Matthew Perry, the affable actor who became a television superstar playing Chandler Bing on the beloved NBC sitcom Friends, has died. He was 54.
Perry died Saturday in a hot tub at his Los Angeles home, law enforcement sources told the Los Angeles Times. Authorities responded around 4 p.m. to his home, where he was discovered unresponsive, they said. The L.A. coroner’s office has not established the cause of death yet.
While Perry had achieved massive success as part of Friends, one of the most successful shows of all time, he also battled substance abuse for decades.
In his 2022 memoir, Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing, Perry reflected extensively on his struggles with drugs and alcohol and noted while he was promoting the book that he had been clean for 18 months but had “probably spent $9 million or something trying to get sober.”
In the book and the promotion thereof, Perry spoke about multiple occasions on which he had been close to death, including spending two weeks in a coma, followed by months of recovery in 2018 after his colon burst as the result of his opioid use. Perry revealed to People in 2022 that doctors told his family he had a “2 percent chance to live.”
Promoting his book, he seemed committed to his sobriety and to helping others suffering from addiction. “Your sober date changes, but that’s all that changes,” he said. “You know everything you knew before, as long as you were able to fight your way back without dying, you learn a lot.”
Debuting in 1994, Friends followed the lives and loves of six young New Yorkers trying to find themselves as they banded together for support. Through their trials and tribulations, one thing remained constant (as affirmed by the show’s theme song): These friends would always be there for one another.
Striking a chord with twentysomethings everywhere, Friends was a ratings powerhouse. It drew an average of 25 million viewers for each new episode, finishing among the top 10 primetime programs during each year of its 10-season run. Though the Warner Bros. show aired its final episode in 2004, it remains massively popular in the streaming era.
Like his co-stars — Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc and David Schwimmer — Perry was relatively unknown when he landed the role. The show’s creators, Marta Kauffman and David Crane, knew that for Friends to work, there had to be chemistry.
“It was a long casting process,” Kauffman told the Today show during a 2019 interview with her, Crane and executive producer Kevin Bright. They said Chandler proved to be the most difficult character to cast. “Marta and I were thinking Chandler is just poorly written,” added Crane. “Then Matthew came in and you went, ‘Oh, well, there you go. Done. Done. That’s the guy.’”
The trouble was that Perry was under contract to star in another new series, about a futuristic airport. As much as the Friends producers wanted him, they couldn’t have him. Jon Cryer, Jon Favreau and Craig Bierko were among those approached for the Chandler role as the search continued.
But Perry’s show wasn’t picked up, and he was free to sign on. At 24, he was the youngest member of the cast, and it was clear he was meant to play the character.
Following the news of his death, Kauffman, Crane and Bright said in a jointstatement to THR: “It still seems impossible. All we can say is that we feel blessed to have had him as part of our lives. He was a brilliant talent. It’s a cliche to say that an actor makes a role their own, but in Matthew’s case, there are no truer words. From the day we first heard him embody the role of Chandler Bing, there was no one else for us. We will always cherish the joy, the light, the blinding intelligence he brought to every moment – not just to his work, but in life as well. He was always the funniest person in the room. More than that, he was the sweetest, with a giving and selfless heart. We send all of our love to his family and friends. This truly is The One Where Our Hearts Are Broken.”
With cutting-edge timing and a knack for putting a sarcastic spin on any exchange, Chandler was given the show’s best punchlines. But his snarky tone masked an insecurity that also made him one of the most awkward of the group. Chandler’s uneasiness and vulnerability led to some of the show’s funniest situations, but also some of its most poignant moments.
“We are devastated by the passing of our dear friend Matthew Perry,” Warner Bros. TV shared in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. “Matthew was an incredibly gifted actor and an indelible part of the Warner Bros. Television Group family. 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, and we send our love to his family, his loved ones, and all of his devoted fans.”
In 2002, Perry and LeBlanc were both nominated for an Emmy for lead actor in a comedy series, but they lost to Everybody Loves Raymond‘s Ray Romano.
As the popularity of Friends grew, Perry found himself on an emotional roller coaster ride.
“There was steam coming out of my ears, I wanted to be famous so badly,” Perry said in a 2002 interview with The New York Times. “You want the attention, you want the bucks, and you want the best seat in the restaurant. I didn’t think what the repercussions would be. When [stardom] happens, it’s kind of like Disneyland for a while. For me, it lasted about eight months, this feeling of, ‘I’ve made it, I’m thrilled, there’s no problem in the world.’ And then you realize that it doesn’t accomplish anything, it’s certainly not filling any holes in your life.”
Friends, though, made Perry very rich. The six stars were paid $22,500 each per episode when the sitcom began, but as the show’s ratings soared, so did its stars’ salaries. It made headlines when they presented a united front during negotiations for seasons nine and 10, with each actor getting $1 million per episode.
As the pressures of celebrity mounted, Perry turned to alcohol to ease the tension. In 1997, he had a jet ski accident. This led to taking painkillers and years of abusing Vicodin, he said. He went into rehab in 2001. He admitted he remembered little about the final three seasons of Friends because of his drinking.
