Matthew Perry is almost me. But for the grace of God, as the saying goes.
I didn’t grow up in Canada and star in a mega-zeitgeist TV sitcom in the ’90s; but I grew up in upstate New York (might as well be Canada) and worked in film and TV. He was 54, I’m 48.
I’m not famous, of course, not like him. You’ve probably never heard of me. And by now you’re thinking this is a strange way to begin a piece about a departed actor.
Here’s the thing. I’m an alcoholic, with fourteen years of recovery, and in that way, Matthew Perry and I are the same. Addiction is the great equalizer. If you’re rich you can probably hide it a lot longer, as he did, but it does the same stuff to you. It takes over your life.
I lost fifteen years to alcohol addiction. When I say “lost,” I mean time spent at the bar, or drinking in the shower, going to drunk-driving classes, walking / bicycling to the liquor store in subzero temps because I was no longer allowed to drive, hiding from the world with vicious hangovers, getting sewn up or calmed down in emergency rooms — all when I could have been developing as a person. Your social muscles atrophy with alcoholism; more and more you don’t know how to function without being drunk. The time when other people were going to college, learning a trade, starting a job or a family, I was drinking. Those other things happened, but I wasn’t really present for them. I was writing and painting, but mostly I was drinking.
Matthew Perry also took drugs. Copiously. He has said he sometimes took more than 50 Vicodin a day.
Perry has been through a crazy ordeal, physically, nearly dying more than once, being in a coma for two weeks, having multiple stomach surgeries. For decades, he not only drank, but took prescription pills, keeping up to eight doctors at a time so he could always be popping.
(Our access to pain meds is an important component here, but perhaps an issue for another time.)
When I think of Matthew Perry, I don’t think of the actor from “Friends” who had a drug and alcohol problem. I think of an addict, like me. We’re all exactly the same. It doesn’t matter that Perry is worth $120 million and I am worth — on a good day — 120…