The toll of Friends star Matthew Perry's battle with drink and drugs

A dozen life-saving operations, 15 trips to rehab clinics and a $9million sobriety fight: The toll of Friends star Matthew Perry’s battle with drink and drugs

  • Matthew Perry’s loved ones were told he had only 2 per cent chance of surviving 
  • Friends star, 49, reckons he has spent $9 million in total trying to remain sober
  • Says he made 6,000 visits to Alcoholics Anonymous and been in rehab 15 times

As his loved ones raced to the Los Angeles hospital where they were told he had only a 2 per cent chance of surviving the night, doctors were preparing to connect Friends star Matthew Perry to a machine nicknamed the ‘Hail Mary’.

Used to mechanically oxygenate the blood so that the heart and lungs can rest and heal, it is considered a last resort. Perry, then 49, was in need of desperate measures thanks to his years of drug abuse, heavy drinking and dependence on powerful painkillers.

On that touch-and-go night in 2018, his addiction to opioids had left him with pneumonia and a burst colon. Shortly after being admitted to hospital he slipped into a coma, which would last two weeks. When he came round he discovered he had been fitted with the colostomy bag he had to wear for the next nine months. pictured Matthew Perry in Los Angeles last week as he stepped out for a relaxing afternoon. This comes as the notoriously private actor revealed he nearly died of alcohol and drug addiction

The actor became an international sensation practically over night after he landed the role as Chandler Bing in Friends in 1994. Pictured with co-star Courtney Cox

Yet even this was not enough to keep him sober. Two years later his heart stopped beating for five minutes after doctors at a luxury rehab facility in Switzerland administered a sedative which interacted with the opioids in his ravaged body. They managed to resuscitate him but broke eight ribs in the process, forcing him to pull out of a role alongside Meryl Streep in the film Don’t Look Up.

Perry describes that lost opportunity as ‘heartbreaking’, but the consequences of his addictions have gone way beyond a single missed movie role.

Those two near-death experiences are just part of the catalogue of horror which is his new autobiography Friends, Lovers, And The Big Terrible Thing — an astonishingly frank account in which he reveals for the first time the years of addiction he hid while portraying the wise-cracking, hopelessly romantic Chandler Bing in Friends.

That role eventually earned him around $1 million per episode, making him one of the best-paid actors in the world.

But for Perry, fame came at an extremely high price, not least the $9 million he reckons he has spent on trying to remain sober.

Estimating that he has made some 6,000 visits to Alcoholics Anonymous, he has also been in rehab 15 times and undergone 12 operations to save his life.

For Perry, fame came at an extremely high price, not least the $9 million he reckons he has spent on trying to remain sober – pictured in September 2021, (left)

At one point, his gums were so diseased from his debauched lifestyle that his top front teeth fell out as he bit into toast spread with peanut butter, and he found himself carrying them to the dentist in a plastic bag.

He insists he never turned up to the Friends set while high or drunk, but admits that you can tell what he was using from his physical on-screen appearance.

While making the show, which ran between 1994 and 2004, Perry’s weight varied from 9st 2lb to 16st 1lb. If he was skinny, it was painkillers. If he was carrying weight, it was drink, and there were many times when he turned up for filming hungover.

Once, during a scene in the iconic Central Perk coffee shop, he passed out on the famous orange couch and co-star Matt LeBlanc, who played Joey, had to nudge him awake to say his line.

On another occasion, Jennifer Aniston came to his trailer and called him out for his drinking, telling him ‘in a weird but loving way’ that ‘we can smell it’.

Telling all: Perry has laid bare the intimate details of his battle with substance abuse in his upcoming memoir, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, which drops on November 1

To be confronted by her must have been particularly devastating because, as he admits, he was ‘crushing badly’ on her from the moment filming began, his ardour cooled only by ‘her deafening lack of interest’.

He had more success with Julia Roberts, who in 1996 appeared briefly in the sitcom — by then a global ratings hit — as Susie Moss, Chandler’s girlfriend. Roberts agreed to Perry’s request for a cameo only if he’d write her a paper on quantum physics, which he duly faxed to her the next day.

Their off-screen romance was brief, though, lasting only two months before Perry ended it.

