Students in India paint a portrait to pay tribute to late actor Matthew Perry. Photo by Niharika Kulkarni/NurPhoto via Getty Images
As the third and youngest child, by the time it got to me, my parents just sort of stuck me in front of the TV for hours on end. That’s no shade on them at all – they were busy working people – but to a not insignificant degree, I was raised by the television. As I was a very shy kid, and because I was so TV-adjacent in my downtime, the near entirety of my vocal output at primary school was impressions of my favourite characters: The Simpsons, mostly, but also South Park and Friends.
I would do this to such an extent that I was a playground comic force of nature, but I also didn’t actually know what my real voice sounded like, or if there was such a thing as a normal speaking voice. My best friend’s dad once asked him if he even knew what his real voice was, because the world of me and my mates was a world of voices. I thought I could speak in whichever way I liked, and that that could, in time, become my voice. Which, you know, isn’t correct. As I reached the latter years of primary school, I guess I was still open to the idea of fully inhabiting a character. I wanted a blueprint for how to be, and progressively Matthew Perry’s Chandler off Friends became that. Chandler showed that there was a way forward for the dry, funny guys. He showed me that there could be a zinger for every occasion, that everything could be a joke, and that that person could still be a loved member of the group.Whether totally purposeful or not, his sardonic character became my own, and semi-regularly through high school I’d be asked whether I was being serious or not, because there was basically no discernible difference between my earnest and sarcastic statements. Friends, along with The Simpsons, was my ultimate comfort blanket. I used to think that, as a boy growing up with the show, you start buzzing off Joey (Matt Le Blanc), and then you graduate to Chandler, until you’re old enough to see the merits in David Schwimmer’s Ross. But you never lose sight of all three.
The show was so comforting to watch as a kid and teen because it was an idealised, harmless version of adult life in New York, which I understood to be the greatest city on the planet. It also had its own internal logic, where bands like Hootie & The Blowfish were the pinnacle of cool, instead of, say, Nirvana. I appreciate Friends hasn’t always been a critics’ favourite, and that the moneyed lives the characters lead are entirely unrealistic, but I mean, when you’re a literal child, none of that matters. I’ve watched it far less in the past 13 years or so, and the format feels dated. But it’s still there, is the point: one hermetically sealed world of light and canned laughter, should I ever need it. And Chandler was the absolute zenith of that world.And so that’s partly why Matthew Perry’s death hits particularly hard. It’s nearly impossible to watch Friends to the extent that I and some of my friends have, and not know about Perry’s challenges in life. Even as a teen I understood his weight fluctuations and change in line delivery to be the result of his addiction struggles. Perry said himself that he couldn’t remember three years of filming.
His struggles were on-screen for the world to see. He visited 65 rehab facilities during the course of his life, and said he spent $9 million in order to get sober. While he was always vocal about addiction, and willing to challenge antiquated notions, in the latter years, he was motivated to help others beat it. “The best thing about me is that if an alcoholic or drug addict comes up to me and says ‘Will you help me?’ I will always say ‘Yes, I know how to do that. I will do that for you, even if I can’t always do it for myself.’ So I do that, wherever I can. In groups, or one on one,” Perry wrote, in a since widely shared message since his passing. That includes, he writes, “the Perry House in Malibu, a sober-living facility for men”, as well the play “The End of Longing, which is a personal message to the world, an exaggerated form of me as a drunk”. Since his passing, a number of celebrities have told of Perry’s support in their battles with addiction.As well as his theatre roles, Perry also featured in films like Fools Rush In and The Whole Nine Yards and TV shows like The West Wing. Part of the Friends curse, for all of its main cast members, has been getting out from under the typecasting. It’s a shame there won’t be another role for Perry to show his comic genius, and another thing for me to mimic, but that’s insignificant compared to his very human story. After all, it’s clear his work helping others meant most to him. As Perry wrote: “When I die, as far as my so-called accomplishments go, it would be nice if Friends were listed far behind the things I did to try and help other people.” @niche_t_