. More than that, Perry has become something of a figurehead for addiction and drug rehabilitation.

In 2013, Matthew Perry testified before congress to ensure $41 million for Drug Courts and another $4 million for Veterans Treatment Courts. When asked why he felt so passionately about this issue, Perry said plainly, “because they work” and “55% of addicts who go through the process don’t see handcuffs again” (NADCP, 2013).

Matthew Perry continues his acting career with his most recent appearances being The Odd Couple remake which just ended after its third season and his written/directed stage play The End of Longing which features a hyperbolized version of himself and his struggles with addiction and drinking.

Sobriety, one day at a time.

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