Landing the role of Chandler Bing on "Friends" launched Matthew Perry...

Landing the role of Chandler Bing on "Friends" launched Matthew Perry and his five castmates into TV superstardom, but he could never quite shed his sitcom character's shadow when the show ended after 10 seasons in 2004. Credit: AP / Invision / Willy Sanjuan

In “Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing," his memoir published just about one year to the day he died, Matthew Perry wrote of his harrowing battle with drug and alcohol addiction, but did get around to the subject of why someone might want to read this in the first place.

You know, Chandler.

When he first saw Marta Kauffman and David Crane's script for "Friends" back in the early '90s, "it was as if someone had followed me around for a year, stealing my jokes, copying my mannerisms" while "one character in particular stood out to me: It wasn’t that I thought I could ‘play’ Chandler. I was Chandler.”

He was indeed, and like all venerated characters on culturally transcendent sitcoms — Chandler Bing and "Friends"' certainly qualify as both — Perry was to become inseparable from his creation over its 10-year run, from 1994 to 2004. To think of Perry — who was found dead at his Los Angeles home Saturday — is to almost reflexively think of a Bing-ism ("oh my God!") or sartorial statement (laid-back, uptight).

An investigation into how he died is ongoing, and it may take weeks before his cause of death is determined.

His body was found in a hot tub at his home, according to unnamed sources cited by the Los Angeles Times and celebrity website TMZ, which was the first to report the news.

Sarcasm by design

Perry was rhetorically the fastest of the six main "Friends" characters, by design and of necessity: "I'm not great at the advice," he once very famously observed. "Can I interest you in a sarcastic comment?"

His sarcasm was both shield and sword. A man-child who hid behind wordplay, Chandler was a commitmentphobe who used those words to maintain distance. In a less-assured performance, that would have become a sitcom cliché, or just another trope in TV formula built on tropes. But not in Perry's hands over that 10-year run. There was something in his exuberance and charm — and early in that run, his sheer physical vitality — that turned Chandler into arguably the most important character on what would become one of the most beloved sitcoms in NBC history.

Over the 23rd and 24th episodes of season 7, the Bing defense mechanism finally crumbled into a blubbering mass of emotional goo — speaking here of the 30 million fans who witnessed this — when he finally told Monica Geller (Courteney Cox) "I love you." "The One with Monica and Chandler's Wedding" was considered by many as the most famous wedding episode in TV history, certainly of this century.

Shackled by Chandler

After "Friends" ended, Perry tried to create other characters on other sitcoms ("Mr. Sunshine," a reboot of "The Odd Couple") but those efforts stalled and inevitably so did he. Perry had become what he had so desperately wanted as a young actor starting out in Hollywood — stratospherically famous — and incapable of breaking away from the one character that brought him that fame. That "Friends" found a new generation of fans on Netflix and Max only tightened the shackles. 

Perry's battles with addiction were well-known in show-business circles, and couldn't exactly have been hidden. But their extent wouldn't be known until the memoir, which Perry took to calling a "biography" because its author had suffered from so many near-death experiences.

Perry was born on Aug. 19, 1969 in Williamstown, Massachusetts. He grew up in Ottawa, while his mother, Suzanne Marie Morrison, was the press secretary to former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. (Perry and Pierre Trudeau's son, the future Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, were schoolmates in Canada; his mother is now married to Keith Morrison, a correspondent for NBC's "Dateline.")

He had his first taste of wine at age 14 and was soon onto vodka. When his body inevitably broke down (pancreatitis) he began a prodigious Vicodin habit (which led to an exploded colon from opioid overuse). In an interview with Diane Sawyer last year, Perry said he took to visiting open houses in Los Angeles where he would then rifle through bathroom cabinets looking for painkillers. If the owners noticed they were missing, "no one would suspect Chandler Bing," he told Sawyer. 

Perry wrote that he had been in detox 65 times, and had undergone 14 surgeries. The first line of his book read like the opening to one of the hundreds of AA meetings he had attended. "Hi, my name is Matthew although you may know me by another name. My friends call me Matty and I should be dead." 

His closest castmates hadn't offered reactions by late Sunday, but Warner Bros. Television did seem to speak for them all on its own statement, which read in part: "The impact of his comedic genius was felt around the world, and his legacy will live on in the hearts of so many. This is a heartbreaking day." 

With AP


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