‘I had been constantly certain that she was going to break up with me . . . so instead of facing the inevitable agony of losing her, I broke up with the beautiful and brilliant Julia Roberts.

‘She might have considered herself slumming it with a TV guy, and TV guy was now breaking up with her. I can’t begin to describe the look of confusion on her face.’

Behind this decision, and indeed many of his problems with addiction, lay Perry’s conviction that he is ‘broken, bent, unlovable’.

He insists he never turned up to the Friends set while high or drunk, but admits that you can tell what he was using from his physical on-screen appearance

He traces these feelings in part to his childhood. Born in 1969 in Williamstown, Massachusetts, he was the son of actor and model John Perry and journalist Suzanne Morrison, a former press secretary to the then Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

His father left the family when Perry was a baby, leaving him with a lifelong fear of abandonment. ‘If I drop my game, my Chandler, and show you who I really am, you might notice me, but worse, you might notice me and leave me,’ he writes.

His drinking began with beer and cheap wine when he was only 14 years old, and by his 21st birthday party it was already showing signs of being out of control. That night, he knocked back seven whisky cocktails and a bottle of wine before getting into the back of a stranger’s car after mistaking it for a cab.

Moving to Los Angeles to pursue his childhood dream of stardom, he appeared in several television shows before successfully auditioning for Friends.

The six-strong regular cast hit it off from the start, and their enduring friendship off camera was undoubtedly a big feature in the chemistry on set, but Perry still found filming hugely stressful.

‘I felt like I was gonna die if the live audience didn’t laugh,’ he admitted on the reunion show in 2021. ‘And I would sweat and just, like, go into convulsions. I felt like that every night.’

The enormous success of the show and the subsequent paparazzi attention for the six previously relatively unknown actors meant ‘every single moment of our lives being documented in public for all to see for ever’.

Julia Roberts agreed to Perry’s request for a cameo only if he’d write her a paper on quantum physics, which he duly faxed to her the next day

This did not help with Perry’s increasingly heavy drinking, and he also developed an addiction to Vicodin, a painkiller he took following a jet-ski accident soon after he joined the show. The maximum daily dosage is eight tablets but, by the end of the third season of Friends, he was swallowing around 55 a day.

The search for more pills became a ‘full-time job: making calls, seeing doctors, faking migraines, finding crooked nurses who would give me what I needed.

‘It’s exhausting but you have to do it or you get very sick,’ he told the New York Times.

‘I wasn’t doing it to feel high or to feel good. I certainly wasn’t a partyer. I just wanted to sit on my couch, take five Vicodin and watch a movie. That was heaven for me. It no longer is.’

Sometimes Perry would go to the ‘open houses’ held by American estate agents to showcase a property, just so he could steal pills from the medicine cabinets.

In 1995, a former girlfriend with whom he was still friendly insisted he see a doctor about his addictions.

‘There’s no way that Chandler came in and stole from us’: Matthew Perry has revealed he would attend open houses with the intent of stealing pills in his efforts to fuel his 55 Vicodin-a-day addiction

This led to the first of many stints in rehab. But even as he left, he knew he was going to drink again — lasting only nine weeks before once again hitting the bottle.

‘Addiction wakes up before you do,’ he says, ‘and it wants you alone. As soon as you raise your hand and say: ‘I’m having a problem,’ alcohol sneers: ‘You’re gonna say something about it? Fine, I’ll go away for a while. But I’ll be back.’ It never goes away for good.’

Perry attributes his survival, in part, to the support he got from his inseparable Friends co-stars, describing how they ate every meal together and played poker in between scenes. ‘They were understanding and they were patient,’ he said in an interview with People magazine last week.

‘It’s like penguins. When one is sick, the other penguins surround it and prop it up until that penguin can walk on its own. That’s kind of what the cast did for me.’

On one occasion, Jennifer Aniston came to his trailer and called him out for his drinking, telling him ‘in a weird but loving way’ that ‘we can smell it’

Between takes, he’d get on the exercise bike installed backstage at the request of cardio-enthusiasts Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox, and cycle furiously in a bid to get his hungover brain firing on all cylinders. But there was no escaping his addictions.

‘I didn’t know how to stop,’ he told People.

