In an emotional interview, Matt Manasse pays tribute to his friend who used the popular sport as a way to help with his recovery process
Now his friend and pickleball coach is sharing with PEOPLE how much the popular sport meant to the actor who, died on Saturday at the age of 54. Matt Manasse, who has known the Friends star for two years, says it was an outlet for him and a tool he used on his sobriety journey.
“He thought it was something that could help with his recovery and he was doing an awesome job,” affirms Manasse, 35. “He loved it. He came out five times a week, would always talk about it. [He] got so much better, always made everyone laugh. He was competitive, just a genuine, good guy — caring for everybody.”
Dubbed the “Pickleball Coach to the Stars,” Manasse teaches clients at the Riviera Country Club, a private members club in Pacific Palisades near the actor's Los Angeles-area home.
Perry played a match there just hours before he was found dead in his home nearby. It’s no surprise to Manasse that his friend was on the court that morning. In fact, he was told that the actor — whose cause of death has yet to be determined — was “doing really well.”
He says, “When I first started playing pickleball [with him] it was just Matthew and [me]. And then we’d bring in other people.” Manasse says the actor liked playing with another coach at the Riviera. She was Perry’s pickleball partner on Saturday, and she was the first person Manasse contacted when news of the star’s death broke.
“She said, ‘Yeah, he’d come out.’ She didn’t say how long but said he’d been doing really well on court, which wasn’t a surprise.”
Manasse adds, “Pickleball was his outlet. He really looked forward to it. He was a competitive guy, not in a bad way at all. He loved it. He wanted to come out. He wanted to win. He loved it. When he hit an unbelievable shot, he would tell you about it for days.”
But aside from his love of the sport, Manasse says Perry — who was open about his years-long addiction to alcohol and prescription painkillers — used pickleball to stay sober and help others with their own recovery.
“He had so much that he was doing with his rehab facility and trying to get people clean,” Manasse says. “He would bring them to teach them pickleball. He was just always trying to help people.”
That includes Manasse himself, who was trying to build his reputation as the go-to pickleball coach as the game grew in popularity among Hollywood’s elite. Perry, he says, was willing to support him, telling him, “Whatever you need. Anything you need, I’m there for you.”
“That was just the kind of guy he was,” Manasse says. “We went to dinner together. I was over at his place for the Super Bowl. He cared about other people. He was a really good person.”
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The devastated coach, who last spoke to his friend the week before the star’s death, says that he wants people to know that his friend “Matty” was “a guy that wanted to help people and was selfless.”
“He cared about everyone — your day was better when you saw him or when he called,” he tells PEOPLE. “He never missed an opportunity for a funny joke to make you laugh. Just a genuinely amazing person. Everyone should know he had a heart of gold.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, please contact the SAMHSA helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.
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