Throughout his life, Perry was able to create real moments of companionship and intimacy, both on and off the screen.
It's not an exaggeration to say that, for years before his sudden death, Matthew Perry felt like a member of my family.
Like many younger millennials, I grew up with him as Chandler Bing, the sweet and sarcastic member of the "Friends" posse. I was 8 years old when the finale aired, but I spent all of middle and high school watching reruns on cable TV, mingling with the group, memorizing the cadence of their quips and inside jokes.
It was one of the only shows I could watch with my parents and siblings that would make all five of us laugh. Monica's purple apartment seemed like an extension of our own living room.
Chandler was always my favorite, even though he could never be mistaken for the main character. He was "hopeless and awkward and desperate for love," often the butt of jokes — the silly sidekick to his stud roommate, or else the hapless commitment-phobe who stumbled into a romance with his hot neighbor.
In fact, Chandler was originally conceived as a "secondary" role, only popping in occasionally for comic relief. He was never supposed to be like Ross, the Romeo in a slow-burn romance, or Joey, the star of his own spin-off.
But this played to Perry's precise brand of magic. His quick wit and talent for banter didn't only bring Chandler to life; all six of the friends were funnier and more lovable in his glow. Whether he was singing "Endless Love" with Lisa Kudrow, wrapping his arms around Matt LeBlanc, or battling Jennifer Aniston for a bite of cheesecake, Perry was able to create real moments of companionship and intimacy.
It seeped through the screen. I could feel it in the air when I rushed through my homework to watch an episode before dinner, as if I had plans to meet the gang at Central Perk. Perry facilitated the show's indelible bond with viewers.
It seeped into his own life, too. Perry's addictions to alcohol and drugs were an open secret during his time on "Friends," but after the show wrapped in 2004, he dedicated his life to recovery — even if it took several trips to rehab and ongoing, lifelong courage.
He eventually founded the Perry House, a sober-living facility for men in Malibu. In 2017, he wrote and starred in "The End of Longing," a semi-autobiographical play that excavated his "ugliest" moments; he observed that Alcoholics Anonymous attendees were particularly moved by it. In the final years of his life, Perry was brave and unflinchingly candid about the challenges he faced, particularly in his 2022 memoir, "Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing."
"For some reason — it's obviously because I was on 'Friends' — more people will listen to me," he told Diane Sawyer last year. "So I've got to take advantage of that. I've got to help as many people as I can."
Perry was determined to break the stigma surrounding addiction and encourage more people to seek treatment. It's a disease that thrives in silence and shame; to feel seen by anyone through that darkness, especially by a childhood hero, can be extremely powerful and healing.
Perry's willingness to share himself with the world, even his most "devastating" experiences, is a testament to the very thing that made him so special to "Friends" fans: his instinctive knack for human connection.
The actor once said he hoped to be remembered as a person who wanted to help, who could reach out his hand and ease someone's loneliness, rather than a character on a TV show. But the truth is, those things aren't unrelated.
Perry was a singular source of warmth and comfort, both on and off the screen. This will always be his legacy.
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