Matthew Perry's Darkest Confessions

The following article includes references to drug and alcohol addiction.

On October 28, 2023, Matthew Perry was found dead at his Los Angeles home. Best known for his decade playing wisecracking Chandler Bing on "Friends," Perry was just 54 years old. While the cause of death wasn't immediately known, in the months leading up to his final days, it appeared that he'd finally conquered the substance misuse he'd been struggling with for much of his life. "Friends" co-creator Marta Kaufman, appearing on "Today," recalled speaking to Perry just two weeks earlier. "He was happy and chipper," she said. "... He was in a really good place, which is why this seems so unfair."

Given that Perry was very public about his drug and alcohol addiction, he tended to take a pragmatic view of his own mortality. "I say in the book that if I did die, it would shock people, but it wouldn't surprise anybody," he told People while discussing his warts-and-all 2022 memoir. During that interview, Perry also opened up about why he decided to write the book "Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing" when he did. "I wanted to share when I was safe from going into the dark side of everything again," the actor explained. "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. And the main thing was, I was pretty certain that it would help people."

As fans have continued to mourn his loss, read on for a look at some of Matthew Perry's darkest confessions over the years.

Matthew Perry's addiction to painkillers was sparked by a random accident

Matthew Perry was just 14 when he first tried alcohol. To say it was a game-changer is putting it mildly; in fact, he realized that booze made him feel, for the first time in his life, the way he'd always wished he could. "I thought to myself, 'This must be the way that normal people feel all the time,'" he told Diane Sawyer in a 2022 interview with ABC News' "20/20."

Many years later, Perry experienced his first taste of opiates when he was injured in a 1997 accident while riding a jet ski. To cope with the pain, a doctor gave him Vicodin. "'Here, take this,'" Perry told People in 2013, recalling the physician's words. "I did and I felt better than I ever felt in my entire life." Adding prescription painkillers to Perry's already excessive consumption of booze escalated his descent into what became a crippling addiction, ultimately sending him to rehab more than a dozen times. 

"I had a big problem with pills and alcohol," Perry confessed, "and I couldn't stop." As the actor explained, he hadn't really thought through the consequences of taking those pills; becoming addicted was simply an unintended consequence of his continual quest to feel good. "It wasn't my intention to have a problem with it," he said. "But from the start I liked how it made me feel, and I wanted to get more."

He fed his drug addiction by seeing multiple doctors

Eventually, Matthew Perry was no longer taking Vicodin to get high, but to stave off withdrawal. As his dependence grew, so too did the sheer volume he needed to take. "I would wake up and have to get 55 Vicodin that day, and figure out how to do it," he explained in a 2022 interview with The New York Times. "When you're a drug addict, it's all math. I go to this place, and I need to take three. And then I go to this place, and I'm going to take five because I'm going to be there longer. It's exhausting but you have to do it or you get very, very sick. I wasn't doing it to feel high or to feel good."

In order to get all those pills, Perry had to get creative. "I would fake back injuries. I would fake migraine headaches. I had eight doctors going at the same time," he explained. The "Friends" star also visited realtors' open houses — not because he was interested in buying a home, but to rifle through the bathrooms' medicine cabinets in the hopes of finding the meds he needed. He figured his plan was foolproof; even if the homeowners did discover their pills had been looted, Perry would be the last person they'd suspect. "And I think they thought, 'Well, there's no way that Chandler came in and stole from us,'" he said.

Matthew Perry was in a sober living facility during a pivotal Friends episode

Among the most memorable moments on "Friends" was the wedding of Monica and Chandler. For viewers, that episode — the finale of the series' seventh season — became a favorite due to Matthew Perry's character's sweet exchanging of vows with Monica, played by Courteney Cox. For Perry, however, that particular episode conjured up a very different memory. 

As detailed in his "Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing" memoir, the timing of the wedding episode was particularly problematic; Perry had recently gone through rehab and was then staying in a sober living facility within the Promises center in Malibu. His treatment was expected to go on for months, but this problem was eventually solved. "Two weeks later, I was driven to the set of 'Friends' by a technician from Malibu," Perry wrote. He filmed his scenes, and once production had wrapped, he was then shuttled back. "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," he continued.

