Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing (9 page)

BOOK: Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing
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“You have to get me on
Friends Like Us,
” I said.

“Not gonna happen,” my agents said. “You're attached to the baggage
handlers show. They've already measured you for the futuristic shirt and everything.”

I was devastated. When I read the script for
Friends Like Us
it was as if someone had followed me around for a year, stealing my jokes, copying my mannerisms, photocopying my world-weary yet witty view of life. One character in particular stood out to me: it wasn't that I thought I could
play
“Chandler,” I
was
Chandler.

But I was also Blaine in
L.A.X. 2194. Fuck me, is everyone kidding? Am I the least lucky person on the planet?

It only got worse. Because
Friends Like Us
was the hot ticket of the season, everyone was reading it, everyone was auditioning for it, and everyone, it seemed, decided that the part of Chandler was exactly like me and came to my apartment to ask me to help them with their auditions. A few even went a long way, based on my choices and my choices alone. Hank Azaria thought it was so good he auditioned for it twice, for the role of Joey. That's right—he auditioned for it, got passed on, begged and pleaded to go in again, and got passed on again. (Later, Hank would be Phoebe's romantic interest for a few episodes, performances for which he won an Emmy. I did 237 episodes and won nothing.)

I ended up knowing the script for
Friends Like Us
pretty much off by heart because I'd practiced it so much with my pals—in fact, there were times I just acted Chandler out for them and told them to copy what I'd done, so sure was I that it was the right way to play him. And still I would call my agents every three or four days begging for a chance.

Now, we are forgetting about Craig Bierko, the hottest ticket in town. One morning, Craig called Hank and me to breakfast, and as we walked in we saw Craig sitting at a table with two scripts open in front of him.

“Guys,” Craig said, “I've been offered two shows—Jim Burrows, the hottest director in Hollywood, is directing both. One is called
Best Friends,
and the other is that one called…”

Wait, don't say it, please don't say it …

“…
Friends Like Us
.”

He had been offered the role of Chandler. It made my head explode.

“And I need you to tell me which one to take.”

My first instinct was to tell him to take his jobs and go fuck himself. But he was a close friend, so Hank and I both obliged. The three of us read those two scripts that morning, though I already knew
Friends Like Us
off by heart, and it was clear which one he should take. My heart sank, because I knew I was Chandler, but I also wasn't an asshole. I was crushed. We both told Craig to do
Friends Like Us.

(This made me think of an exchange from my episode on
Beverly Hills, 90210
:

BRANDON:
What about friends?

ROGER:
Friends? My father says those are the only ones you can't trust.

BRANDON:
Do you always listen to him?

ROGER:
No.
)

Lunch was winding down and it was time for Craig to tell his agents where his head was at. Hank made his goodbyes and went to the gym, because he was always going to the gym, and I went with Craig as he looked for a pay phone. (No cell phones folks; this was 1994.) The nearest one was outside a Fred Segal store (the same store that weirdly also features in my episode of
Beverly Hills, 90210
). Craig threw a few coins in the machine, tapped in the numbers, and waited. Eventually they patched him through.

And then, I stood two feet away from Craig and listened to him pick THE OTHER SHOW! I couldn't believe my fucking ears. So, the new lead of
Best Friends
and I parted ways. I raced home to make another plea to get an audition for
Friends Like Us.

A few weeks later I went to the taping of the pilot for
Best Friends
—it
was funny; Craig was funny, and the lead, which is what he really wanted. Perfectly fine, cute show. But the final role available during the entire pilot season of 1994, Chandler in
Friends Like Us,
was still not cast. And I was still attached to the fucking futuristic baggage handler show!

You know how sometimes the universe has plans for you that are hard to believe, how the world wants something for you even though you've done your best to close off that avenue?

Welcome to my 1994.

NBC producer Jamie Tarses—oh, sweet, magical, much-missed Jamie Tarses—who was helping to develop
Friends Like Us,
at NBC—apparently turned to her then-husband, Dan McDermott, a Fox TV producer, one night in bed.

“Hey, is the show
L.A.X. 2194
going to get picked up?” Jamie reportedly said.

