Arts and Entertainment

The Complicated Life and Untimely Death of the Beloved Matthew Perry

A tribute to Friends actor Matthew Perry, and a recap of his life and the events leading up to his sudden death on October 28, 2023.

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Actor Matthew Perry, best known for his role as Chandler Bing on the hit sitcom Friends (1994–2004), passed away on October 28, 2023 at the age of 54. He was found unresponsive in the hot tub of his Los Angeles home; no cause of death has been confirmed. 

Perry was born in Williamstown, Massachusetts, on August 19, 1969 to a journalist mother and actor father. By age 10, Perry had become known for mischief: he stole money, let his grades slip, and even beat up fellow student and future Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. As a teenager, Perry studied acting at Buckley High School in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles, and took classes at L.A. Connection Comedy Theater in his free time. It was there that he found refuge in improv and comedy—an experience he would carry with him to his remarkable acting career and beyond.

Perry’s natural talent as an actor and comedian earned him the role of Friends’s Chandler Bing—a role seemingly made for him—at just 24 years old. Of the six friends, Chandler was known for his biting sarcasm and wit, which he brought out both to make his buds crack a smile and to avoid awkward social situations. Perry had the same effect on his friends and colleagues: “From the day we first heard him embody the role of Chandler Bing, there was no one else for us,” Friends co-creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman said in a joint statement following Perry’s death. Whether Chandler was faking a move to Yemen to escape his ex-girlfriend or stuck inside a box for six hours to prove his loyalty to his best friend, Perry made the role comically and sentimentally his own. Perry’s larger-than-life performance as Chandler Bing quickly captured hearts across the world; 25.4 percent of all Friends viewers named Chandler as their favorite character, and the show remains the second most streamed series on Netflix today, trailing behind only The Office (2005–2013). Beyond Friends, Perry received Primetime Emmy Award nominations for his performances in The West Wing (2003) and The Ron Clark Story (2006). He later gained leading roles in several additional series and films such as The Whole Ten Yards (2005) and 17 Again (2009). 

Perry’s ability to deliver iconically witty one-liners and make even ordinary dialogue memorable is a testament to his sensational acting abilities. “Matthew was an incredibly generous actor. There was no single time I stepped onto a stage with him that I did not feel lifted by his brilliance,” Friends costar Maggie Wheeler (who played Chandler’s on-again, off-again girlfriend Janice) said. “Even in his darkest moments his comedic timing was impeccable.”

Despite his unwavering talent, the “darkest moments” referenced by Wheeler had a burdensome weight on Perry throughout his acting career and personal life. In his 2022 memoir, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, Perry describes his life-threatening struggle with severe alcohol and drug addiction. In his memoir, Perry claims to have been an alcoholic since his first drink at age 14 and explains how his drug addiction developed when he was prescribed painkillers after a jet ski accident. Despite what viewers saw for a decade on NBC—Perry’s witty, charmingly sarcastic, and effervescent spirit—he admitted to being so overcome by addiction that he could not remember an entire three-year period of filming Friends

Even with this overwhelming addiction, Perry made it his goal to become sober and inspire others to do the same. Perry relapsed on multiple occasions since he first began working towards sobriety in 2002, but had been sober since 2022 and at the time of his death. By telling his story of addiction, Perry hoped to be a role model to those in similar situations. “I’ve surrendered, but to the winning side, not the losing. I’m no longer mired in an impossible battle with drugs and alcohol,” Perry wrote in his memoir. “The kind of message that I guess I give out with this book is don’t give up. There’s help out there. I’ve been helped on a daily basis. If I didn’t get help, I wouldn’t be sitting here,” Perry elaborated in an interview with Jess Cagle at The Town Hall in New York City.

Shortly after his death, Perry’s friend Athenna Crosby affirmed that Perry had been healthy and was maintaining his sobriety. “In the interaction that I had with him, he was extremely positive, sober, acting normal,” Crosby said. She saw Perry just hours before he was found dead. Despite the fact that no official cause of death has been revealed amidst ongoing autopsies, many fans have expressed concern about the actor’s state of mind in the week before his death. In posts from that time, Perry posed retrospectively alarming questions such as “Do you know what I mean?” and “Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you?”, signing off with the alias “Mattman,” a reference to the famously rich loner-superhero Batman. In his final post, Perry sits in the hot tub in which he was later found unresponsive; the picture is ominously captioned: “Oh, so warm water swirling around makes you feel good? I’m Mattman.”

Despite the perplexing and tragic circumstances of Perry’s death, he will be remembered for his immense talent and missed by family, friends, and fans across the globe. Perry touched countless souls throughout his tenacious life; the works of his wildly successful acting career and his fans’ boundless love will immortalize him one witty line at a time.