Inside Matthew Perry's Struggle With Addiction

Matthew Perry became a pop culture icon thanks to his laugh-filled portrayal of Chandler Bing on Friends, and according to Celebrity Net Worth, the TV star has amassed $120 million in the process. From 1994 to 2004, he and his co-stars ruled the small screen, but dark things were happening off-camera. Perry's real-life story is tragic. One filled with ups but even more downs, as Perry was pulled into a dark place by fame and addiction. "I was a guy who wanted to become famous," he told the New York Times in 2002. ”There was steam coming out of my ears, I wanted to be famous so badly," he continued. "I didn't think what the repercussions would be.”

Perry said that when he hit it big, "it was kind of like Disneyland for a while," but then things took a turn. "For me it lasted about eight months, this feeling of 'I've made it, I'm thrilled, there's no problem in the world,'" he shared. "And then you realize that it doesn't accomplish anything, it's certainly not filling any holes in your life." Alcohol and drugs also failed to fill said holes, but they did place Perry in a number of painful and regrettable situations, like when, as The Sun reported, he allegedly "superglued his hands to his legs" or broke into a neighbor's pool totally naked. Here is an inside look at Matthew Perry's decades-long struggle with addiction.

The Friends era is a blur for Matthew Perry

Matthew Perry stuck to his career commitments and appeared in every single episode of Friends, but he was struggling behind the scenes. Although he insists he "was never high at work," he did admit to People in 2013 (via E!) that he was often "painfully hung over" on set. "Then eventually things got so bad I couldn't hide it and everybody knew," he revealed.

As Perry told People, "From an outsider's perspective, it would seem like I had it all." However, due to his battle with alcoholism, it was "a very lonely time" for the star. "It was going on before Friends, but it's a progressive disease," he said. "I had a big problem with pills and alcohol, and I couldn't stop."

Perry joined Friends when he was 24, and in the ten years he was on the show, he entered rehab twice: First in 1997 to battle his addiction to alcohol and prescription medication (which began when a physician prescribed opioids following a 1997 jet ski accident), then again in 2001 "to deal with Vicodin, methadone, amphetamines, and alcohol addictions," according to The Sun. Things were so serious that, as he told BBC Radio 2 (via Business Insider), he can't choose a favorite Friends episode because he "was pretty out of it" for a large chunk of filming. "I don't remember three years of it," he confessed.

Matthew Perry was 'out of control and very unhealthy'

Following his 2001 rehab stint, Matthew Perry sat down for a candid 2002 interview with People in which he revealed his addiction had gotten to a point where he was taking "'insane number of pills'—between 20 and 30 daily" and ingesting "probably a quart of vodka a day." Recalling the '97 jet ski accident that put Vicodin in his hands for the first time, he admitted, "From the start I liked how it made me feel and I wanted to get more." He began shedding weight — "I returned to my original birth weight," he quipped — and by 2000, he was often "sleepy and shaking at work."

But while he concedes he "was out of control and very unhealthy," Perry is adamant that he would never abuse any substances while on the clock. As he told The New York Times in 2002, ”I had this odd rule that I would never drink on a set. But I went to work in extreme cases of hangover." He went on to note that it was "horrible to feel that way and have to work and be funny on top of that." As he described it, he would feel himself "detoxing on the Friends soundstage during run-throughs, sweating and shaking."

Fear of dying pushed Matthew Perry towards sobriety

At 28 years old, Matthew Perry entered rehab for the first time. As he explained to People, he did a 28-day stint in Minnesota's Hazelden rehab center and "was able to stay sober for a brief period, but I didn't really get it" and in 2000, he relapsed. Despite his loved ones' pleas, he "wasn't ready to hear it" and refused to seek help until 2001. "You can't tell anyone to get sober. It has to come from you," he explained. Case in point: When he spent two weeks in hospital in 2000 to treat pancreatitis, which can be caused by alcohol abuse, "that still wasn't enough to get me to quit drinking."

Perry's "moment of clarity" came on Feb. 23, 2001 while shooting Serving Sara in Dallas. "I was in fear of losing my life," he recalled to People. As he told The New York Times, "I didn't get sober because I felt like it. I got sober because I was worried I was going to die the next day.” While recounting ”this very lovely spiritual moment" to The New York Times, he said, "Everything's clear for one split second. I realize, I've got to go save myself." So he called his parents, flew back to L.A. immediately, and spent the next two and a half months at a rehab center. "It was scary. I didn't want to die," he shared with People. "But I'm grateful for how bad it got. It only made me more adamant about trying to get better."

Did Matthew Perry ask people to buy drugs on his behalf?

Matthew Perry contends he's been sober since 2001, but in 2017, adult film star Maddy O'Reilly claimed to the Daily Mail that Perry, whom she says she had a fling with, texted to ask her out to dinner, then pushed off the date and instead asked if she could "purchase some pills" for him, namely Vicodin, Roxicodone, and OxyContin. O'Reilly said she asked how much he'd pay and he replied, "It depends which one is available. But...a lot." She claimed to the mag, "I was really looking disappointed, it went from us making dinner plans to Matthew asking me for 40 to 50 pills." 

