Opinion: Why Matthew Perry was my favorite among ‘Friends’

Editor’s note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show.” Follow him on Threads at www.threads.net/@deanobeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.

Matthew Perry — who passed away Saturday at age 54 — was my favorite among “Friends.” His character Chandler Bing’s delivery of one-liners — often sarcastic and self-deprecating — deeply resonated with me.

Dean Obeidallah - CNN
Dean Obeidallah - CNN

Chandler used comedy as a defense mechanism to deal with insecurities and awkwardness with lines such as, “Hi, I’m Chandler, I make jokes when I’m uncomfortable” and “I’m not great at the advice. Can I interest you in a sarcastic comment?”

“Friends” — which co-starred Courteney Cox, Matt LeBlanc, David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston and Lisa Kudrow — was more than a TV show, it was a cultural marker that helped define a generation. “Friends” was the anchor of NBC’s “Must See TV” shows in the 1990s into the early 2000s, averaging 25 million viewers for each new episode.

(“Friends” was a production of Warner Bros. Television, which is owned by CNN’s parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery.)

The show’s final episode after its 10-year run in 2004 saw a massive viewing audience of more than 52 million people — making it the fifth highest-viewed series finale ever, according to Variety. For perspective, the top comedy show on TV in the 2022-2023 season was CBS’ “Young Sheldon,” which averaged 9.3 million viewers an episode.

Sadly, though, while “Friends” still brings joy to many in reruns, Perry could not bring himself to watch the sitcom because it would bring him pain. While many laughed out loud at the antics of the “Friends” cast, the show would remind Perry of his dark days of drug and alcohol addiction.

As Perry told CBC during a 2022 interview, “I didn’t watch the show, and haven’t watched the show, because I could go, ‘Drinking, opiates, drinking, cocaine.’ ” He added, “I could tell season by season, by how I looked. … That’s why I don’t want to watch it, because that’s what I see.”

While Perry didn’t want to relive this agony by watching the show, he didn’t run away from talking about his past alcohol and drug addictions in an effort to help others. In his 2022 book, “Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing: A Memoir,” he focused not just on sharing his struggles but in helping others stay sober.

Perry’s memoir opens with the following: “Hi, my name is Matthew, although you may know me by another name. My friends call me Matty. And I should be dead.”

He continued, “I don’t write all this so anyone will feel sorry for me — I write these words because they are true. I write them because someone else may be confused by the fact that they know they should stop drinking — like me, they have all the information, and they understand the consequences — but they still can’t stop drinking.” He added in support, “You are not alone, my brothers and sisters.”

Perry shared details of the nightmares that addiction caused him, including opioid abuse that led to a near-fatal colon rupture when he was 49. As a result, the actor was in a coma for two weeks and had to undergo 14 surgeries to help repair the damage.

Perry is not alone among those who bring joy to others while battling their own demons. Pete Davidson, the 29-year-old comedian and “Saturday Night Live” alum, has been upfront about his struggles, recently revealing that he just completed another stint in rehab, according to People magazine. And like the character Chandler, Davidson used self-deprecating wit to share that information, telling an audience at his stand-up show last month, “I am fresh out of rehab, everyone. I got that post-rehab glow,” adding, “Seventh time’s the charm!”

Challenges are part of life, but how you deal with them defines who you are. Perry understood that, telling People last year, “What I’m most surprised with is my resilience,” adding, “The way that I can bounce back from all of this torture and awfulness.”

In the outpouring of tributes to Perry, some touched on what he had endured and exemplified. Actor Chad Lowe wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter: “It was hard to watch him struggle with his alcoholism over the years. But he was courageous in the fight and helped a lot of people by going public with his battles. He was loved by so many.”

After “Friends” concluded its run, Perry would go on to star in numerous TV projects, including “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” “Go On,” “Mr. Sunshine” and a remake of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple.” But in the world of entertainment, Perry will always be remembered for being Chandler Bing.

In the real world, however, he will be remembered for being someone who shared his struggles, pain and resilience to help others. After all, that is what “Friends” do.

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