Laughter, addiction, healing and God: remembering a ‘Friend’ lost

Over the weekend, I found myself “tearing up” over the news that Matthew Perry had died, aged not much older than my wife and me. I had to explain to my soon-to-be 18-year-old son why I felt emotional about losing someone I had never met.

“I feel like an arm has been ripped off,” I told him.

Indeed, I felt I had lost a close personal “Friend”. I explained that, like many in my generation, who came of age in the late 1990s, I had spent time every week in the lounge room of a New York apartment with Perry’s character, Chandler, along with the whole crew of Friends – Rachel, Ross, Monica, Joey and Phoebe. When I was my son’s age, doing my final exams, my young adults’ Bible study started each week with an episode of Friends. This TV program played a regular part in my life and filled copious hours of “happy times” with laughter for close to a decade.

His harrowing path began at a young age, with daily drinking becoming a coping mechanism for the pain he sought to numb.

Perry was not just an actor who brought laughter to our lives, however. He was also a person who faced and triumphed over his personal demons. Behind the scenes, he lived a torturous battle with heavy addiction, struggling with alcohol and drug abuse for many years.

His harrowing path began at a young age, with daily drinking becoming a coping mechanism for the pain he sought to numb. He attempted to conceal his spiralling addiction from friends, family and coworkers. But eventually, the truth caught up with him, and it was his Friends co-star, Jennifer Aniston, who courageously confronted him about his addiction.

I can’t imagine how much courage it took for Aniston to reach out to a colleague and friend struggling with addiction. In Perry’s memoir, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, he recounted moments of blacking out due to his addiction and not even remembering filming some scenes. At one point, he was consuming up to 55 Vicodin pills a day, locked in a dark room, surrounded by drug dealers, and yet entirely alone.

Addiction took its toll on Perry’s health and his finances and nearly claimed his life. An opioid overdose led to a burst colon and a mere 2 per cent chance of survival. He credits his survival to an ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) machine and, as he termed it, a “Hail Mary”.

But it wasn’t until Perry had a powerful encounter with God that his life began to change. He recounted this moment in this book: “‘God, please help me,’ I whispered. ‘Show me that you are here. God, please help me.’” The room was enveloped by a radiant light, and Perry felt euphoric, safe and accepted. It was a moment of transcendence, a profound connection with something beyond himself.

“I started to cry,” Perry recounted, “that shoulder-shaking kind of uncontrollable weeping. I wasn’t crying because I was sad. I was crying because, for the first time in my life, I felt OK. I felt safe, taken care of. Decades of struggling with God, and wrestling with life, and sadness, all was being washed away, like a river of pain gone into oblivion.”

Matthew Perry was certain that he had been in the presence of God, and he prayed for the right thing: help. This encounter with God became the reason he remained sober for the next two years.

It’s a story of redemption and hope, showing that no matter how dark our paths may seem, there is always the possibility of a brighter, faith-filled future.

Perry’s journey from addiction to sobriety, and his deepening faith, reveal the transformative impact that connecting with God can make. His legacy goes beyond his iconic role as Chandler in Friends. While he brought laughter to millions, his true impact may be the lives he touched through his struggles and his deepening connection with God. In his memoir, he spoke of his desire to be remembered for more than his celebrity status. He acknowledged that fame and fortune do not necessarily contribute positively to the world. Instead, he wished to leave a legacy of helping others.

He created the Perry House in Malibu, a sober living facility for men, offering a safe haven for those battling addiction. Through his play The End of Longing, he conveyed a personal message to the world, an exaggerated reflection of his struggles as a drunk. He had something important to say to people like himself and those who love people like him.

As we remember and celebrate the life of Matthew Perry, let us remember him for more than the character he played on TV. His determination to help those in need, the beauty of his transformation through faith and the lessons he leaves behind are admirable. His story is a testament to God’s grace, and the power of faith and forgiveness. It’s a story of redemption and hope, reminding us that we can find purpose even in the darkest of times.

R.I.P. Matthew Perry. Hopefully, we will meet one day in eternity.

Dean Troth describes himself as a student of the world and the word, of Politics, International Relations and Western Civilisation as well as Theology and the Bible. He’s also a writer, the founder of Menzies Values Forum and various other Events, a man about town, and now a handyman.