A-list actor and Friends alum Matthew Perry has been the ‘funny guy’ for decades. As Chandler Bing, he was always quick with a joke — a brief respite from the heaviness of the moment for his on-screen friends.
But behind the scenes, Perry needed a lot of substance abuse to keep up the facade of his funny, perfect life. And now having survived some very serious, very scary near-death experiences at the hands of drugs and alcohol, Perry is an open book.
“When [fame] happens, it’s kind of like Disneyland for a while. For me it lasted about eight months, this feeling of ‘I’ve made it, I’m thrilled, there’s no problem in the world.’ And then you realize that it doesn’t accomplish anything, it’s certainly not filling any holes in your life,” he told The New York Times in 2002, one year after getting sober. “I didn’t get sober because I felt like it. I got sober because I was worried I was going to die the next day.”
In that same interview, Perry noted that his character Chandler was a lot like himself in some ways, especially the need to make others laugh.
“It’s no accident that Chandler is a guy who is trying to deter his own human emotional feelings with laughter. That’s what I did for years,” Perry explained. “I’ve tried to palm myself off as being a jokester, kind of like hanging out with me is kind of like a vacation. But that could only take me so far.”
According to Perry, he always liked to party and have fun, but it was a jet ski accident in 1997 that left him addicted to prescription painkillers. One thing led to another, and soon he was addicted to drinking, as well.
”I had this odd rule that I would never drink on a set,” the Friends star said. “But I went to work in extreme cases of hangover. It’s so horrible to feel that way and have to work and be funny on top of that.”
Hangovers are rough, no doubt; but the real issues were just about to begin.
What is wrong with Matthew Perry today? A decade’s worth of drug addiction still clings to his body
In 2000, he was hospitalized with pancreatitis due to alcohol abuse. Detox made him sweat and shake on the set of Friends, but he was at least heading in the right direction. Perry’s appearance drastically changed during the hiatus between seasons 6 and 7 during that year, so much so that fans took notice. But he had sobered up, and for the next decade he wore that sobriety as a badge of honor.
In 2013, he opened up the Perry House, a sober living home for men in Malibu. “I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my life and a lot of wonderful accolades,” he told The Hollywood Reporter of his journey two years later. “The best thing about me is that if an alcoholic comes up to me and says, ‘Will you help me stop drinking?’ I will say, ‘Yes. I know how to do that.'”
Unfortunately, even once the mind overcomes the addictive nature of substance abuse, the body may struggle to recover. In 2018, Perry was rushed to the hospital with a burst colon — evidenced by years of opioid abuse in his youth. He has also undergone more than a dozen stomach surgeries to fix problems relating to opioids.
“The doctors told my family that I had a 2 percent chance to live,” Perry recently revealed. “I was put on a thing called an ECMO machine, which does all the breathing for your heart and your lungs. And that’s called a Hail Mary. No one survives that.”
Perry survived, and now he uses the experience as fuel to stay sober despite the temptation of drugs.
“My therapist said, ‘The next time you think about taking Oxycontin, just think about having a colostomy bag for the rest of your life,'” he told the outlet. “And a little window opened, and I crawled through it and I no longer want Oxycontin anymore.”