Vale Matthew Perry

I’ve not been ignoring him, or his untimely passing, but I have not wanted to write this post.

If you’re new, I don’t “goodbye” any and all notable people when their deaths are announced, but I do like to acknowledge those who meant something to me, impacted my life and share why. We don’t talk enough about grief; while at the same time the media glorifies death.

We’re seeing atrocities on the news daily, with barely fuzzed out images of the worst of human behaviour. I’ve chosen how I consume news for many reasons, that being one of them. Flying a drone over Mr Perry’s house and garden really upset me; not least because of the amount of times those images appeared online across different outlets. I don’t want to spend this post talking about that, so let’s just agree – if you did it? You are an arsehat. You’re also an arsehat for repeatedly sharing it.

Like many people in the UK in the 90s, I tuned into Channel 4 to watch Friends from the get-go. As we know, it grew like topsy, and being pre-internet, they relied on magazines and print media to feed the frenzy around the water coolers. At one point the Radio Times or Readers Digest did a quiz on, “100 things every Friends fan should know”, I didn’t know three of the things.

I’ve been practicing talking out loud for weeks now, getting used to verbalising my ideas. One of the things I’m doing to practice are ‘interviews’, where I watch a youtube video and then give my answers. From sensible to stupid, including who was my ideal man, a few short days before he died, Matthew Perry was mine. I said this to a friend on the phone last week, I can’t describe it other than that – Matthew Perry was mine. Not that he ever was remotely, I’m not delusional.

I loved all six of the main actors, then and now. The tight unit they formed was first shown when they negotiated their salaries together, yes it was a silly amount of money. But would you like to attend a funeral for one of your best friends and have people taking long-range photos of you?

More than a few actors have said in interviews, they act for free. The money they get paid for the intrusion into their lives and their families’ lives is what they get compensated for. The incessant snark about all of the principal cast of Friends in one way or another has been dispiriting. From marriages to divorces, including childless to children; from working to not working; from working but never repeating the same successes (!), all six of them have been unfairly labelled as failures in one way or another.

The vitriol served hottest on a plate was for Matthew Perry. When his autobiography came out, more bile followed. Slanted pieces on him being narcissistic and sharing his story in the first place. News flash daily fail, that is what an autobiography is, or is that two syllables too many?

After the book had been out for a while, he admitted what he said wondering why some people lived when others didn’t, was stupid and mean and would be corrected in later versions. (BTW, his editor should have called him out on it before it had gone to print).

It wasn’t until people were reading the book, only then did people realise how ill he was, and for how long. He was sober on Friends for one year, the year he was nominated for an Emmy.

If you struggle with any kind of addiction; you know it is not a normal state of mind to live with, or in. Listening to Stephen Gilchrist Glover, on Diary of a CEO podcast with Steven Bartlett in July, he talked frankly about his addiction. I’ve been thinking about the conversation off and on since then, wondering how to connect the dots, because of how deep this resonated within me:

It is the most profound gift ever… As upsetting as alcoholism and drug addiction is, it’s the only disease where once you treat it, you become a better version of yourself than you were before. That’s really incredible to me, because with any other disease, the best you can hope for is to get back to as healthy as you were before you got sick. But for us sober alcoholics and addicts, we genuinely become better versions of ourselves.

Stephen Gilchrist Glover

It’s months later, that quote is not where I thought I’d use it. I can’t believe I’m sharing it writing about the death of Matthew Perry.

Stephen Glover, professionally recognised as Steve-O, knows he can’t get away from the Jackass / stuntman alter ego, but also knows he is not Steve-O. Osher Günsberg talked about changing his name on a recent The Imperfects podcast, because he wanted a different name as a marker to seperate drinking him from not-drinking him.

I’ve been in rooms where I’ve done a double-take because there’s so and so off the telly-box. When you are in the rooms, people depend that we it/they/we/are anonymous, not because it is shameful or something to be hidden, but we need to speak freely and honestly about some really serious shit.

You declare your intention not to drink or use each and every day. When you go into a room, you are there because you’re doing your daily practice. Occasionally, you rock up to a room because you’re strong enough to help someone. Sometimes you rock up because you need help. Over the pandemic, it could have been all three.

What I love about the framework it gives you though, and the reason it works, (I said at the beginning of this video), is it as simple as it is profound. When you ask for help in a room, people will give you a lifebelt, or hold you above the water, or even get in the boat with you and row you to safety if you’re not safe with yourself and your thoughts.

We know that society has made it hard to ask for help, even for the smallest of things. People offering to help is rarer, watch how many people drive past someone with a flat tyre. Asking for help with addiction is huge, but there is a global army of people willing to help you; because we’ve been there, and we know we’re stronger together.

In any 12 step program, you show up, you do the work and you count the days. You count the days because when you’re in a full-roar of a craving, getting through five minutes can take all your energy and it is a talisman to hold on to. That talisman helps you, because as soon as you’ve clicked over 24 hours, Day One is done. Each day reminds you of how far you’ve come and if you relapse (which everyone will, at least once), neural pathways don’t shut off. You don’t go back to day one of knowledge, but you do go back to day one of sobriety. You work the steps to help yourself. As you get better, you deepen your knowledge and understanding by helping others. The joy is in the journey.

As he promoted the book, Matthew Perry knew that when he died, everyone would talk about Friends first. However, he wanted people to talk about how he found sobriety, specifically how he helped others. Sharing in the book that he’d done so much damage to his body that he was put into a coma; or he’d lost all of his top teeth; that he’d had umpteen operations to mend his damaged digestive system (opiates slows everything down); talking about what he had done to his body – waiving his anonymity to help others.

The creators of the show, the guest stars, the people he worked with, the five remaining Friends, all shared about how much he gave to others. In the middle of his addiction, Lisa Kudrow said, “Thank you for showing up for work when you weren’t well and then, being completely brilliant.”

There is a scene in a movie with Bruce Willis where Matthew Perry charges into a glass door, I can’t find it online because it’s not the short scene in the trailer for the Whole Nine Yards. It may be in the Whole Ten Yards, anyway he’s running down a hill, full tilt – Bruce Willis watching him. He fully commits to the bit and slams off the door.

It sounds like he fully committed to himself like he did to his career. By all accounts, the past few years of sobriety brought peace to his life. I love that the last picture on his instagram is him sitting in his pool, looking out over the skyline he loved so much.

I don’t need to know how he died, we need to remember he lived.

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