In December 2020, Perry's ex Kayti Edwards shared a similar story with The Sun. She alleged that around 2011, when she was five months pregnant, she began meeting dealers on Perry's behalf so paparazzi wouldn't spot him. She claimed Perry would "set it up and say, 'Ok, go to this address and meet this person, they're going to come out and hand you a bag.'" Edwards alleged there would be "a smorgasbord" of drugs, ranging from cocaine to heroin, inside the bag.

Alleging their "relationship turned toxic," she said Perry would "guilt trip" her, but also pay generously. "I just had to drive, pick it up, bring it to him [...] sometimes three times a day, sometimes I made like $3,000, $4,000 a day," she alleged, adding he would sometimes take "80 Vicodin a day." As far as we can tell, Perry hasn't publicly addressed the claims.

Matthew Perry is using his struggle to help others

Matthew Perry is giving back. After overcoming his own demons, the actor decided to use his experiences to help others. "The interesting reason that I can be so helpful to people now is that I screwed up so often," he told People in 2013. "It's nice for people to see that somebody who once struggled in their life is not struggling any more." He also told The Hollywood Reporter that "the fact that I [am] on TV makes people listen a little bit more, so I take advantage of that from time to time."

But he didn't just offer words of advice, he took action and turned his Malibu beach home into a men's sober living facility called Perry House. Working with addiction specialist Earl Hightower, he began helping recovered addicts get back on their feet. In 2015, The Hollywood Reporter found him having to move the facility out of Malibu because it "was too expensive to run and the business didn't really work," but he was determined not to close. "I'm keeping the business going because I like it; it's a good way to help alcoholics," he said. Plus he sees it as a privilege. "I've had a lot of ups and downs in my life and a lot of wonderful accolades, but 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,'" he shared with The Hollywood Reporter.

Matthew Perry is a passionate advocate for drug courts

In addition to his work with Perry House, the Odd Couple actor is also "proud to be an advocate for a program that's finally breaking the vicious cycle of addiction, arrest, and incarceration." In other words, drug courts. In 2013, Perry visited the White House to weigh in on President Obama's drug policy reform plan. In a blog post for the president's website, he wrote that "drug courts are a wonderful solution" to help "people suffering from substance use disorders who are caught in the cycle of arrest and incarceration." He noted that "treatment, not a jail cell" is the way to go, adding, "drug courts provide them a means of getting the treatment they need."

Perry was also chosen to be a spokesperson for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals and has raised more than $45 million for the cause, according to Patch. What's more, he's testified before Congress on more than one occasion, including in 2013 when he "strongly" urged the U.S. House of Representatives "to maintain $45 million for Drug Courts at the Department of Justice and $4 million for Veterans Treatment Courts." Explaining why the cause has been so important for him, he said, "When I found recovery from prescription drug abuse I dedicated myself to helping others. This is precisely why I make it a priority to come to Washington, DC and meet with you about Drug Courts."

Matthew Perry calls himself an 'award-winning alcoholic'

Since he first began advocating for drug courts, Matthew Perry has made quite the impact. During his 2013 testimony in front of the U.S. House of Representatives, he shared just how committed he's been, noting that he's "led a rally at the Capitol with hundreds of Drug Court professionals from across the country," "met with Members of Congress [about] the incredible success of programs in their state," and even spoken "at a briefing with the House Committee on Addiction, Treatment and Recovery."

It's this dedication that has won him numerous awards. Like in 2013 when he was honored by the Obama Administration's Office of National Drug Control Policy with the Champion of Recovery Award for "giving a voice to the millions of Americans in recovery." As Perry recalled to The Hollywood Reporter, it was a "surreal" moment. "During my darkest times, I never could [have] imagined receiving an award at the White House," he said.

Then, in 2015, Phoenix House, a nonprofit that helps with drug and alcohol rehabilitation, gave him the Phoenix Rising Award for his advocacy, as well as for his work with Perry House. However, as he told The Hollywood Reporter, it's never been about the accolades. Calling the notion of being rewarded "silly," he added, "I'm an award-winning alcoholic, I guess. I shouldn't be getting an award; Phoenix House should be getting an award."

Sobriety isn't easy, but Matthew Perry hasn't given up

As Matthew Perry told The Hollywood Reporter, "Getting sober is a really hard thing to do," and it's something he's worked hard for over two decades. In 2011, he checked back into rehab "as a proactive measure," explaining in a statement (via Radar Online) that he was "making plans to go away for a month to focus on my sobriety and to continue my life in recovery." Unfortunately, it seems he's hit a number of hurdles in recent years.

In February 2019, Perry tweeted that he "got kicked out of therapy today," but as followers began to voice their concerns — "I don't know what is going on, but I hope you are alright and have people to support you," wrote one fan (via Heart Radio) — he assured them, "Easy guys, it was just one session. I'm back in therapy where I belong." According to Radar Online, Perry supposedly got the boot because he was more focused on dating app Raya rather than on his session. A source claimed that "he was too busy with models he's texting through the app" and "he wasn't concentrating." The source added that "some of his pals are worried he's replacing an addiction to drugs and booze with an addiction to girls."

Jump to November 2019 and a source shared with In Touch that Perry was supposedly spotted acting "very messy, sloppy" in Hollywood, "swerving and swaying" and looking "really out of it." A year later, an insider told In Touch that Perry has "been sober" and "is doing better than he has in a long time."