Remembering Matthew Perry: ‘The One Where We Lost A Friend’

No one told us life was going to be this way


By Natalie Khoo

Featured images: Getty Images, @mattyperry4/Instagram, @_schwim_/Instagram, @jenniferanniston/Instagram
Remembering Matthew Perry: ‘The One Where We Lost A Friend’

[16 November 2023: This article was originally published on 31 October. It has since been updated with tributes by the main cast of ‘Friends’ at the end of this article.]

Over the past few days, our social media feeds have been flooded with tributes to actor Matthew Perry. He was best known for his role as Chandler Bing in the beloved American sitcom, Friends, which earned him an Emmy nomination. 

Perry, aged 54, was found dead in his hot tub at his Los Angeles home on Saturday, 28 October 2023. Although the cause of death is still under investigation, law enforcement officers said there is no indication of foul play. 

As one of the six stars in the TV show centred on life in Manhattan, Perry’s character left a lasting impact on pop culture for his impeccable comedic timing. To many, he did more than bring an awkward 20-something-year-old character to life in the wittiest and most relatable way possible. 

The cast of ‘Friends’.

Indeed, Chandler seemed more mundane on paper in the beginning compared to his friends on the show—Ross (David Schwimmer), Joey (Matt LeBlanc), Rachel (Jennifer Aniston), Monica (Courteney Cox), and Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow). He started out with a typical office job (something to do with “statistical analysis and data reconfiguration”) and a questionable love life with one whose nasally laughter precedes her, Janice (Maggie Wheeler). But Perry infused a sense of vulnerability in his humour that made what could have been a bland character actually likeable. 

In many ways, Matthew Perry was Chandler Bing.


The one who made everyone laugh

A scene from ‘The One with the Tea Leaves’ (‘Friends’, Season 8, Episode 17).

While Chandler is noted for being arguably the funniest character on one of the funniest shows ever made, Perry was known among his friends and castmates as a quipster in his own right. In fact, some of his best punchlines were off-script improvisations. 

One particularly memorable remark was his famous last words in the final episode where the cast heads out of Monica’s apartment and Rachel suggests getting coffee. He sarcastically replies, “Sure. Where?” knowing full well they were headed for their favourite coffee shop, the iconic Central Perk. 

“Chandler’s a guy who’s just not comfortable in his own skin—he’s got a great excuse to be funny,” said Perry of his character in the TV show that ran from 1994 to 2004. “He’s an exaggerated form of me.” 

For context, his role’s “excuse” for comedy was his “defense mechanism” for a traumatic upbringing. Born to Nora Tyler Bing, an erotic romance novelist, and Charles Bing, a gay female impersonator and star of a Las Vegas drag show called “Viva Las Gay-gas”, Chandler had developed a self-deprecating sense of humour to cope with his parents’ divorce at the age of nine. 

Matthew Perry with his mom, Suzanne (right) and one of his sisters, Emily. (Photo: WireImage)

Similarly, Perry traced his own insecurities and comic talents to a childhood that saw his mother and father splitting by his first birthday. The former was a Canadian beauty queen turned journalist who served as press secretary to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, while the latter was a US actor and model. 

In his autobiography—Friends, Lovers, and The Big Terrible Thing—released last year, the actor said he felt a sense of abandonment from both. He was raised mostly by his mother in Canada, but spent much of his time alone due to the nature of her job. “Accordingly I learned to be funny—pratfalls, quick one liners, you know the drill—because I had to be,” he revealed.


The one who fought his own demons 

Matthew Perry and Julia Roberts in ‘Friends’.

Beneath his wisecracks, Chandler’s deeply-rooted flaws gradually unravel through the show’s seasons. Having grown up in a broken home and lived most of his adult life estranged from his parents, he suffered serious commitment issues and dived in and out of multiple relationships before marrying Monica at the end of season seven. 

Perry’s own life echoed these vulnerabilities. Before actress Julia Roberts made an appearance on the show in ‘The One After the Superbowl: Part 2’, the two had started dating. However, he ended the relationship after just two months. 

“Dating Julia Roberts had been too much for me. I had been constantly certain that she was going to break up with me,” Perry confessed in his memoir. “Why would she not? I was not enough; I could never be enough; I was broken, bent, unlovable. So instead of facing the inevitable agony of losing her, I broke up with the beautiful and brilliant Julia Roberts.” 

