Read Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing Online
Authors: Matthew Perry
Out back, as I waited for something to come to me, anything that might make things better, instead I once again heard the sound of coyotes.
No, it's the sound of me, alone, fending off the demons for one more night. They'd won. And I knew I'd lost as I headed back up to my lonely bedroom to fend off those demons and negotiate sleep one more time.
I am not a violent man, but I have been both the victim and the perpetrator of violence one time each in my life.
Years ago, right after she quit seeing Justin Timberlake, I got set up on a date with Cameron Diaz.
At the time, I was working out a lot and had developed big arms. For the date I prepared accordingly, taking a long walk with my sleeves rolled to my shoulders so that my guns were appropriately tanned (pro tip: this helps them look even bigger). Yes, I literally tanned my arms for this date.
The date was at a dinner party with a bunch of other people, but upon seeing me, Cameron got almost instantly stonedâit was clear that she wasn't interested in me at all. But the party went on nevertheless, and at one point we were all playing a gameâPictionary, I think. As she was drawing, I said something witty to Cameron, to which she said, “Oh, come on!” and proceeded to punch me in the shoulder.
Or, at least, that's what she meant to do. But she missed and, instead, punched me smack in the side of my face.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” I said, realizing I'd just been punched in the face by Cameron Diaz and my big arms hadn't helped at all.
This was about fifteen years ago. But she'll probably call me. Don't you think?
Then there was this other time.
In 2004, I flew out to Chris Evert's tennis academy in Florida for a charity event, the Chris Evert / Bank of America Pro-Celebrity Tennis Classic. It was a veritable who's who in Hollywood. But I was most interested in Chevy Chase.
Chevy had long been a hero of mine. In fact, his performance in the movie
had changed my life forever. One chilly night in LA, my best buddy Matt Ondre and I went to see a preview screening of
and at one point, we were literally rolling in the aisles with laughter. Chevy must have had three hundred jokes in that movie, and he landed each one perfectly. Later, as Matt and I sat at the bus stop awaiting our ride home, I vividly remember turning to him and very seriously saying, “Matt, I am going to talk that way for the rest of my life.” And I have. Which makes this next story particularly painful for both Chevy and me.
Possibly more for Chevy.
Anyway, at the charity ball the night before the tennis event, Chevy walked up to me and said, “I just want you to know I'm a big fan.” This was incredible.
I said, “Oh my God, all I do is steal from you,” and we went on to have a mutually complimentary and quite lovely conversation.
Next day, it was time to play tennis.
Now, my skills were by this point admittedly rusty. I hadn't played in years, and my ground strokes needed a lot of work. What I did have, though, was an incredibly hard serveâin fact, they had a speed clock at the tournament, and I punched in at 111 miles per hour. The only problem was, I was not exactly sure where they were going. Which was fine at your everyday public court, not so fine in front of two thousand people. Even former president George H. W. Bush was there.â¦
The game begins. I am first up to serve. I have my partner in the ad court, and on the opposite side is Chevy, also in the ad court near the net, and his partner back at the baseline, to whom I would be serving directly. I toss up the ball, bring my racket around my back, hammer the tennis ball as hard as possible, and watch in horror as instead of it spearing across court to Chevy's partner, it goes directly straight, and it's heading for Chevy Chase. He is standing on the service line, which is exactly sixty feet from where I've hit the ball. This line is, coincidentally, the exact distance from the mound to home plate in baseball, so I can confidently tell you that if the ball was hit at about 100 miles per hour, this means it was traveling at about 146.7 feet per second, meaning Mr. Chase had 0.412 seconds to get out of the way.
Mr. Chase did not get out of the way.
More precisely, his testicles didn't get out of the wayâI have just served something close to a professional-speed serve right into his Chevy Chases. If you know what I mean.
Here's what happened next: Chevy made a funny faceâjust like the one he makes in
when a doctor gives him a prostate examâand then dropped to the ground. (Remember, all this was going down in front of two thousand people.)
Event now over, it took four medics to dash onto the court, strap him to a gurney, and rush him to the nearest hospital.
If this is what I do to my heroes, Michael Keaton and Steve Martin better take cover.
And thus concludes the violent section of this book.
Imagine this: you have to walk back onto a set where you have almost literally shat the bed for weeks before. You've been out of it, slurring lines, making bad decisions. You're in New York City, and even though you have not one but two sober companions, you call room service at the hotel, your voice shaking, detoxing, and say, “Please put a bottle of vodka in the bathtub of my room. Yes, the bathtub. Hide it in there.”
And then, when the day is done, you head back to that fucking hotel room, and you drink the bottle of vodka, and you finally feel all right again for maybe three hours and then have to do it all over again the next day. You're shaking, pretending that you are not in very serious trouble whenever you talk to anyone. Using that same shaky voice, you call the hotel and tell them to do the vodka-bottle-in-the-bathtub thing again.
This is perhaps something that a “normy”âwhat we addicts call all you lucky nonalcoholicsâmight always struggle to understand. I'll take a stab at explaining it: when you drink an entire bottle of vodka, you are extremely sick the following day. Having a few drinks in the morning helps, but I was the lead in a giant studio movie, so I could not drink in the morning. You are sick and trembling, and it feels like
every part of your insides is trying to squeeze out of your body. And that's all dayâthe entire fourteen-hour day.
