On Matthew Perry, Wisdom, and Fame

AI Generated: Matthew Perry, hopefully at peace.

Smokey Robinson beautifully co-wrote and sang,

In My Orbit with Jennifer Oliver O’Connell is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

There’s some sad things known to man,
but ain’t too much sadder than:
the Tears of a Clown,
when there’s no one around

This describes actor and writer Matthew Perry to a tee. Perry lived the highs in the crowd, and the lows in the dark. He battled one form of addiction or another for most of his meteoric career. Matthew Perry shot to the stratosphere as “Chandler Bing,” one of the six main characters in the ensemble sitcom Friends, which ran for a successful 10 seasons. Perry parlayed his special brand of wit, humor, and genius into movie roles in Fools Rush In, The Whole Nine Yards, and 17 Again, and had some dramatic turns as well. I am re-watching The Good Wife, and Perry portrayed “Mike Kresteva” in a multi-episode arc on that show. Perry also guest-starred on The West Wing and resurrected Mike Kresteva on The Good Wife spinoff, The Good Fight. A powerhouse talent is a modest assessment of his work, and like many in the entertainment industry, Perry did most of this either drunk, hungover, or under the influence of some form of opiate.

Perry died on October 28, reportedly found in his hot tub, unresponsive. Because of his lifelong struggles with addiction, the knee-jerk reaction is that he relapsed. Initial medical examinations showed no evidence of drugs or alcohol, but the cause of death is still pending further investigation. At this point, the reasons only matter to his close friends and family, who laid him to rest at Forest Lawn Memorial Park on Friday. I pray that the answers concerning cause of death are simply that his body and his heart finally gave out. We are resilient beings, but the body can only handle so much abuse, and because of the addictions (Taking 55 Vicodin a day at one point, drinking gallons of vodka in one sitting), Perry admittedly abused his body, and his body ultimately collapsed under the weight. That is not much of a comfort to them, but perhaps it would be a relief.

In his 2022 memoir, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, Perry fluidly lays out his incredible acting, writing, and directing opportunities, coupled with the crippling and destructive grasp of drugs and alcohol.

Friends was the seminal Gen X series, and like many of my peers, it was appointment TV; I rarely missed an episode. I loved the character of Chandler Bing, and Perry executed the role with precision and aplomb. As someone who once wanted to write screenplays, I paid attention to actors, especially the funny ones. Matthew Perry was a special breed of brilliant. Incredible timing, charm draped in yawning insecurity, and a sharp wit. The show was part of bonding moments that I enjoyed with my sister and my niece. They are both gone from my life: one through death, the other, another form of death. So, the series holds a special place in my life and I patch into old episodes from time to time. It still holds up, and the fact that kids who are now the age I was when the sitcom premiered watch it and relate to the humor and the characters is evidence of this.

In the memoir, Perry tragically details that these moments of greatest triumph and fame were the moments when he was most messed up. As Perry rose to the heights of fame, he fell deeper into addiction and degradation.

Perry said in an interview on the podcast Q with fellow Canadian Tom Powers, “Writing the book was cleansing, reading it was almost impossible.”

I am listening to an audio version of the book—not voiced by Perry, unfortunately, but some female, British-sounding AI voice. For those that fear AI will take away your job, I wouldn’t worry too much. The voice is really not that great, and at times wildly hilarious. In the early part of the book, Perry details his arrival in Los Angeles and his forays into acting. The teenage Perry spent a lot of time at a place called The 101 Cafe. This cafe is a 24-hour, divey breakfast spot, where wannabe and fledgling actors hang out. I have been there—the food is horrible, but cheap, and it is one of those rare places where the wait staff doesn’t throw you out for lingering without purchasing something else—those places are hard to come by in Los Angeles, particularly for the struggling creative. What is hilarious is that the AI voice spelled the name of the cafe out, every time. The voice would say, The One Hundred and One Cafe! Thankfully, the crispness of the prose and raw emotion in Perry’s writing manages to overcome the wooden and sometimes robotic AI reading.

Perry’s book is heartbreaking, and I have read a lot of tragic memoirs. Many of the celebrity tomes are canned, PR-packaged drivel, but this one is refreshingly honest, sharp, and well-edited, which is hard to come by in any published work today. Thank you, Amazon <insert snark emoji>.

Amongst the bare bones, no-holds-barred darkness, you don’t lose Perry’s brilliance or humor. His snark, his pathos, and oddly enough, his hope, shine through the telling. In Chapter 1, Perry accurately describes where the sequoia-sized sense of abandonment and being unlovable had first taken root. Most refreshing, Perry doesn’t play the victim violin. He makes it very clear that his parents were supportive and loving. They made mistakes as all parents do, but were there for him when many others would have abandoned him. Perry owned his choices, the good, the bad, and the extremely ugly, that resulted from his addiction to alcohol and opiates. After decades of near-death experiences, hospitalizations, over 60 detox attempts, 14 stints in rehab, and 15 stomach surgeries, Perry appeared to have turned a corner on his sobriety. Only to die a little over a year after its publication.

I regularly read the wisdom books of the Bible: Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. They really have been amazing guardrails over my 50-plus years of life. Like Perry, when I was in my 20s, I too wanted to be famous and loved. Interestingly enough, I prayed more for the latter, and little for the former. Because I did have a relationship with Jesus Christ and wanted to please him above pursuing my own way, I made different choices; choices that kept me from addictive substances, and ultimately led me away from the entertainment industry.

I am a better Christian and a better, more healthy human being because of this. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul? I am three years older than Matthew Perry was at his death, and I am forever grateful for my early choices to prioritize a relationship with Jesus over a pursuit of fame or a lucrative career. I have no doubt that I would have spiraled down as Perry did. Unlike him, I doubt that I would have lived to tell the tale. If my own memoir ever gets published, you’ll understand why.

I always find it gut-wrenching when people who are brilliantly talented, but because they don’t hit those marks or miss opportunities, they are essentially ignored and few people get to benefit from their brilliance and joy. Even worse are the people who are brilliantly talented and hit every marker of success, but cannot embrace or enjoy it because of one raging addiction or another. The list is far too long, but I think the other person who matched Perry’s brilliance was John Belushi, and we all know of his end.

Matthew Perry was spared long enough to find sobriety (a few times), and help others to achieve sobriety for themselves. Perry also tapped into his Higher Power as he struggled with his addictions. In the interviews that I listened to, Perry often talked about God, but never said the name of Jesus. If you truly know who Jesus is and have received him as your Savior, you unashamedly and enthusiastically claim it—you cannot help but not. However, I think Perry was on the path to finding a relationship with Jesus. As I discussed with another Christian friend, we will not know this side of heaven if Perry called on the name of Jesus. My hope is that he did, and that he now knows that he was created for purpose. He did indeed matter. He was enough. Only Jesus can give you that, and I pray Perry crossed that veil into his arms.

This was one of Matthew Perry’s last interviews less than a year ago. While Perry seemed hopeful for his future, you get the eerie sense that he was not long for this world. I am saddened to have been proven right.

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Written by CONK!

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