Roger Ebert Home

Time to Rest: Matthew Perry (1969-2023)

Matthew Perry never seemed to be comfortable being famous. You could see it early in the run of the show that would make him a household name. Some people take to the spotlight and thrive in it. The heat of that spotlight seemed to fuel the demons inside the “Friends” star, amplifying his addictions in a way that made them impossible to avoid. The same jittery energy that he poured into one of the most memorable TV comedy characters of all time—and then a successful run of comedy films—just looked like it would be hard to live with every day, and Perry was open about how he battled with pills and alcohol for the last 36 years of his life. In Vanity Fair last year, he said that he had spent around $9 million on his addiction, including 14 stomach surgeries. Of course, that’s not what people should remember about him. They should focus on the joy he brought so many people. One just wishes he could have found comfort in that joy, too.

Raised mostly in Ottawa, Ontario, by his mother Suzanne and his stepfather Keith Morrison (yes, the one from “Dateline NBC”), Perry moved to Los Angeles with his family in the ‘80s, popping up in guest roles on some of the staples of the era like “Charles in Charge,” “Silver Spoons,” “Growing Pains,” and “Who’s the Boss?” He got a regular gig on a CBS vehicle for Valerie Bertinelli called “Sydney” and had a starring role in an ABC dud called “Home Free.” Then he got a script for something called “Six of One,” which would be renamed “Friends.”

Almost overnight, “Friends” was the biggest show on TV, and Matthew Perry was a household name. At the peak of its fame, the six cast members notoriously made $1 million an episode, and it felt like all of them would be stars forever. In particular, Perry’s likability factor made him easy to root for as Chandler Bing, a character (and, by extension, actor) that people really wanted to see find a happy ending.

He parlayed his “Friends” success into a successful career in the ‘90s and ‘00s, including films like “Fools Rush In” and “The Whole Nine Yards,” along with two guest Emmy nominations for work on “The West Wing.” He landed another Emmy nod for his starring role in the TNT production “The Ron Clark Story” and headlined Sorkin’s “Studio 60 on Sunset Strip.”

As the decade turned over into the 2010s, the projects started to falter more often than not. He was in an ABC show called “Mr. Sunshine” that was actually pretty good—the network canceled it after nine episodes. He got a full season with the also-solid “Go On” back on NBC in 2012, but just the one. He would do theater work in the 2010s (and some great work in a guest role on “The Good Fight”), but he seemed to drift out of the pop culture landscape.

Last year, Perry published a book called Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, in which he revealed so much of the pain of his life, including being told in 2018 after his colon burst related to his opioid abuse that he had a two percent chance of surviving that event. After a jet-ski accident in 1997 left him addicted to Vicodin, he reportedly got so hooked that he doesn’t remember three years of “Friends.”

We do. What was so emotional last night as the news broke about Matthew Perry was seeing the overwhelming love for him on social media. Chandler was a character that people absolutely loved, and Perry brought joy to millions of people around the world. One wishes he could have seen how much he meant to people before he passed. Maybe it would have brought him some peace. 

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

Latest blog posts

Latest reviews

Queendom
Inside Out 2
Ultraman: Rising
Ghostlight
Just the Two of Us
Treasure

Comments

comments powered by Disqus