Matthew Perry Used Chandler Character & Humour To Hide His Struggles With Addiction
Trigger warning: Contains references to addiction and drug use.
Like many millennials, I grew up watching the American sitcom ‘Friends’, even if I only really started watching the series in my 20s.
Although all six main characters had their own quirks and charms, the one who stood out for me most was Chandler, played by the late Matthew Perry who passed away on Saturday (28 Oct) after he apparently drowned in a hot tub.
Though he did not die of drug abuse, Perry has been highly open about his battle with addiction and how he has dealt with it over the years.
One of the ways he did that was by being funny — and boy, was he funny playing Chandler.
But we can’t ignore that being funny often also makes for a smokescreen that tends to push people away, and that it’s the funny people who also tend to be struggling the most.
Rewatching ‘Friends’ & Matthew Perry as Chandler was a surreal experience
“Hi, I’m Chandler, and I make jokes when I’m uncomfortable.”
To prepare for this article, I rewatched Friends.
It was a strange experience rewatching the series, knowing what we do now about Perry’s addiction issues during filming.
At various points, Perry was at the height of his addiction when filming ‘Friends’. He had to check into rehab several times – including after filming a Season 5 episode where Chandler got married to Monica, played by Courteney Cox.
He revealed that he took 55 Vicodin pills a day back then – which is why he can’t rewatch the sitcom. It was a stark reminder of what he used to be.
Last year, Perry told ABC News that he probably went to rehab 15 times and detox 65 times over the years.
Humour as a way to hide vulnerability
But what we saw on the screen was not his addiction, but his jokes, wit, and physical comedy.
In the show, Chandler would mask his anxiety by being funny.
Who can forget his various one-liners, his awkward comedic timing, his camaraderie with the other characters, or even spots of physical comedy?
For example, Chandler once made an iconic run across New York when he noticed a crush, only to say a single, lame greeting to her when he caught up.
Behind all that was a desperation to be funny.
“I thought being funny all the time was how I would get through,” Perry said. ‘I thought [Friends] was going to fix everything. It didn’t.”
Just like Chandler, I spent a lifetime using humour to get through uncomfortable situations.
It prevented others from getting too close. I would simply disarm anyone who tried, out of concern, to ask if I was okay.
They’d then laugh — whether because they enjoyed my jokes, or because they were uncomfortable — and move on.
As long as I appeared outwardly okay, that was fine, I thought. I also believed, like Perry, that I was alright being alone.
Alcohol masked underlying issues
But when things in my life started going out of control, the humour could not save me from veering off-course.
Sobriety then became hard to come by. As a social lubricant, alcohol was the go-to.
A few drinks a day don’t hurt, until you wake up feeling like a jackhammer lodged inside your skull, and you throw up so much that you’re dry-hurling.
Every addict thinks they’re high-functioning as long as they perform the tasks they have to and be where they need to be.
For Matthew Perry, that meant going on set even when he was clearly drunk or hungover.
The entire ‘Friends’ cast then staged an intervention when he fumbled a read-through session, prompting him to head into rehab.
Though I eventually managed to resolve many of the underlying issues that forced me down the watering hole, including ending a relationship, not everyone is lucky enough to do the same.
In a study by Ipsos this year, 49% of Singaporeans said that they’ve felt depressed to the point of feeling hopeless for weeks at a time.
Funny guys like Chandler may be among this fairly large number, who use humour to power through difficult thoughts and emotions.
Much like how Perry’s ‘Friends’ character was so well-loved, funny people in real life are able to charm others.
But that charm, often, is the smokescreen that prevents others from looking into their deeper issues.
Do not forget what Matthew Perry brought as Chandler
When Perry’s memoir, ‘Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing’ was published in 2022, he said he made sure to wait until he was free from the grip of addiction to share the gritty details of his story.
“I had to wait until I was pretty safely sober — and away from the active disease of alcoholism and addiction — to write it all down, he said to Today Magazine. “And the main thing was, I was pretty certain that it would help people.”
Now, when we watch ‘Friends’, we’ll have enduring reminders of a man who passed on after a lifelong struggle.
Yes, Perry would not have wanted people to remember him as the guy from ‘Friends’. However, we’re not always in control of our own legacy.
As long as we remember him for the right reasons – not just as the sardonic Chandler, but also as a man who tried to help anyone he could. And he certainly helped many people along the way.
The best thing we can do to upkeep his legacy is to help others who may be in his situation.
Remind them that they aren’t alone, even if they seem to find more comfort in doing so.
Rest in peace, Matthew Perry.
If you, or anyone you know is struggling with addiction, help is a call away:
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) — 8112 8089 (call or Whatsapp)
- Narcotics Anonymous (NA) — 8405 8432
- National Addictions Management Service (NAMS) — 67326837
- Thye Hua Kwan Centre for Family Harmony @ Circuit (Gambling Recovery Centre) — 6747 7514
- WE CARE Community Services — 6547 5459
- Women in Recovery Association (WIRA) — 8339 7690
Note: The views expressed within this article are the author’s own.
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