In a 2013, he revealed to People that he didn’t become sober until he was 43. The previous year, he turned his former Malibu beach home into a men’s sober living facility named The Perry House. He began advocating for treatment over incarceration for drug offenders and devoted time and resources to helping other addicts.
“You can’t have a drug problem for 30 years and then expect to have it solved in 28 days,” he told THR in 2015. “I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my life and a lot of wonderful accolades, but the best thing about me is that if an alcoholic comes up to me and says, ‘Will you help me stop drinking?’ I will say, ‘Yes. I know how to do that.’”
Matthew Langford Perry was born on Aug. 19, 1969, in Williamstown, Massachusetts. His mother, Suzanne Marie, was a Canadian journalist who served as press secretary to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. His father, John Bennett Perry, was an American actor and former model known for the 1971-81 ABC cop series 240-Robert. (Bennett played the father of Aniston’s boyfriend on a 1998 episode of Friends.)
Perry’s parents divorced soon after he was born, and his mother left Massachusetts and settled in Ottawa. She married Keith Morrison, a journalist best known for the NBC series Dateline.
Growing up in Canada, Perry attended West Carleton Secondary School and Ashbury College. As a teen, he showed a talent for tennis and, for a time, trained to go pro. This dream fell by the wayside when Perry was 15 and he moved to Los Angeles to live with his father.
“Giving up tennis wasn’t really a decision I had to make,” the actor told Men’s Health magazine in a 2012 interview. “I was a very good tennis player in Ottawa, Canada — nationally ranked when I was, like, 13. Then I moved to Los Angeles when I was 15, and everyone in L.A. just killed me. I was pretty great in Canada. Not so much in Los Angeles. It was insane. I realized I wouldn’t be playing tennis for a living, so I went for acting.”
Perry’s TV debut came in 1979 when his father got him a bit role on an episode of 240-Robert. When he was 15, he studied acting at The Buckley School in Sherman Oaks, then honed his comedic skills with improv classes at L.A. Connection during high school.
After landing guest spots on the sitcoms Charles in Charge (in 1985) and Silver Spoons (in 1986), Perry became a regular on the 1987-88 Fox comedy Second Chance, about a dead man (Kiel Martin) who returns to Earth to guide his younger teenage self (Perry). Shortly after its debut, the series was revamped and renamed Boys Will Be Boys to focus on the antics of Perry’s character and his buddies.
Perry had a memorable three-episode arc on Growing Pains (1989) as the boyfriend of Carol Seaver (Tracey Gold) who gets killed in a drunk driving accident. He played Valerie Bertinelli’s kid brother in 1990 on the sitcom Sydney and could be seen on episodes of Highway to Heaven, Empty Nest, Who’s the Boss? and Beverly Hills, 90210.
A 1992 guest appearance on the HBO comedy Dream On brought him to the attention of its creators, Kauffman and Crane. They remembered the young actor when they were putting together their next series — Six of One, which eventually became Friends.
At the height of Friends, Perry attempted to parlay his fame into a feature film career (he had made his feature debut in 1988’s A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon). His most successful effort was perhaps The Whole Nine Yards (2000), in which he starred as a meek dentist who gets mixed up with a notorious killer for hire (Bruce Willis). It grossed more than $100 million worldwide and spawned a 2004 sequel.
His other big-screen efforts included Fools Rush In (1997), Almost Heroes (1998), Three to Tango (1999) and Serving Sara (2002).
When those failed to generate much traction, Perry returned to television and starred in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006), Mr. Sunshine (2011) and Go On (2012) — but none went beyond one season.
A 2015 reboot of The Odd Couple, in which he played Oscar Madison to Thomas Lennon’s Felix Unger, made it halfway through season three before getting the ax.
Perry had better success in his post-Friends career lending his talents in supporting roles. He earned Emmy noms in 2003 and 2004 for his work on West Wing as Joe Quincy, a Republican lawyer brought in as an associate White House counsel by President Bartlet’s Democratic administration. As smarmy politician Mike Kresteva, Perry ran against Alicia Florrick’s husband Peter for Illinois governor in The Good Wife (2012). Kresteva was brought back for several episodes in the series’ 2017 spinoff, The Good Fight.
In 2006, he received his fourth Emmy nom for his performance in The Ron Clark Story, portraying a real-life teacher who forgoes the comfort of his small town to make a difference in the New York City public school system.
The End of Longing, a play Perry wrote and starred in, made its debut in 2016 at the Playhouse Theatre in London’s West End. A dark, comic tale about a quartet of lost souls musing over the mysteries of life as they drink the night away in an L.A. bar, it featured Perry as Jack, a drunk whom the actor described as an exaggerated version of himself. The following year, he brought The End of Longing to the Lucille Lortel Theatre in New York.
Perry spoke openly about wanting to settle down and have a family but never married and didn’t have children.
Matthew Perry, the Sweet and Snarky Chandler on ‘Friends,’ Dies at 54