Perry credited his co-stars for their patience and understanding. "It's like penguins," he told People in 2022. "Penguins, in nature, when one is sick, or when one is very injured, the other penguins surround it and prop it up. ... That's kind of what the cast did for me."

The Friends star's pancreatitis diagnosis led to a warning

In 2000, Matthew Perry was hospitalized, spending two weeks in Los Angeles' Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to undergo treatment for pancreatitis. The disease can be fatal, and is often caused by excessive alcohol consumption that creates inflammation of the pancreas. Doctors determined that was indeed was the underlying reason for the illness. "In my case, it was hard living and drinking hard and eating poorly," Perry explained to Us Weekly at the time, per E! News. "You play, you pay."‌ 

Suffering such a serious ailment at such a young age — he was just 30 at the time — would serve as a wakeup call for most people. That, however, didn't prove to be the case with Perry, who ignored his doctors' warning. "Unfortunately," he told People two years later, "that still wasn't enough to get me to quit drinking."

Things went from bad to worse when, on the same day he was released from Cedars-Sinai, the TV star crashed his Porsche into a vacant house. While Perry luckily wasn't injured in the accident — and a blood test indicated there were no drugs or alcohol in his bloodstream at the time — his "Friends" co-star, Matt LeBlanc, felt the need to intervene. "I tried to talk to him," LeBlanc told People, admitting his words had fallen on deaf ears. "There wasn't a response. It's such a personal struggle; they need to bottom out on their own."

Matthew Perry was given a 2% chance of survival when his colon burst

Pancreatitis wasn't the only medical problem that Matthew Perry suffered due to his excessive substance use. In 2018, his rep issued a statement to ET to reveal that a "gastrointestinal perforation" led to the actor undergoing surgery.

In his memoir, Perry confessed that the operation resulted from his dependence on pills. "I had been on opiates, and off opiates, and back on different opiates for so long that I suffered from a situation that only a subset of the population gets," Perry wrote. "Opiates cause constipation," he explained, revealing he'd become so impacted that his colon had ruptured. The end result was more than a dozen surgeries, a five-month hospital stay, and two weeks in a coma. "The doctors told my family that I had a two percent chance to live," he told People. "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."

Afterward, Perry spent nine months using a colostomy bag — something that later became a motivating factor in helping him to avoid relapsing. "My therapist said to me, 'The next time you think about OxyContin, I want you to think about living out the rest of your days with a colostomy bag,'" wrote Perry in "Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing." "... What he said caused a very small window to open, and I crawled through it. And on the other side was a life without OxyContin."

His heart stopped beating for five minutes during surgery

Sadly, that wasn't the only time that Matthew Perry came close to death while hospitalized. In his memoir, the late actor wrote about being in rehab facility in Switzerland in 2020, where he complained of being in terrible pain in order to convince his doctor to give him hydrocodone in advance of surgery he was going to have. In preparation for that operation, doctors administered propofol, a powerful sedative that was responsible for the death of Michael Jackson

"I was given the shot at 11:00 a.m.," Perry wrote in "Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing." "I woke up 11 hours later in a different hospital. Apparently, the propofol had stopped my heart. For five minutes. It wasn't a heart attack — I didn't flatline — but nothing had been beating." He added, "I was told that some beefy Swiss guy really didn't want the guy from 'Friends' dying on his table and did CPR on me for the full five minutes, beating and pounding my chest. If I hadn't been on 'Friends,' would he have stopped at three minutes? Did 'Friends' save my life again?"

While Perry survived, his role in the 2021 Oscar-nominated film "Don't Look Up" did not as he recovered from this medical emergency. "I had to give up ... the best, biggest movie I'd ever gotten," Perry revealed during a 2022 appearance on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert." "I had four scenes with Meryl Streep."

The tragic reason he couldn't watch Friends reruns

"Friends" was not only a massive television hit during its original run on NBC, but it also attracted a new generation of viewers via syndicated reruns — and then a whole other following on streaming when those reruns were added to Netflix, and later HBO Max. One person who didn't watch those reruns, however, was Matthew Perry. 