Matthew Perry’s memoir, ‘Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing’ was released in 2022.

Relationships aside, Perry had far darker demons. In 1997, he got into a jet ski accident on the set of Fools Rush In and was prescribed Vicodin. From then on, he began abusing the prescription drug. At one point, he was taking up to 55 pills per day, which resulted in significant weight loss that was visible in season seven of Friends

Three years later, he was hospitalised with pancreatitis resulting from his addiction to alcohol. He was prescribed Dilaudid, an opioid for pain, and it became his new favourite drug. By 2018, he had reached a health crisis where he spent two weeks in a coma due to opioid abuse. The near-death experience marked a crucial turning point in his life. 

His memoir details how he had spent $7 million trying to get sober through 6,000 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, 15 stints in rehab, and frequent therapy visits for 30 years. “I’ve surrendered, but to the winning side, not the losing,” Perry wrote. “I’m no longer mired in an impossible battle with drugs and alcohol.”


The one who was a friend to all


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A post shared by Friends (@friends)


Ultimately, Perry’s death hits home for many simply because of the friend he personified in our lives. When Friends: The Reunion aired in 2011, countless people around the world shared how the sitcom aided them through mental health battles from grief to loneliness to depression, especially during the height of the pandemic. 

His portrayal of Chandler is responsible in no small part for the lives touched (and saved) by the show. He was the comic soul and the beacon of hope for those facing their shadows, both on- and off-screen.

As TEDx speaker Joel Thottan puts it: “I think losses like Matthew Perry feel very personal because you haven’t just lost an actor from your favourite show. You’ve lost someone who made difficult days better. Someone who reminded you of a friend you had. Someone you wish you had as a friend. And each time you’ll now turn on an episode, you’ll remember they’re not around. But a tiny part of you is still holding on to them. Maybe that’s what happens when someone impacts your life. They leave, but what they’ve left behind stays.”


The cast of ‘Friends’ taking a bow after the final episode.

The outpouring of love from Perry’s family and colleagues following his untimely departure is a testament to his legacy and the kind of friendship he extended to others. 

The creators of Friends, Marta Kauffman and David Crane, along with executive producer Kevin Bright, said in a joint statement: “We are shocked and deeply, deeply saddened by our beloved friend Matthew’s passing…It’s a cliche to say that an actor makes a role their own, but in Matthew’s case, there are no truer words. From the day we first heard him embody the role of Chandler Bing, there was no one else for us.”

“We will always cherish the joy, the light, the blinding intelligence he brought to every moment—not just to his work, but in life as well. He was always the funniest person in the room. More than that, he was the sweetest, with a giving and selfless heart,” they added. “This truly is The One Where Our Hearts Are Broken.”


The cast of ‘Friends’.


His fellow castmates—Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc and David Schwimmer—also said in a joint statement to People: “We are all so utterly devastated by the loss of Matthew. We were more than just cast mates. We are a family. There is so much to say, but right now we’re going to take a moment to grieve and process this unfathomable loss. In time we will say more, as and when we are able. For now, our thoughts and our love are with Matty’s family, his friends, and everyone who loved him around the world.”

[Update on 16 November 2023: the cast has finally taken to Instagram to share their heartfelt tributes below.]

Aniston wrote, “In the last couple weeks, I’ve been poring over our texts to one another. Laughing and crying then laughing again. I’ll keep them forever and ever…Matty, I love you so much and I know you are now completely at peace and out of any pain. I talk to you every day… sometimes I can almost hear you saying ‘could you BE any crazier?'”


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A post shared by Jennifer Aniston (@jenniferaniston)


Cox posted a behind-the-scenes video of an episode in season four (‘The One With Ross’ Wedding), where Monica and Chandler slept together in a London hotel, with a caption reading: “I am so grateful for every moment I had with you Matty and I miss you every day. When you work with someone as closely as I did with Matthew, there are thousands of moments I wish I could share. For now here’s one of my favorites.”

In this scene, before we started rolling, he whispered a funny line for me to say. He often did things like that. He was funny and he was kind,” she continued. 