‘If the police came over to my house and said: ‘If you drink tonight, we’re going to take you to jail,’ I’d start packing. I couldn’t stop because the disease and the addiction is progressive. So it gets worse and worse as you grow older.’

By the summer of 1996, when Perry began filming Almost Heroes, a comedy directed by Christopher Guest, he was hardly ever eating — a full stomach seemed to get in the way of the ‘high’.

He says he was also throwing up regularly, keeping two towels next to the lavatory, one for wiping up the vomit, the other ‘to wipe away the tears’.

Perry explains that he has always drawn the line at taking heroin, especially after his cherished co-star Chris Farley — a comedian best known for U.S. TV sketch show Saturday Night Live who was known to use the drug — died of an overdose aged 33 in 1997.

It’s a choice Perry credits with saving his life. But his problems got so bad that he eventually had to have a ‘sober companion’ — a person who helps addicts in their recovery — accompany him to the Friends set.

This made little difference. Once, when he had been drinking the night before filming and was also on medication, he began slurring his words during a run-through.

‘Everyone would ask me if I was all right, but no one wanted to stop the Friends train because it was such a money-maker,’ he writes.

‘My greatest joy was also my biggest nightmare. I was this close to messing up a wonderful thing.’

He was at a particularly low ebb when he filmed one of Friends’ most-anticipated scenes — Chandler’s wedding to Monica, which aired in 2001.

Describing it as ‘the iconic moment on the iconic show’, he reveals that after shooting had finished for the day, he was collected by a sober companion in a pick-up truck and driven back to the rehab centre where he was then staying.

Hit series: Perry pictured with co-star Courteney Cox on an episode of Friends 

Two years later, he co-starred in the rom-com Serving Sara with Elizabeth Hurley, while using methadone (the heroin substitute also used to wean people off Vicodin), along with the anxiety medication Xanax and cocaine, all washed down with around a pint-and-a-half of vodka a day.

He turned up to film one scene, only to realise it had already been shot a few days earlier. The production closed down while he went to rehab, and a breach of contract saw him billed for around half a million pounds by the producers. The film was a flop.

Although he’s had various movie and TV roles since the final season of Friends aired in May 2004, his role as Chandler Bing is the one with which he will always be identified — perhaps because they had so much in common.

‘I was Chandler,’ he writes, explaining that both he and his most famous character use humour to compensate for their insecurities, and they also share relationship anxieties and self-sabotaging behaviour.

The difference, as the LA Times has pointed out, is that Chandler finds happiness, marrying Monica and adopting their twins.

Perry, by contrast, describes how deeply he regrets how his drug and alcohol abuse have cost him relationships.

Following short-lived romances with actresses including Scream star Neve Campbell, The Hangover’s Heather Graham and Yasmine Bleeth, who starred in Baywatch, it seemed as though he had finally found happiness when, in November 2020, he proposed to literary agent Molly Hurwitz, 29, his girlfriend of two years.

However, the relationship ended seven months later, with a close friend of Hurwitz’s telling the American celebrity gossip magazine In Touch: ‘You can only help someone so much. He is in a really dark place and pals fear he may have relapsed.’

This week, in an interview with the New York Times, to promote his autobiography, Perry claimed he was ‘as single as they come’.

‘I’m lonely but there’s a couple of people on the payroll to keep me safe,’ he said.

As a result of his substance abuse, he suffers auditory hallucinations and will probably have to take the anti-opioid medication Suboxone for the rest of his life.

But he says he has been sober for 18 months and has written the book because of all the people he hopes it might help.

‘This disease attacks everybody,’ he told People magazine. ‘It doesn’t matter if you’re successful or not successful, the disease doesn’t care.’

No one is better proof of that than Perry, who has lived to regret the prayer he offered up three weeks before being offered his life-changing role in Friends. At the time, he had just read a newspaper story about hell-raising actor Charlie Sheen getting into trouble once again.

‘I remember thinking: ‘Why does he care? He’s famous.’ Out of nowhere I found myself . . . praying: ‘God, you can do whatever you want to me. Just please make me famous.’

‘God certainly kept his side of the bargain. But the Almighty, being the Almighty, had not forgotten the first part of that prayer as well.’

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