As he explained in his memoir, while a typical viewer may enjoy the hilarious exploits of Chandler and his pals, all he was able to see was a reminder of his struggle with drug and alcohol addiction during those years. "You can track the trajectory of my addiction if you gauge my weight from season to season," he wrote in his memoir. "When I'm carrying weight, it's alcohol; when I'm skinny, it's pills. When I have a goatee, it's lots of pills."

At one point, while he was taking the aforementioned 55 Vicodin on a daily basis, his weight had dropped dangerously, down to just 128 lbs. "I was on 'Friends' getting watched by 30 million people — and that's why I can't watch the show, 'cause I was like brutally thin and being beaten down so badly by the disease," Perry explained in a 2022 interview with CBC Radio's "Q with Tom Power."

Matthew Perry's substance use caused one of his movies to shut down

Perhaps one of the strangest ironies of Matthew Perry's acting career was that his greatest Hollywood successes came during times when his substance misuse had spiraled most out of control. "I had a deal with myself that I would never drink or take anything while working, and I held up to that deal," he explained during a 2022 appearance on "The View," "but I was insanely hungover doing the work."

However, Perry admittedly pushed himself too far when he signed on to star alongside Elizabeth Hurley in the 2002 romantic comedy "Serving Sara." In "Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing," Perry explained that he was filming the movie in Texas at the same time he was shooting "Friends" in Los Angeles, flying back and forth and working double duty. For someone in Perry's condition, that grueling schedule proved to be a recipe for disaster. 

According to Perry's memoir, he was using cocaine, methadone, and Xanax at the time, which he'd wash down with a quart of vodka on a daily basis. He was understandably in such rough shape that he couldn't continue. Perry entered rehab, which delayed his scenes on "Friends" and paused production on "Serving Sara." Due to his slurred speech in some of the rom-com's scenes, he would later be forced by producers to dub in his dialogue, in addition to paying $650,000 to cover the costs of the production delay. As Perry noted, "Small price to save my life."

He 'didn't remember' proposing to ex-fiancée Molly Hurwitz

In 2018, Matthew Perry began dating Molly Hurwitz. After a string of high-profile romances with famous women that wound up flaming out, it appeared as though Perry had finally found "the one" in the then-20-something literary manager when he made a big announcement. "I decided to get engaged," the actor told People in November 2020. "Luckily, I happened to be dating the greatest woman on the face of the planet at this time." Just six months later, however, the engagement was off. "Sometimes things just don't work out and this is one of them," Perry stated to the same outlet. "I wish Molly the best."

While Perry didn't mention Hurwitz by name, his "Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing" memoir described how he'd popped the question during his rehab stint in Switzerland. "I had even asked for her family's blessing," he wrote, noting he was on the aforementioned massive dose of hydrocodone at the time. "Then I'd proposed, high as a kite. And on one knee. And she knew it, too. And she said yes." He recalled thinking upon the duo's return to Los Angeles, "'Wait ... how did I get engaged? There are dogs living in my house. How did this happen?'" 

When he confessed he couldn't remember proposing, she tried to jog his memory by recalling specific details. "I didn't remember — needless to say, we broke up," Perry added.

Matthew Perry spent millions on his journey toward sobriety

In his book "Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing," Matthew Perry opened up about the intensity of his relationship with alcohol. "I would have gone crazy without it," he wrote. "Learning to move forward in life without it was tantamount to asking someone to go about his or her day without breathing."

He also detailed how much work — and how much money he'd spent — on his decades-long quest to attain lasting sobriety. "I have spent upward of $7 million trying to get sober," Perry confessed. "I have been to 6,000 AA meetings. (Not an exaggeration, more an educated guess.) I've been to rehab 15 times. I've been in a mental institution, gone to therapy twice a week for 30 years, been to death's door." In his interview with The New York Times while promoting the book, Perry estimated the monetary cost to be even higher than he'd stated — in the realm of $9 million — and that he'd spent the majority of his adult life either residing in sober living facilities or getting treatment in rehab. 

Perry's legacy — perhaps even more so than his beloved portrayal of Chandler on "Friends" — arguably remains his goal to help others facing similar struggles with addiction, which would live on through the posthumously established Matthew Perry Foundation. However, the late actor did not mince words when discussing his lowest points with the disease. "There is a hell," Perry wrote in his memoir. "Don't let anyone tell you different. I've been there; it exists; end of discussion."

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).