The only way to fix how sick you are is to drink the exact same amount, or a little more, the following night. “So just don't drink,” says the normy. We alcoholics feel like we will literally go insane if we don't drinkânot to mention the alcoholic will be even sicker, and
sicker, if he doesn't drink the bottle.
“But what about the movie?”
Doesn't matterâI have to drink.
“How about taking a break for the night?”
So, I'm in DallasâI am on methadone, a quart of vodka a day, cocaine, and Xanax. Every day I would show up to set, pass out in my chair, wake up to do a scene, stumble to set, then just basically scream into a camera for two minutes. Then it was back to my chair for further nap time.
At this point in my life, I was one of the most famous people in the worldâin fact, I was being burned by the white-hot flame of fame. Therefore, no one dared to say anything about this horrific behavior. The movie people wanted the film to be completed, slap my name on a poster, and make $60 million. And
was even worseâno one wanted to mess with that moneymaking machine.
At one point during the filming of
I thought maybe some Valium would help me somehow. A doctor arrived at my duplex hotel room to give me some. The night before he came to visit, I had drunk a party-size bottle of vodka, the one with the handle on it. When the doctor looked around the room, he saw the bottle and said, in a nervous voice, “Did you drink all of that?”
“Yes,” I said, “may I have the Valium every four hours, not every six?”
With that, he turned tail and ran top speed down the spiral staircase
and out the door, presumably so he wouldn't actually be in the room if Matthew Perry died.
But I went away to rehab after Jamie Tarses had told me I was disappearing, and eventually came back to finish the movie.
This was me during
I was a mess. I felt so guilty, and I apologized to everybody, and I like to think that I did a great job for the final thirteen days of shooting. Everyone tried to be kind about it, and they were doing their best, but they were pissed off; the director was pissed offâI'd ruined his movie; Elizabeth Hurley, my costar, was pissed off (she never got to do another movie, either).
I needed to make real amendsâthat's part of what AA teaches you. So, I rerecorded my slurred parts for the entire movieâwhich meant I looped the entire movieâdays and days in a sound studio. Three beeps in a studio and I'd say my line to match my mouth. I happen to be good at that, and at the very least we got the slurring out of the movie. Then I committed to doing the most press possible in the history of press, bending over backward to make things right. I was on the cover of everything, on every talk show you can think of.
Of course, the movie tanked anyway. I was paid $3.5 million to do the movie and I got sued for the shutdown, even though it was a health issue. At the mediation table a team of insurance flacks faced me down, so I just wrote them a check for $650,000.
I remember thinking,
Man, no one taught me the rules of life.
I was a complete mess of a personâselfish and narcissistic. Everything had to be about me, and I matched that with a really handy inferiority complex, an almost fatal combo. I was all about myself from the time I was ten years old, from that moment when I looked around and said,
It's every man for himself.
I had to be so focused on me just to keep myself together.
But AA will teach you this is no way to live.
One of the things you do in the 12 steps of AA is create a personal moral inventory (it's the fourth step). In it, you write down all the
people that you're mad at and why. (I had sixty-eight namesâsixty-eight!) Then you write down how it has affected you, and then you read it to someone (this is step five).
What I learned from this processâand by the care and love of a great sponsor to whom I read my listâwas that I wasn't the center of the universe. It's kind of a relief learning that. There were other people around who had needs and cares and were just as important as I was.
(If you're shaking your head now, go on, have at it. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.)
Sobriety had now become the most important thing in my life. Because I learned that if you put anything in front of sobriety, you will lose that “anything” anyway if you drink.
I read my list to my sponsor one beautiful spring day at a wonderful meditation center in Los Angeles called the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine. Perched on a hill overlooking the Pacific, the place is truly peacefulâthere's a lake and gardens and temples and even a pot of some of Mahatma Gandhi's ashes, the only such stash outside of India.
As I finished reading out my list, we realized a wedding was starting in the gardens. I watched as the couple beamed at each other, the families in their best attire, an officiant smiling, waiting to warble on about sickness and health till death do they part. I hadn't been there for anyone for so long, my addiction being my best friend and my evil friend and my punisher and my lover, all in one. My big terrible thing. But that day, up there with the viewâthere always has to be a view, of courseâand with the soon-to-be newlyweds, and Gandhi somewhere nearby, I sensed an awakening, that I was here for more than this big terrible thing. That I could help people, love them, because of how far down the scale I had gone, I had a story to tell, a story that could really help people. And helping others had become the answer for me.
On July 19, 2019, the front page of
The New York Times
featured stories about Donald Trump, Stormy Daniels, a deadly arson at a Kyoto animation studio, and Puerto Ricans who, according to the headline, had “had enough.”
I knew none of this. Nor would I know anything for the next two weeks: not that El Chapo got life plus thirty years; not that some nineteen-year-old shot three people dead (and himself) at a garlic festival in Gilroy, California; not that Boris Johnson became the UK prime minister.