Dan said, “No, it's
awful
—for a start, it's about baggage handlers in the year 2194. They wear futuristic vests.…”

“So, is Matthew Perry available? A safe second position?” Jamie said. (That's Hollywood-speak for “available.”) (Ironically, Jamie and I dated for several years much later, after she got divorced.)

A couple of days later I got the phone call that would change my life.

“You're meeting Marta Kauffman about
Friends Like Us
tomorrow.”

And this is no lie: I knew right then and there just how huge it was all going to be.

Marta Kauffman, along with David Crane, was the person most responsible for what would become
Friends
. Next day, a Wednesday, I read as Chandler for her, and I broke all the rules—for a start, I didn't carry any pages of the script (you're supposed to carry the script with you when you read, because that way, you're acknowledging to the
writers that it's just a work in progress). But I knew the script so well by this point. Of course, I nailed it. Thursday, I read for the production company, and nailed it, and Friday I read for the network. Nailed it again. I read the words in an unexpected fashion, hitting emphases that no one else had hit. I was back in Ottawa with the Murrays; I got laughs where no one else had.

I was cheering up my mother.

And Chandler was born. This was my part now and there was no stopping it.

The pilot season of 1994 had cast its final actor: Matthew Perry as Chandler Bing.

That phone call at Fred Segal's, and Craig's desire to be the star of his own show, rather than be part of an ensemble, saved my life. I don't know what would have happened to me had the call gone the other way. It is not out of the realms of possibility that I may have ended up on the streets of downtown LA shooting heroin in my arm until my untimely death.

I would have loved heroin—it was my opiate addiction on steroids. I've often said that taking OxyContin is like replacing your blood with warm honey. But with heroin, I would imagine, you
are
the honey. I loved the feeling of opiates, but something about the word “heroin” always scared me. And it is because of that fear that I am still alive today. There are two kinds of drug addicts, the ones who want to go up, and the ones who want to go down. I could never understand the coke guys—why would anyone want to feel more present,
more
busy? I was a downer guy, I wanted to melt into my couch and feel wonderful while watching movies over and over again. I was a quiet addict, not the bull-in-a-china-shop kind.

Sure, without
Friends,
I may have had a career as a sitcom writer—I'd
already written a pilot called
Maxwell's House,
but though I had some skills, it hadn't sold. But there was no way I could have been a journeyman actor. I wouldn't have stayed sober for that; it was not worth not doing heroin for that.
Friends
was such a good and fun job that it curtailed everything for a while at least. I was the second baseman for the New York Yankees. I couldn't fuck that up. I would never forgive myself.…

When you're earning $1 million a week, you can't afford to have the seventeenth drink.

About three weeks before my audition for
Friends,
I was alone in my apartment on Sunset and Doheny, tenth floor—it was very small, but it had a great view, of course—and I was reading in the newspaper about Charlie Sheen. It said that Sheen was yet again in trouble for something, but I remember thinking,
Why does he care—he's famous?

Out of nowhere, I found myself getting to my knees, closing my eyes tightly, and praying. I had never done this before.

“God, you can do whatever you want to me. Just please make me famous.”

Three weeks later, I got cast in
Friends
. And God has certainly kept his side of the bargain—but the Almighty, being the Almighty, had not forgotten the first part of that prayer as well.

Now, all these years later, I'm certain that I got famous so I would not waste my entire life trying to get famous. You have to get famous to know that it's not the answer. And nobody who is not famous will ever truly believe that.

INTERLUDE

Dead

I bought her a ring because I was desperate that she would leave me. I didn't want to be this injured and alone during Covid.

I was high on 1,800 milligrams of hydrocodone when I asked her to marry me.

I had even asked for her family's blessing. Then I'd proposed, high as a kite. And on one knee. And she knew it, too. And she said yes.

I was in Switzerland at the time, at yet another rehab. This one was at a villa on Lake Geneva with its own butler and chef, the kind of luxurious place where you were guaranteed to not meet anybody else. (Thereby pretty much defeating the purpose of every rehab I had ever heard of.) But what it lacked in fellow sufferers it made up for in the easy availability of drugs, which again, unfortunately, did not differentiate it from other high-priced rehabs. I could make millions if I sued these places, but it would divert more attention to the situation, which I didn't want to do.

