Matthew Perry was an American and Canadian actor who became famous as Chandler Bing on the NBC-TV sitcom “Friends,” which ran from 1994-2004 and won a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy. Perry made it through all 10 seasons and 236 episodes in spite of being routinely drunk and high or hungover on set, especially during the later shows. After the May, 2001 show was aired, he was hospitalized for rehabilitation.
After “Friends” ended, Perry appeared in numerous television shows and movies, including The Odd Couple, The Whole Nine Yards and Almost. On October 28, 2023, at age 54, he was found dead in his hot tub. The police report stated that the cause of death was unknown and there were no signs of foul play. His autopsy did not reveal an obvious cause of death, and toxicology reports have not been completed. However, he had suffered for many years from the ravages of alcohol and drug addiction, so severe that at one time he was taking more than 55 pills per day.
He Tried to Help Others with the Same Problems
In July 2011, Perry lobbied the U.S. Congress as a celebrity for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals in support of funding for drug courts. He received a Champion of Recovery award in May 2013 from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy for opening Perry House, a rehab center in his former mansion in Malibu, California.
He wrote a best-selling memoir Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, that tells how he was hospitalized for drug rehabilitation 15 times and had 15 surgeries to repair the stomach and intestinal damage caused by alcohol and opioid abuse. Before his 50th birthday, he was admitted to the hospital with a presumed drug-induced perforated stomach and had to be put on a special ECMO machine because he had stopped breathing. The other four patients on ECMO machines with him in the hospital died. ECMO stands for Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation. The ECMO machine pumps and oxygenates a patient’s blood outside the body, allowing the heart and lungs to rest. In the same book, he described himself as a ready-made, just-add-water addict: an alcoholic who took his first drink at age 14, and was hooked on painkillers with the first pill that was prescribed to him after a jet ski accident. He said, “When you’re earning one million dollars a week, you can’t afford to have the 17th drink.”
Damaged From His Early Years Onward
Perry’s parents separated when he was one year old, and he was raised by his mother. In primary school, he was a poor student, smoked and stole money. In the fifth grade, he beat up his classmate Justin Trudeau, who later became the prime minister of Canada.
Perry started to drink alcohol at age 14 and was drinking daily by age 18. At age 28, he became addicted to Vicodin after a jet-ski accident and had to take a 28-day rehab program. At age 30, he suffered from alcohol-induced pancreatitis and erectile dysfunction. At age 32, he was hospitalized for Vicodin (hydrocodone), methadone, amphetamines and alcohol addiction. In 2018, at age 49, he was hospitalized for five months during which he spent two weeks in a coma and nearly died after his colon burst from the narcotics. At age 51, he received daily intravenous infusions of ketamine for pain and depression. He was also given intravenous propofol to put him to sleep for surgery and it stopped his heart for five minutes. Doctors broke eight of his ribs while they tried to restart his heart. He still could not break his addiction. He paid $175,000 for a private jet to fly him to Los Angeles to buy drugs. The doctors there refused to give him drugs, so he spent $175,000 for a private jet to take him back to Switzerland.
Alcoholism is defined as a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite its harmful social, occupational, and health consequences (Alcohol Res Health, 2000; 24(1):5-11). Alcoholics don’t need to take the first drink, but once they take the first drink, they usually have to keep on drinking. All alcoholics need to:
• Never have alcohol around them or in their house
• Severely restrict contact with friends who drink
• Severely restrict going where they can drink
The National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends:
• Treating severe alcohol and drug abuse with similar methods
• Avoidance of any exposure to alcohol and severe restriction of exposure to drugs unless absolutely necessary
• Medications to control drug cravings, relieve symptoms of withdrawal, and to prevent relapses
• Psychotherapy to help people understand their harmful behavior, cope with stress, and learn how to handle psychiatric problems
• Hospitalization for withdrawal from alcohol and drugs
• Group therapy with other alcoholics or drug addicts (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, SMART Recovery)
• Help for family members (Al-Anon or Nar-Anon Family Groups).
“Don’ts” for Helping a Person Addicted to Alcohol or Drugs
• Don’t preach, lecture, threaten, bribe, or moralize
• Avoid emotional appeals that may only increase feelings of guilt
• Don’t cover up, lie or make excuses for any part of a drug addict’s or alcoholic’s behavior
• Don’t take over their responsibilities to protect them from the consequences of their behavior
• Don’t argue with them when they are on alcohol or drugs; it will start an argument as they are irrational
• Don’t ever treat this as your fault to explain their irrational behavior
• Don’t ever drink with them or expose them to alcohol or drugs
(National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence)
Where to Get Help
Alcohol and Opioid abuse are chronic lifelong disorders with serious potential consequences including disability, relapses, and death.
• Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
• National Institute on Drug Abuse: Drugs, Brains, and Behavior – The Science of Addiction
• National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
SAMHSA National Help line. Confidential free help, from public health agencies, to find substance use treatment and information. 1-800-662-4357
Dr. Gabe Mirkin is a Villager. Learn more at www.drmirkin.com