This Is What Matthew Perry Wanted Us To Understand About Addiction

Perry knew what it meant to be caught in the riptide of the disease.
Matthew Perry poses for a portrait on Feb. 17, 2015, in New York.
via Associated Press
Matthew Perry poses for a portrait on Feb. 17, 2015, in New York.

The sad news of Matthew Perry’s death has sent a shockwave around the world. The actor, who fought addiction his entire life, made it his life’s work to help others struggling with substance abuse.

Perry was predominantly known for his role as Chandler Bing in the hit sit-com series Friends, a role that saw him nominated for countless awards and winner of the Golden Derby Award for Drama Guest Actor in 2012, the Huading Award for Best Global Actor in a Television Series in 2013, the TV Guide Award’s Editor’s Choice in 2000.

However, his activism and determination to bring a deeper, more nuanced understanding of what addiction is, how it impacts people and why it affects some people more than others is his lasting legacy.

Talking with The New York Times in 2022, Perry discussed his addiction in detail, which began at just 14 years old with Budweiser and Andrès Baby Duck wine. Later, this addiction grew to include vodka, Vicodin, Xanax and OxyContin (to name a few):

“I would fake back injuries. I would fake migraine headaches. I had eight doctors going at the same time,” Perry told The New York Times.

“I would wake up and have to get 55 Vicodin that day, and figure out how to do it. When you’re a drug addict, it’s all math. I go to this place, and I need to take three. And then I go to this place, and I’m going to take five because I’m going to be there longer. It’s exhausting but you have to do it or you get very, very sick. 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.”

In several interviews following the release of his memoir, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, Perry approximated that he had spent around $9 million trying to get and stay clean. He attended six thousand AA meetings, 30 years of therapy, 15 years at rehab clinics, and an estimated 65 detoxes throughout his life. His determination and empathy for those suffering from addiction led him to speak out against addiction misinformation and disinformation.

On an episode of BBC News Night in December 2013, Perry called out journalist Peter Hitchins who was in opposition to the use of drug courts, known as substance misuse courts in the UK, a public health-focused approach to drug addiction-related crimes. Drug courts allow judges to send offenders to rehabilitation for treatment before sentencing and are said to help prevent future offending.

When asked by presenter Jeremy Paxman: “How do you know that these people wouldn’t have quit their drug habit anyway?” Perry was compassionate in his explanation of how the process can “interrupt” the downward spiral that leads to further criminal convictions, “rather than throwing people away”.

When Hitchins said referring to addiction as a disease was “fantasy” and a “choice”, Perry dismissed the disinformation by explaining the classification of addiction as a disease of the brain and an allergy of the body, adding: “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” and suggested Hitchins read the research and evidence available.

But his compassion and empathy for the struggle of addicts didn’t just stop with correcting myths and misinformation. Over the years, Perry sponsored other addicts in their recovery and advocated for their rights.

Matthew Perry and the cast of Friends join James Corden for a Friends Reunion Special during The Late Late Show with James Corden.
CBS Photo Archive via Getty Images
Matthew Perry and the cast of Friends join James Corden for a Friends Reunion Special during The Late Late Show with James Corden.

Last year, speaking about himself, Perry said “The best thing about me, bar none, is that if somebody comes up to me and says: ‘I can’t stop drinking, can you help me?’ I can say yes and follow up and do it. That’s the best thing.

He wanted people to understand the fight people with addiction face, saying: “Your disease is outside doing one-armed push-ups just waiting for you, waiting to get you alone, because alone, you lose to the disease.”

Perry chose to be outspoken about institutions like Alcohol Anonymous, explaining; “It suggests that there’s a stigma and that we have to hide. This is not a popular opinion, by the way.”

He often put his money where his mouth was. One such example was Perry turning his $10 million Malibu mansion into a sober living facility called Perry’s House in 2012. The following year, his project received an award from the White House.

His memoir opens with the sobering line, “Hi my name is Matthew, although you may know me by another name, my friends call me Maddie and I should be dead.”

Throughout the book, Perry details extremely frightening dances with death and addiction. Living through many near-death experiences, from an exploding colon to pancreatitis in his 30s, it wasn’t until he was faced with the possible future of living with a permanent colostomy bag that made him examined his addiction differently.

“My mind is trying to kill me and I know it,” he wrote.

Perry wanted people to understand that addiction wasn’t as simplistic as wanting to use drugs and alcohol. He wanted people to see the bigger picture when it came to addiction and for them to be receptive to suffering people’s openness.

In an interview with Diane Sawyer in 2022 for ABC News, he said, “Secrets kill you. Secrets kill people like me.

He knew that people couldn’t overcome addiction alone, and so, using his stratospheric fame from Friends he chose to speak out on what substance abuse looks like, how it tears people apart and the deep shame and stigma surrounding addiction.

Perry’s death is a saddening blow. His parting gift to us, aside from his comedic genius and acting prowess, is his vulnerable and honest account of a life lived with addiction.

Perry has shown the world over that it’s OK to fall down, so long as you get back up — and keep on getting back up. And that to do so, you mustn’t do it alone.

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