I did my usual trick, complaining about intense stomach pain, when in fact I was OK (it still felt like I was constantly doing a sit-up—so it was very uncomfortable—but it wasn't Pain). So, they'd give me hydrocodone—as much as I could actually feel—which turned out to be 1,800 milligrams a day. To put that in perspective, if you broke your
thumb, and had a kind doctor, he or she would probably prescribe you five 0.5-milligram pills.

Not enough to put a dent in this guy.

I was also doing ketamine infusions every day. Ketamine was a very popular street drug in the 1980s. There is a synthetic form of it now, and it's used for two reasons: to ease pain and help with depression. Has my name written all over it—they might as well have called it “Matty.” Ketamine felt like a giant exhale. They'd bring me into a room, sit me down, put headphones on me so I could listen to music, blindfold me, and put an IV in. That was the hard part—I'm always a little dehydrated because I don't drink enough water (big surprise), so finding a vein was no fun. I was like a fucking pincushion by the end of it. Into the IV went a smidge of Ativan—which I could actually feel—and then I was on a ketamine drip for an hour. As I lay there in the pitch-dark, listening to Bon Iver, I would disassociate, see things—I'd been in therapy for so long that I wasn't even freaked-out by this. Oh, there's a horse over there? Fine—might as well be.… As the music played and the K ran through me, it all became about the ego, and the death of the ego. And I often thought that I was dying during that hour.
Oh,
I thought,
this is what happens when you die.
Yet I would continually sign up for this shit because it was something different, and anything different is good. (Which just so happens to be one of the last lines of
Groundhog Day.
) Taking K is like being hit in the head with a giant happy shovel. But the hangover was rough and outweighed the shovel. Ketamine was not for me.

Back in my room, the butler had laid out more clothes I wouldn't change into, the chef had prepared yet another healthy meal I wouldn't touch, and I went back to looking at Lake Geneva a lot, completely fucking high. But not the good kind of high. A loopy drunk feeling that I did not enjoy.

I was also now, somehow, engaged.

At some point, the rehab geniuses decided that to help my stomach “pain,” they'd put some kind of weird medical device in my back, but they'd need to do surgery to insert it. So I stayed up all night, taking 1,800 milligrams of hydrocodone ahead of the next day's surgery. In the operating room they gave me propofol, you know, the drug that killed Michael Jackson. I learned then and there that Michael Jackson didn't want to be high, he wanted to be out. Zero consciousness. And yet another masterful talent taken from us by this terrible disease.

I was given the shot at 11:00
A.M.
I woke up eleven hours later in a different hospital.

Apparently, the propofol had stopped my heart. For five minutes. It wasn't a heart attack—I didn't flatline—but nothing had been beating.

If I may be so bold, please pause your reading of this book for five minutes—look at your phone, starting now:

[Insert five minutes of you time]

That's a long fucking time, right?

I was told that some beefy Swiss guy really didn't want the guy from
Friends
dying on his table and did CPR on me for the full five minutes, beating and pounding my chest. If I hadn't been on
Friends,
would he have stopped at three minutes? Did
Friends
save my life again?

He may have saved my life, but he also broke eight of my ribs. As I lay there in agony, the following day the head doctor waltzed in, all full of himself and said, “You will get no ketamine here, and if you need to go to a rehab, there is one we can send you to.”

“I'm already in a fucking rehab!” I screamed, and in a rare show of physical anger, I knocked over the table next to me, which was covered in medical supplies. This scared the doctor, and he promptly left the room. I apologized for the mess I had made and got the hell out of there.

(The rehab I was speaking of had already done a rapid detox, but
they put me under for the wrong two days—the first two [it should have been days three and four]. By the time I came around, the detox fully hit, and I'd gone from 1,800 milligrams to bupkis. Not much a butler and a chef can do about that.)

