Matthew Perry achieved global fame and career success, bringing joy to audiences around the world. Off screen, however, he lived with the pain that comes with the disease of addiction.
While starring for ten seasons in “Friends,” one of the most popular sitcoms of all time, Perry was trying to overcome his drug and alcohol abuse. He revealed in his 2022 autobiography, “Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing: A Memoir,” that he attended 6,000 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and entered rehab 15 times.
Perry wrote of the loneliness he experienced during his cycles of substance abuse and recovery and worked hard to help others doing the same. Following Perry’s death on Saturday, actor Hank Azaria paid tribute on Instagram and described how his long-time friend helped him get sober.
“I’m a sober guy for 17 years, and I wanna say that, the night I went into AA, Matthew brought me in. The whole first year I was sober, we went to meetings together,” Azaria said. “He was so caring and giving and wise. And he totally helped me get sober. And I really wish he could’ve, you know, found the – found it in himself to stay with the silver life more consistently.”
Perry prioritized helping others facing similar struggles.
“I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my life and a lot of wonderful accolades,” Perry told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015. “The best thing about me is that if an alcoholic comes up to me and says, ‘Will you help me stop drinking?’ I will say, ‘Yes. I know how to do that.’”
Here’s a look back at some key moments in Perry’s life.
Perry was cast as the lovable, witty and sarcastic Chandler Bing in 1994. They quickly skyrocketed to fame.
Perry and Julia Roberts became friends prior to her guest appearance on Season 2 of the hit show. In his book, Perry wrote that Roberts agreed to appear in the series only if she could be in a storyline with Chandler Bing. Perry sent her roses and a card that read, “The only thing more exciting than the prospect of you doing the show is that I finally have an excuse to send you flowers.”
After a months of sweet exchanges via fax, the two ended up dating in 1995, Perry wrote. Their relationship lasted six months before Perry, describing his addiction at the time and feelings of inadequacy, broke up with her out of fear.
“Dating Julia Roberts had been too much for me. I had been constantly certain that she was going to break up with me,” Perry wrote in his book. “I was not enough; I could never be enough; I was broken, bent, unlovable. So instead of facing the inevitable agony of losing her, I broke up with the beautiful and brilliant Julia Roberts.”
Perry revealed in his book that he began abusing prescription medication after he was involved in a jet ski accident on the set of “Fools Rush In” in 1997 and was prescribed Vicodin. He eventually was taking up to 55 pills per day, he wrote, which resulted in his significant weight loss that was visible on “Friends.”
Perry sought treatment at the Hazelden Betty Ford facility in Minnesota in 1997 for a month.
In 2000, Perry revealed he was abusing alcohol and was hospitalized with pancreatitis. He was prescribed Dilaudid, an opioid for pain, Perry wrote in his book.
“It was my new favorite drug,” he wrote. “And I would have stayed in that hospital for a hundred days if they kept [administering] it.”
Perry maintained he did not work under the influence.
“Never when working,” he recalled in a 2002 interview. “But the hangover is brutal. I was sleepy and shaking at work.”
He was getting treatment again while filming the Season 7 finale for “Friends” in 2001.
“I married Monica and got driven back to the treatment center — at the height of my highest point in ‘Friends,’ the highest point in my career, the iconic moment on the iconic show — in a pickup truck helmed by a sober technician,” Perry wrote.
Perry spent two and a half months in rehab, finished filming “Serving Sara” and returned to the set of “Friends.” He said he was focused at the time on getting better.
“It all starts from a spiritual connection with something that’s bigger than you,” he told People in 2002. “That’s where the stuff of life is. As for the rest of it, I’m lucky to have a cool car and plenty of money. But if you don’t have happiness inside, and you don’t think of others first, you’ll be lonely and miserable in a big house.”
Perry was lauded for his work on “Friends.” He won a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series and was also nominated for five Emmys for various roles.
In 2011, Perry said in a statement that while he hadn’t relapsed, he was “making plans to go away for a month to focus on my sobriety and to continue my life in recovery. Please enjoy making fun of me on the World Wide Web.”
In 2013, Perry converted his former Malibu beach home into a sober living facility.
In 2018, Perry spent three months in the hospital and due to his deteriorating health and underwent surgery to repair a gastrointestinal perforation caused by opioid abuse.
“The doctors told my family that I had a 2% chance to live,” Perry said in a 2022 interview. “I was put on a thing called an ECMO machine, which does all the breathing for your heart and your lungs. And that’s called a Hail Mary. No one survives that.”
The near-death experience marked a change for Perry.
“I’ve surrendered, but to the winning side, not the losing,” Perry wrote in his book. “I’m no longer mired in an impossible battle with drugs and alcohol.”
In 2021, the cast of “Friends” reunited for the first time on screen in 17 years. Perry almost missed the reunion because he had undergone urgent dental work days prior and had a hard time speaking.
I couldn’t not show up,” he recalled to Diane Sawyer in 2022. “So, what I chose to do was just go and do the best that I could.”
During the reunion special, Perry reflected on the tight bond the cast shared.
“The best way I can describe it is after the show was over, at a party or any other social gathering, if one of us bumped into each other, that was it, that was the end of the night. We just sat with the person all night long,” Perry said.
“And that was it. You apologized to the people that you were with, but they had to understand you had met somebody special to you, and you were going to talk to that person for the rest of the night,” he continued. “And that’s the way it worked.”
While promoting his book in 2022, Perry said he had been clean for 18 months, which included his appearance on the“Friends” reunion.
“I’ve probably spent $9 million or something trying to get sober,” he estimated.
In reflecting on his life during a promotional appearance last November, Perry reiterated the value he placed on helping others.
“I would like to be remembered as somebody who lived well, loved well, was a seeker,” Perry said. “And his paramount thing is that he that he wants to help people. That’s what I want.”
“When I die, I don’t want ‘Friends’ to be the first thing that’s mentioned,” he added. “I want that [helping other addicts] to be the first thing that’s mentioned, and I’m going to live the rest of my life proving that.”
For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at CNN.com