When I awoke from my coma, I was screaming. My mother was there. I asked her what had happened. She told me my colon had exploded.
“It's amazing that you're alive,” she said. “Your resiliency is incredible. And with some life changes, you're gonna be OK. And they can remove the colostomy bag in about nine months.”
I have a colostomy bag? That's great. Girls find that to be a definite turn-on.
I said, “Thank you very much.”
After that I rolled over, and really didn't talk or move for two weeks. I had been inches from death because of something that I had done. I was attached to fifty machines, and I would have to learn to walk again.
I hated myself. I had almost killed myself. The shame, the loneliness, the regret, were too much to handle. I just lay there, trying to deal with all of it, but there was no dealing with it. It had already been done. I was afraid to die, which was in direct opposition to my actions.
But it was over.
The Matthew Perry Show,
canceled by opiates.
Sometimes I could sort of pay attention to what was going on in the room, but that was about it. I certainly wasn't taking part in anything. My best friends, Chris and Brian Murray, would come visit. About three weeks into it, Maria, my sister on my father's side, came to see me.
“Are you ready to hear what happened?” she said.
I nodded (barely).
“After your colon exploded, they put you on a ventilator, which you vomited into. So, all of this bile and septic shit went into your lungs. They put you on an ECMO machineâsomehow you survived that. And you were in a coma for fourteen days.”
After that, I don't think I spoke for another week because I had realized that my greatest fear had come true, which is that I did this to myself. There was one upside, though. A fourteen-day coma makes it very simple to quit smoking.
I had been on opiates, and off opiates, and back on different opiates for so long that I suffered from a situation that only a subset of the population gets. Opiates cause constipation. It's kind of poetic. I was so full of shit it almost killed me.
Also, I now had a bowel situation.
The last thing I'd said to Erin before the coma, as I was spinning on the ground in Pain, right before I lost consciousness, was, “Don't leave me.” I meant right then and there, but she, like the rest of my friends and family, took it literally. Erin pulled the night shift for five months in that hospital.
I often look back on that time and am so grateful that this happened before Covid, because then I would have been alone in that room for five months. As it was, I was never alone in that room once. That was God's love, in human form, made flesh.
Both my mom and I are experts in a crisis now. What I've always wanted to tell her is that the little show called
and all the other shows, and movies? I essentially did it all for her attention. And yet that's the one person whose attention I did not really get from
She mentioned it on occasion, but she was never boiling with pride about what her son had accomplished.
But I don't think there's possibly a way that she could have been proud enough for what I needed. And if you're going to blame your parents for the bad stuff, you also have to give them credit for the good stuff.
the good stuff. I could never have played Chandler if my mother weren't my mother. I would never have made $80 million if my mother weren't my mother. Because Chandler was just a hider of true pain. What better character for a sitcom! To just make a joke about everything, so we don't have to talk about anything realâthat's how Chandler started. In the initial breakdown of the show, Chandler was supposed to be “an observer of other people's lives.” So, he would be the guy who at the end of a scene would make some joke, comment on whatever has just happenedâthe Fool in
speaking truth where there had been none. But everyone ended up liking Chandler so much that he morphed into being his own major character. That he ended up superseding what I actually did in real lifeâgetting married, having kidsâwellÂ â¦ some things I can't talk about all that well.
The bottom line is, I abandoned my mother, at fifteen, just as she'd been abandoned by my father. I was not an easy child to put up with, and she was just a child herself. She always did her best and was with me in my hospital room for five months after the coma.
When your colon explodes because of overuse of opiates, the prudent thing to do is to not ask for opiates to solve the situationÂ â¦ which is, of course, what I did.
And they gave them to me.
I was impossibly depressed and as always wanted to feel better. Also the hole in my stomach, the one that you could fit a bowling ball in, was ample excuse to get pain medication. Just so you are following along, I had come within inches of dying because of opiates and I asked
the doctors to solve that problem withÂ â¦ opiates! So no, even after the catastrophic event, I was not done. I hadn't learned anything. I still wanted to use.
When I got out of the hospital after the explosion, I was actually looking really good. I'd lost a lot of weight, but I was so injured that they couldn't do surgery to replace the bag for at least another nine months. So, I went home to my apartment, lied to everyone about the severity of the pain to get pain medication. I was not actually in pain. It was more annoyance than pain. But doctors believed the lie and gave me tons of opiates, and obviously I started smoking again.
And that was kind of my life.
And let's not forget: that colostomy bag was constantly breaking, regularlyâfifty times at leastâleaving me with shit all over me.
Dear Colostomy Bag People: make a bag that doesn't break, you fucking morons. Did I make you laugh on
? If so, don't put shit all over my face.
When an addict takes a pill, they feel euphoric. But after a short while the pill doesn't make them euphoric anymore because a tolerance has built up. But the addict still really, really wants to feel euphoric again, so they take two instead to get the feeling that one originally gave them.
Then, two is not enough, and they go to three.
In the past, I had played that little game until the number got up to fifty-five pills a day. (Just watch the second half of season three of
I was so frail and skinny and sick. It definitely showed, but no one said anything about it.)