Those eight broken ribs were, by the way, much the same injury that the New Orleans Saints' quarterback Drew Brees suffered in a game in November 2021 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Brees would break three more the following week and puncture his lung—just to be better than me—but then he missed four games, so I'd argue we're at least even. Which makes me feel tough.

Right in the middle of all this madness (but prior to the rib thing) I took a meeting with Adam McKay about a big movie called
Don't Look Up.
There was no Chandler, that day—I wasn't on. I couldn't get it up for that. We just talked for a while, and as I walked out, I said, very calmly, “Well, I'd love to help you in any way I can with this thing.”

Adam said, “I think you just did.”

I got the call the following day that he was hiring me—this would be the biggest movie I'd gotten ever. It promised to be a little calm within the storm. I was to play a Republican journalist and was supposed to have three scenes with Meryl Streep. Yes, that's right. I got to do a group scene (with Jonah Hill among others) in Boston where the movie was filmed—I was on 1,800 milligrams of hydrocodone then, too, but nobody noticed. But with the broken ribs, there was no way I could continue, so I never got to do my scenes with Meryl. It was heartbreaking, but I was in too much pain. God knows how Brees continued to throw a football, but you don't get to do a scene with Meryl Streep with broken ribs. And I couldn't smile without it hurting like fuck.

Being in
Don't Look Up
didn't work out because my life was on fire, but I learned an important lesson: I was hirable in something
big without putting on a show. In that meeting, Adam and I had just been two men talking. I will treasure that moment, that day, that man. What a good guy. And I sincerely hope our paths cross again (I'll be sure to check it's actually him next time).

When it came time to leave Switzerland, I was still on 1,800 milligrams of Oxy every single fucking day. I was told that once back in Los Angeles I'd still be able to get that much—and I needed it, just to stay level. As ever, this was not me getting high; this was purely maintenance, so I didn't go through agonies. I flew back on a private jet—there was no way I could fly commercial, given that everyone in the world recognized my damn face—and it cost me a cool $175,000 to do so. Back in LA, I went to see my doctor.

“I need eighteen hundred milligrams a day,” I said. No point beating around the bush.

“Oh no,” she said, “we're not giving you that at all—cancer patients only get a hundred milligrams.” This only upped my gratitude that I didn't have cancer.

“But the doctor in Switzerland told me that's what I'd be on when I got home.”

“Oh, they'll consult,” she said, “but I'm in charge now. Here's thirty milligrams.”

This would not do. I would get incredibly sick.

There was only one thing for it: that very same night, I booked another $175,000 private jet and flew right back to Switzerland.

“I need you to combine my morning and evening dose.”


Ich verstehe kein Englisch,
” the Swiss nurse said.

This was going to be a problem. My pressing need to change the rules, versus her lack of English. This was all done in some weird German-English game of charades.

I don't need a pill at six o'clock in the morning. I need it when it's scary at night. I can't find the center of the fear—it's general. Also, I can't sleep, so there's a negotiation every single night with myself. My mind races. The ideas come so fast. I get auditory hallucinations, too—I hear voices and conversations and sometimes, I even talk back. Sometimes, too, I'll think that somebody wants to hand me something, and I put my hand out to get that nothing from no one. Sober or not, this troubled me a bit. On top of everything else, I was crazy? It's not schizophrenia, just a damn load of voices. The voices, I'm told, do not make me a crazy person. They are called auditory hallucinations and they happen to people all the time.

There is no cure for the voices. Of course there isn't. Actually, I can think of a cure, it's called, “being somebody else.”

Either way, I needed those pills as one shot, at night, without saving any for the morning.

“Morning. Evening. Together,” I said, miming eight pills in my hand, not one.


Nee, keine Ahnung,
” she said.

“Tomorrow morning. No pill. Now instead,” I said, extremely slowly.

“Ich habe keine Ahnung, was Sie brauchen.”

You and everyone else—no one knows what I need.

Back in LA one more time, trying to sober up, I think,
Wait … how did I get engaged? There are dogs living in my house. How did this happen?

I had asked her parents, begged for her hand while high, and put up with the dogs. That's how scared I was of being abandoned.

BOOK: Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing
11.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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