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Matthew Perry, so much more than a Friend to me

Friends means an awful lot to my generation, but I still found myself unexpectedly blindsided with grief by reports of Matthew Perry's death.

Matthew Perry as Chandler in Friends

I felt more than a little silly crying over Matthew Perry’s death on Sunday morning. After all, I didn’t know the man. I just happened to be a fan of his TV series, but there I was, sitting in bed, wiping away tears as I scrolled through the tsunami of grief his death provoked on social media when it hit me. I’d lost a friend.

Now, I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but you’ve got to understand Friends and Matthew Perry‘s iconic character Chandler have been constants in my life since basically forever. From my awkward adolescence to my tragic twenties and even my comfortable middle age, it’s been Monica, Joey, Phoebe, Rachel, Ross, and Chandler I turn to for comfort and support when I’m feeling down.

Friends, in many ways, is my own personal time machine, and any given episode can send me hurtling back to cozy teenage sleepovers and drunken youthful conversations about moving to New York. It’s the show I put on when I’m lonely, the show I put on when I’m eating dinner, the show me and my partner put on after 45 minutes of scrolling through Netflix. It’s more than one of the best TV series ever made: It’s fundamental to my life.

Matthew Perry as Chandler with Monica

That may sound like an overstatement to anyone who didn’t live through the ’90s, but it’s true. Friends was a phenomenon that dominated pop culture and provided the blueprint for all future sitcoms. More than that, though, it helped define many of my friendships. Hell, when my girlfriend and I left our hometown, we called it our season finale in honor of Friends and the comedy series it had inspired.

More important than that, though, is what Friends taught us about the notion of a found family. To live like Monica, Joey, Phoebe, Rachel, Ross, and Chandler was the thing to aspire to in the early Noughties, and I can say with some degree of satisfaction it’s a dream I got to live. Of course, many of those nights were spent laughing as we worked out ‘which Friends character we were most like.’

Matthew Perry with the rest of his Friends co-stars

I’d frequently be compared to Chandler, which made me very happy as a younger man. I always thought, and still do, that Perry’s character was easily the funniest of the gang. The way he was always armed with a witty one-liner or sarcastic quip was something of an inspiration to the younger me, who saw himself as ‘the funny one’ in our group (tragic, I know).

Still, through the benefit of hindsight, I’ve come to appreciate the character of Chandler in a more nuanced way. Of all the Friends cast, it’s arguably Chandler who grows the most, going from a neurotic commitment-phobe, working a dead-end job he hates, to a committed husband and father at the start of a promising career.

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I’ll be honest: I see a lot of myself in Chandler. As a young adult, I found myself slightly lost, chasing relationships that never seemed to pan out, working a job I hated as I saw my friends move on to bigger and better things. Like Chandler, I’d use humor to try and compensate for my perceived inadequacies, but it ate away at me a little. Unfortunately, this is where the similarities with Chandler end and the similarities with Perry and his issues with substance abuse begin.

It’s hard to admit, but I definitely turned to drinking as a way to cope with my unhappiness, and while I don’t know if I ever crossed the line into alcoholism, I definitely stood on the line of alcohol abuse and peered over the edge. Thankfully, some friends helped me get myself sorted out, and I eventually got a career I loved, a girlfriend I adore (who’s more than a little like Monica), and even briefly lived with my best friend (who’s nothing like Joey).

Matthew Perry as Chandler Bing in Friends

I’m happy now and have been for more than a few years, which might be why I found myself so affected by Perry’s death. Through his work, he was able to make other people happy, but he seemed to struggle to find happiness for himself. Perry made no secret of his drug and alcohol addictions, his struggles with sobriety, and the pain that caused him.

Still, in what turned out to be the last few years of his life, he dedicated himself to helping others living with addiction. Perry even told The Hollywood Reporter that, despite all the ups and downs in his life, “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.’”

I don’t know the circumstances of his death, and we likely won’t for weeks, but I really hope Perry knew the difference he made to people’s lives. He certainly made a difference to mine.

If you or someone you know is suffering from drug addiction, you can contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-HELP, or visit their website here.

In the UK confidential help and support can be found by calling Frank on 0300 123 6600, texting 82111, sending an email, or visiting their website here.