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A post shared by Courteney Cox (@courteneycoxofficial)


Schwimmer shared a photo of the two of them dressed as the 1980s versions of their characters, saying, “I will never forget your impeccable comic timing and delivery. You could take a straight line of dialogue and bend it to your will, resulting in something so entirely original and unexpectedly funny it still astonishes.  And you had heart. Which you were generous with, and shared with us, so we could create a family out of six strangers.

“This photo is from one of my favorite moments with you. Now it makes me smile and grieve at the same time. I imagine you up there, somewhere, in the same white suit, hands in your pockets, looking around—’Could there BE any more clouds?'”


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A post shared by David Schwimmer (@_schwim_)


LeBlanc posted a carousel of stills from the show, writing: “It is with a heavy heart I say goodbye. The times we had together are honestly among the favourite times of my life. It was an honour to share the stage with you and to call you my friend. I will always smile when I think of you and I’ll never forget you. Never. Spread your wings and fly brother you’re finally free. Much love.”


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A post shared by Matt LeBlanc (@mleblanc)


Kudrow was the last main castmate to share her tribute with an old photo of herself and Perry, which reads: “Thank you for making me laugh so hard at something you said, that my muscles ached, and tears poured down my face EVERY DAY. Thank you for your open heart in a six way relationship that required compromise. And a lot of ‘talking.’ Thank you for showing up at work when you weren’t well and then, being completely brilliant.

“Thank you for the best 10 years a person gets to have. Thank you for trusting me. Thank you for all I learned about GRACE and LOVE through knowing you. Thank you for the time I got to have with you, Matthew.”


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A post shared by Lisa Kudrow (@lisakudrow)


Maggie Wheeler, who played his on-off partner Janice, wrote on Instagram: “What a loss. The world will miss you, Mathew Perry. The joy you brought to so many in your too-short lifetime will live on. I feel so very blessed by every creative moment we shared.”


Morgan Fairchild, who played Chandler’s mother on the series, took to X (formerly Twitter) to share: “I’m heartbroken about the untimely death of my ‘son’, Matthew Perry. The loss of such a brilliant young actor is a shock.” 


Paget Brewster, who also played one of Perry’s onscreen love interests Kathy, wrote in another post: “I’m so very sad to hear about Matthew Perry. He was lovely to me on Friends and every time I saw him in the decades after. Please read his book. It was his legacy to help. He won’t rest in peace though. He’s already too busy making everyone laugh up there.”


Aisha Tyler, who played Dr. Charlie Wheeler on the final two seasons, shared her tribute on Instagram: “I learned how to tell a joke perfectly just by watching him work. And I will never forget the moment he leaned in, on my first night of taping Friends, to tell me warmly, ‘get ready for your life to change.’ Rest well, Matthew Perry. Thank you for the kindness and laughter.”


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A post shared by Aisha Tyler (@aishatyler)


Selma Blair, who guest-starred on Friends, shared a photo of her and Perry smiling for a selfie with the caption: “My oldest boy friend. All of us loved Matthew Perry, and I did especially. Every day. I loved him unconditionally. And he me. And I’m broken. Broken-hearted. Sweet dreams, Matty. Sweet dreams.”


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A post shared by Selma Blair (@selmablair)


Alyssa Milano, who starred alongside Perry on Whose the Boss?, shared in an Instagram post: “Matty was always the funniest person in the room. And the KINDEST. He was kind.”

“Matty, remember when we used to go play bingo at that church in the valley? You made me laugh that painful kind of laugh. A cry laugh. You made me cry-laugh,” she continued. “My condolences to all who loved him.”


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A post shared by Alyssa Milano (@milano_alyssa)


Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, who was one of Perry’s school classmates in Ottawa, also honoured him with a heartfelt post. “Matthew Perry’s passing is shocking and saddening. I’ll never forget the schoolyard games we used to play, and I know people around the world are never going to forget the joy he brought them,” he wrote. “Thanks for all the laughs, Matthew. You were loved—and you will be missed.”


Although she did not know him personally, Adele also paid tribute to Perry at her show in Vegas. In a viral clip, the singer praised him for speaking up about his struggles with addiction. “He was so open with his struggles with addiction and sobriety, which I think is incredibly, incredibly brave,” she said. “I just wanna say how much I love what he did for all of us.”


Rest in peace, Matthew Perry. 



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