It’s truly the end of an era for all those who grew up watching ‘Friends’, the beloved comedy series about six friends navigating life in Manhattan.
Earlier this morning, we woke up to the tragic news that Matthew Perry, who played Chandler Bing from ‘Friends’, was found dead at 54 in a Jacuzzi after an apparent drowning. His iconic character Bing would have probably dealt with that tragic blow with a caustic one-liner at the inglorious nature of it all.
It’s no secret that the sweet-faced actor famously struggled with substance addiction all his adult life and even revealed that he had spent more than $9 million trying to get sober, but his troubled existence didn’t hinder him from making everyone laugh.
Even at the heights of his struggle with drug abuse, he made sure that his performance – as the go-to guy for all things sarcastic – didn’t suffer or miss a beat. His acerbic wit was unparalleled. While all the characters from Friends – be it the nerdy, dinosaur-loving paleontologist Ross (David Schwimmer) or the bohemian, and sometimes flaky Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow) – are collectively lovable, Perry as the emotionally unavailable Chandler Bing will always have our hearts. His famous lines like, "he isn't great at giving life advice, but would we be interested in a sarcastic joke," continue to hold enough power to make us laugh.
His role in ‘Friends,’ which ran for ten seasons, defined him as an actor in more ways than one. His act as this socially-awkward guy when women were around made him such an endearing figure to all those who grew up in the 1990s and beyond. Remember that scene where he is stuck in an ATM “vestibule” with a supermodel and when she offers him gum, he could only muster up these profound flirty lines: “gum would be perfection.” His visible mortification at the awkward lines that tumbled out of his mouth under the pressure of impressing her was comic gold. Chandler Bing’s inability to be a smooth operator around girls, but who still managed to nab his best mate Monica Geller (Courteney Cox) as his wife, gave many hope that not all is lost with guys like him. Perry as Bing gave all those average Janes and Johns, whose only arsenal is dry wit when things get uncomfortable, the belief that things will eventually work out in life.
There are not many series that you go back for repeat viewing after a hard day’s work, but Perry’s ‘Friends’ remains one of them. No matter how many times you watch the six friends navigate their late twenties and thirties in Manhattan, you don’t get tired of them. Of course, the writing was sharp, but it was the actors who made these characters truly memorable.
While it’s unfortunate that Perry – like many public figures who find instant fame through a signature movie or series – couldn’t handle the incessant fame and the fanfare, nobody can fault his work ethic. He was 25 when he became an overnight sensation along with his five other co-stars, and by 2022, each member of the ensemble was paid around $1 million per episode. But the sad part is that he didn’t remember any details of filming. In his memoir, he famously declared that his physical condition was an indicator of whether he was battling alcohol or drug addiction. If heavy, it was alcohol, and if he was thin, it meant he was on a downward spiral with pills, and if he were sporting a goatee, it meant he was deep in pills.
He was also searingly honest about how he faced debilitating fear that the audience wouldn’t laugh at his jokes and battled cold sweat each time it was his turn to perform. His fears were deeply unfounded because Perry’s legacy is all about making us laugh and forgetting our dark days. Watching ‘Friends,’ knowing that Bing is no longer in this universe, will never be the same again.
As we say goodbye to Perry, the actor who brought so much joy into our lives as the iconic Chandler Bing, we are reminded that his gift of laugher, even in the face of personal struggles, will resonate forever.