Inside Matthew Perry's Struggle With Addiction

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Matthew Perry became a pop culture icon thanks to his laugh-filled portrayal of Chandler Bing on "Friends.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.”

The joy of fame didn't last long, though. Perry admitted that after about eight months, you realize that notoriety doesn't solve all your problems. The actor later turned to alcohol and drugs, but that placed him in a number of painful and regrettable situations. Perry's ex-lover, Kayti Edwards, told The Sun in 2020 that "The Whole Nine Yards" actor once "superglued his hands to his legs" and broke into a neighbor's pool totally naked while under the influence. When Perry died from an apparent drowning on October 28, 2023, first responders noted there were no evidence of drug use, but here is an inside look at Matthew Perry's decades-long struggle with addiction.

Some of the 'Friends' era was 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 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.

It may have seemed like Perry had it all, starring on a popular sitcom, but due to his battle with alcoholism, he admitted he was very lonely. While he started drinking before "Friends," Perry admitted it's a disease that only gets progressively worse. 

When Perry joined "Friends," he was just 24, and in the 10 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), and then again in 2001 for alcohol as well as Vicodin, methadone, and amphetamines. Things were so serious that, as he told BBC Radio 2 in 2016, he couldn't choose a favorite "Friends" episode because he couldn't remember some of those years. 

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 around 30 pills a day, and ingesting a quart of vodka. Recalling the '97 jet ski accident that put Vicodin in his hands for the first time, he admitted, "[F]rom 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 wasn't healthy, 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 hard having to work like that while being funny for the cameras. As he described it, he would feel himself detoxing on set. 

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 but only for a short time. In 2000, he relapsed. Despite his loved ones' pleas, he wasn't ready to work on himself, 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 a hospital in 2000 to treat pancreatitis, which can be caused by alcohol abuse, that wasn't enough to get him to seek help. 

That would come on Feb. 23, 2001 while shooting "Serving Sara" in Dallas. "I was in fear of losing my life," he recalled to PeopleAs 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 moment to the NYT, 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. 

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

During his 2002 New York Times interview, Matthew Perry contended he'd been sober since 2001. However in 2017, adult film star Maddy O'Reilly claimed to the Daily Mail that Perry, whom she said she had a fling with, had texted to ask her out to dinner. He then pushed off the date, and instead asked if she could buy him 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 she was disappointed that instead of dinner plans, he just wanted 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. Edwards alleged there would be "a smorgasbord" of drugs, ranging from cocaine to heroin, inside the bag she would pick up for him. Edwards was paid $3,000, $4,000 a day to get Perry his drugs, and admitted he would sometimes take around 80 Vicodin pills daily. Perry never publicly addressed those claims, but later shared in his 2022 memoir, "Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing," that at one point he was taking 55 Vicodin a day. 

Matthew Perry was 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 in 2015 that he felt obligated to use his TV star status since people would listen to him more.  

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. Also in 2015, The Hollywood Reporter found him having to move the facility out of Malibu because it was expensive, 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.

Matthew Perry was a passionate advocate for drug courts

In addition to his work with Perry House, the "Odd Couple" actor was proud to be working with drug courts. In 2013, Perry visited the White House to weigh in on President Barack Obama's drug policy reform plan. In a blog post for the president's website, he wrote that drug courts help "people suffering from substance use disorders who are caught in the cycle of arrest and incarceration." He noted that treatment instead of a jail cell is the way to go.

Perry was also chosen to be a spokesperson for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals and 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 contribute $45 million for Drug Courts at the Department of Justice and $4 million for Veterans Treatment Courts. Explaining why the cause was 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, D.C. and meet with you about Drug Courts."

Matthew Perry called himself an 'award-winning alcoholic'

Since he first started advocating for drug courts, Matthew Perry had made quite the impact. During his 2013 testimony in front of the U.S. House of Representatives, he shared just how committed he'd been, noting that he led a rally at the Capitol, met members of Congress, and spoke with the House Committee on Addiction, Treatment and Recovery.

It's this dedication that won him numerous awards. Like in 2013, when he was honored by Barack Obama administration's Office of National Drug Control Policy with the Champion of Recovery Award for providing a voice to those 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 to the outlet.

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 wasn't easy, but Matthew Perry didn't give up

As Matthew Perry told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015, "Getting sober is a really hard thing to do," and it's something he worked hard on for over two decades. In 2011, he proactively checked back into rehab, explaining in a statement that he was going away to focus on his sobriety. Unfortunately, he hit a number of hurdles toward the end of his life.

In February 2019, Perry tweeted that he "got kicked out of therapy," but as followers began to voice their concerns, 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 friends were concerned he replaced his alcohol and drug addiction with women.

Jump to November 2019 and a source shared with In Touch that Perry was supposedly spotted acting "very messy, sloppy" while out in Hollywood. A year later, though, an insider told In Touch that Perry was sober and doing better. 

Matthew Perry had serious health complications from substance use

Matthew Perry's 2022 memoir "Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing" shed more light on the star's struggles with addiction, per People. He revealed, "I wanted to share when I was safe from going into the dark side again. 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. I was pretty certain that it would help people if I did."

In the book, Perry describes serious medical complications that resulted from his longtime substance abuse. In 2018, he suffered a burst colon, underwent several stomach surgeries, briefly went on life support, and spent a couple weeks in a coma. Waking up from a coma with a colostomy bag was a turning point for Perry. He told People, "So my therapist said, 'The next time you think about taking OxyContin, just think about having a colostomy bag for the rest of your life.' And a little window opened, and I crawled through it, and I no longer want OxyContin."

The "Friends" actor seemed to be on a good path with his medical recovery, as he shared, "I'm pretty healthy now." He also remarked on his immense strength and resilience that helped him through tough times. These insights are especially heart-wrenching now, as Perry tragically died on October 28 after being found unresponsive in his jacuzzi, according to TMZ.