Monday 29 April 2024

Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing - Matthew Perry


‘God, you can do whatever you want to me. Just please make me famous’       

- Matthew Perry before he got ‘Friends’

Frankly, I was never a big fan of the cult TV comedy series ‘Friends’ when it was first aired in the late 90s (It ran for 10 years, 1994 – 2004). But much later one day while scrolling through the channel Comedy Central on television, I happened to see a few episodes during the endless re-runs and was suddenly hooked on to it. And after watching umpteen re-runs and many more reels on Instagram,I would still be up for another watch. All the characters are unforgettable but Monica and Chandler (Matthew Perry) would always hold a special place in my heart. Not only because of their individual characteristics (funny guy Chandler and control freak Monica) but also because of the beautiful relationship they shared and how they always supported each other despite all their shortcomings. Hence, it was heartbreaking when I read that Matthew Perry  was struggling with alcohol and drug addiction during and after ‘Friends’. Somehow, if you watch the series, you can never make out that the main funny guy has a serious addiction problem. In fact, for the episode in which he and Monica get married, Matthew Perry came from the rehabilitation centre to the shoot. This and many more of his struggles on and off the set are revealed in his frank ,revealing and disturbing autobiography – Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing (Hachette, 2022) which had been on my TBR for some time. No marks for guessing what the Big Terrible Thing is.

Born in Canada to a University pageant Queen and an American band singer, Matthew Perry always had the right genes to make it big in show business. Unfortunately, his parents’ marriage soon fell apart and his father returned to California, America leaving Matthew and his mother in Ottawa, Canada. Though his father always kept in touch with him, and both his parents re-married , Matthew had a lonely childhood and  always felt abandoned and a craving for attention, as his mother had a hectic work schedule. Finally, at the age of 15, Matthew decided to move to America with his father, and first tried his luck as a tennis player! He had been doing well in Canada but found the standards much higher in America. His father had moved on to working in Hollywood and Matthew also started doing the rounds of studios. He always had the ability to make people laugh and was also acting in school plays. How he landed the role of Chandler Bing in ‘Friends’ is one of the more interesting parts of the book. One of his actor friends was finalized for the role first (‘My heart sank, because I knew I was Chandler’) and Matthew was also contracted to do a sci-fi comedy. However, the stars so conspired that eventually he got selected for the role of Chandler Bing and there was no looking back. It soon became a world-wide phenomenon with the lead actors going on to earning 1 million per episode. Unfortunately by the time he started with ‘Friends’ in 1994,  he had got addicted to alcohol. Then sometime in 1996 while shooting for a film, he met with a Jet ski accident and was given opioid pills. A year and a half later he was taking fifty-five of those pills everyday! This followed with a repetitive tale of struggles to give up the addictions in a rehabilitation center, recovering in some cases and then again relapsing. The fame he had craved for so much came with a very heavy price. Regarding his physical appearance while shooting for ‘Friends’ he writes –‘ When I’m carrying weight, it’s alcohol; When I’m skinny, it’s pills. When I have a goatee, it’s a lots of pills.’ Though he writes how his fellow actors on friends supported him through his addiction, I felt he should have devoted more pages to the days on ‘Friends’ and shared some more behind the stage stories. ‘Friends’ fans are likely to feel a bit disappointed.

There are also encounters with many girlfriends including Julia Roberts and how he always messed up the relationship as soon as it was close to maturing. Eventually towards the end of the book, he says that he has been ‘clean’ for the last 2 / 3 years and was focused on helping others with fighting addiction

The book came out in 2022 and passed away in 2023 (He was only 54). Autopsy after his death revealed that he had overdosed on ketamine, a short-acting anesthetic. He may or may not have relapsed but it brought an end to a chequered life marked by professional highs and personal lows and a constant struggle with addiction.

- Amir Bashir

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