Matthew Perry — who played the charmingly lovable and endlessly quotable Chandler Bing on the sitcom Friends, has died, law enforcement sources confirmed to Rolling Stone. He was 54. A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Department said that police “responded at 4:10 this afternoon to a death investigation for a male in his 50s.”
While Perry was best known for his role in Friends, he appeared in scores of other television shows — including Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, The Good Wife, and the revived The Odd Couple — and comedic films, including Fools Rush In, The Whole Nine Yards, Three to Tango, The Kid, and many more movies.
But it was Chandler, who he portrayed over 10 seasons and over the course of more than 200 episodes, which endeared him to fans. (Lines like, “Could I BE more [add quip here]” with a drawn-out “be” inspired video montages and endless quotes.) Alongside the ensemble cast — comprising Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Courteney Cox, and Matt LeBlanc — he embodied his character, augmenting his hilarious lines with facial expressions that almost bordered breaking character, something comedians try to avoid, but also added to his charm.
That was in some ways by design, as he told Dateline in 2004: “(The Friends creators) took all of us out to lunch separately and said ‘tell us about yourself.’ And I remember saying two things: ‘I’m not an unattractive man, but I’m just awful with women… that’s a character you haven’t seen before. And I also am not comfortable with any silence at all. I have to break any awkward moment or silence with a joke.’ And what better character for a sitcom is that? It’s a built-in excuse for him to be funny.”
While his humorous side is what made him famous, his personal life was dark and serious — he suffered from addiction to alcohol and drugs, including painkillers. He served several stints in rehab, including while he was a cast member on Friends.
Perry candidly addressed his struggles in his memoir, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, which arrived last fall. The memoir, which covered his life from childhood on through his megastardom in Friends and his ensuing sobriety was a hit, reaching Number One on the Amazon best-selling non-fiction chart the week it debuted. His unvarnished look at his addictions was on full display from the jump, opening with the line: “Hi, my name is Matthew, although you may know me by another name. My friends call me Matty. And I should be dead,” and later admitting he was taking up to 55 Vicodin a day during the filming of the third season of Friends.
In one passage, he said he was set to appear opposite Meryl Streep in Don’t Look Up, but had to leave the film after suffering a medical scare, where his heart stopped for five minutes, and ribs were broken as he was resuscitated.
“I was given the shot at 11:00 a.m.,” he writes. “I woke up eleven hours later in a different hospital. Apparently, the propofol had stopped my heart. For five minutes. It wasn’t a heart attack — I didn’t flatline — but nothing had been beating. I was told that some beefy Swiss guy really didn’t want the guy from Friends dying on his table and did CPR on me for the full five minutes, beating and pounding my chest. If I hadn’t been on Friends, would he have stopped at three minutes? Did Friends save my life again?” He added: “He may have saved my life, but he also broke eight of my ribs.”
Perry was born on Aug. 19, 1969 in Plymouth, Massachusetts to Canadian journalist Suzanne Morrison, who served as the press secretary for former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, and American actor John Perry. His parents divorced before he turned one, and his mother married Canadian broadcaster Keith Morrison. Perry was raised in Canada.
At age 15, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting, with a focus on improvisational comedy, which he studied at LA Connection in Sherman Oaks while still attending high school.
His first role was in the TV series Second Chance (later called Boys Will Be Boys), and he made his big screen debut in the 1988 film, A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon. He had guest roles in some of the big sitcoms of the era, including Growing Pains and Beverly Hills, 90210. He also starred opposite his crush Valerie Bertinelli in the short-lived Sydney, which led to a makeout session with his costar while her then-husband Eddie Van Halen was passed out, according to his memoir. When he landed his role as Chandler Bing in Friends, he was the youngest in the cast at age 24.
While Friends officially ended in May 2004, and for years, fans clamored for a reboot, which often was rumored but didn’t appear to be in the cards. In 2017, Perry told Variety, “I have this recurring nightmare – I’m not kidding about this. When I’m asleep, I have this nightmare that we do Friends again and nobody cares. We do a whole series, we come back, and nobody cares about it. So if anybody asks me, I’m gonna say no. The thing is: We ended on such a high. We can’t beat it. Why would we go and do it again?” However, four years later, he joined his fellow cast mates HBO Max special dubbed Friends: The Reunion in May 2021.
Following Friends, Perry went on to make his directorial debut in Scrubs, for an episode he also starred in. He also garnered Emmy nominations for his roles in West Wing and The Ron Clark Story, which also earned him a Golden Globe nomination. From 2015-2017 he developed, cowrote, and executive produced a reboot of The Odd Couple, where he starred as Oscar Madison.
And while Perry’s accomplishments over his more than three decade career extended well beyond his time as Chandler Bing, the lasting bonds he made there lived up to the namesake of the show, a sincerity that has kept the sitcom popular for nearly 20 years.
“The best way that I can describe it is after the show was over, at a party or any, any kind of social gathering, if one of us bumped into each other that was it. That was the end of the night,” an emotional Perry said during the Friends reunion show. “You just sat with the person all night long. That was it. You apologize to the people you were with, but they had to understand — you had met somebody special to you and you want to talk to that person for the rest of their night. And that’s the way it worked. It’s certainly the way it works with all of us, It’s just the way it is.”
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