In a quiet corner of Forest Lawn cemetery in the Hollywood Hills – a stone’s throw from the resting places of film icons Carrie Fisher and Bette Davis – Perry’s grave is covered in modest bunches of flowers. There are no crowds gathered, just a steady stream of people who come mostly in pairs to quietly pay their respects to the late Chandler Bing star, who died in his LA home aged 54.
Part of this crowd control is intentional – Forest Lawn is host to some of the biggest names in Hollywood, including Michael Jackson, Walt Disney and the late Fast and Furious star, Paul Walker, who died aged 40 in a 2013 car crash. The cemetry might be star-studded, but it is not a tourist attraction – the grave markers, of which there are over 350,000, lie flat in the ground over 300 acres up steep Verdugo Mountains slope. There are no maps. The staff won’t help, either. Out of respect for the dead, Forest Lawn’s army of groundskeepers won’t direct you to a celebrity’s grave. If you’re a big enough fan, though, you do the research.
Perry’s remains are located in a large outdoor mausoleum named the Sanctuary of Treasured Love, which he shares with The Green Mile star Michael Clarke Duncan, among several others. Last week, all five of Perry’s Friends co-stars – Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc and David Schwimmer – gathered at the cemetery for his funeral service.
The Simpsons star Hank Azaria, who played the scientist David, one of Phoebe Buffay’s boyfriends in Friends, was in attendance. “He was a hilarious man, so we would sort of [be] alternately laughing and crying remembering him,” he said of the ceremony in a recent interview. “We’ve all had people we’ve lost. The world really lost him. In a way, it’s nice to have the world sort of sharing with you.”
Sisters Isani and Kayla from Arizona are visiting their cousins in California and decided to make the pilgrimage to Perry’s grave. “Friends was our comfort show,” they tell me, “Whenever we had a bad day, we always knew it would be ok because we could go home and watch Friends.” It’s a common theme among those mourning Perry, Friends was their chicken soup show – something warm and familiar that offers cosy, New York apartment porn escapism. There’s a reason why, to this day, Friends continues to earn a reported $1bn a year in syndicated revenue for Warner Bros.
I place my bouquet of white Hydrangeas at Perry’s headstone (which is currently unmarked). A note among the flowers referencing the Friends episode title formula reads: “Sweet Matthew ‘The One Where We All Have Broken Hearts’ We Love You.” Someone has placed a photo of Chandler wearing a crown in his 2001 bachelor party episode (“The One with the Stripper”) inside a tiny yellow frame.
Two women are wandering around the mausoleums, searching among the endless names for Perry’s. Dawn and Maya have travelled an hour from one of LA’s many suburbs to visit the grave. Maya was a 23-year-old trainee teacher when she saw Perry in The Ron Clark Story — a lesser-known, straight-to-television movie about an idealistic educator who leaves his small town to work at a rough New York City public school. It’s the kind of big-hearted role Perry excelled in. “I always watched movies about young aspiring teachers to help me and that movie helped me,” she says. “I absolutely loved and adored him, and at one point he was my favourite actor.”
Perry’s mausoleum is just a few hundred metres from the Hollywood sign on the north side of the Verdugo Mountains. From his grave, you can see the sprawling sound stages of Warner Bros Studios, where he spent years of his life filming Friends.
In his memoir, Perry recalled praying weeks before his audition for the sitcom. “God, you can do whatever you want to me. Just please make me famous,” he asked. Now, he will forever lie between the stars with whom he soared.