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‘Friends’ cast members Matthew Perry, Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Courteney Cox, Matt LeBlanc and Lisa Kudrow. Image Credit: AP

This feels personal. As if a link in the chain has irretrievably broken. As if something has changed forever. Matthew Perry was the friend we all yearned for, the friend who made sarcasm captivating and showed up with all his flaws, more so when the spotlights were off.

Despite earning a million an episode he felt within our grasp, and it was a two-way relationship, he made us laugh and we, rooted for him to keep going. Perhaps we didn’t root hard enough.

For my generation ‘Friends’ was our coming of age, it’s reruns even now are like that comfort blanket, shabby and frayed at the corners that we hold on to, while the world continues to do its thing. For ten years it was there when it hadn’t been my day, my week, my month or even my year.

That even our kids, those from the vampire films and cancel culture generation watch its reruns murmuring an occasional ‘bruh’ is applause enough for its timeless charm. Incidentally, Gen Z are also proudly walking in overpriced, oversized tee shirts inscribed with the words Central Perk.

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Matthew Perry (1969-2023)

The six actors including Perry – he was the youngest cast member at 24 – were stellar in their roles, together, they were a package that we wanted, for ourselves.

From Jennifer Aniston’s famous bob cut as Rachel to Joey’s singsong ‘how you doin’ in the 90s ‘Friends’ was not just a sitcom, it became a culture, undeniably though a first world one. But in an era where choices were only just opening up, starry-eyed we looked from the outside but never felt that we were outsiders. In a period with too many choices it is still everything.

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‘Friends’ was our escape

'Friends’ was our escape, our aspirations and everything in-between. A Manhattan café where life happened, sometimes with coffee and an apartment where life played out often over a round of foosball. And Matthew Perry was the master, the conductor of that orchestra.

Not Ross, not Joey for many of us the man with the boyish charm was the iconic chosen one. As Chandler Bing he was endless amusement, his comic timing it turned out hardly needed much work. “It wasn’t that I thought I could play Chandler; I was Chandler,” he said once.

It is folklore that Chandler’s role was the most difficult character to cast as the role was poorly threshed out, but once the makers met Perry it was a done deal. It is hard to think of any other actor playing that role, such was Perry’s owning up of Chandler.

He was funny but not crude, he was witty but also full of warmth. He showed us how friendships were for keeps; romance was an aside in the sitcom. ‘Friends’ remains a classic for it reminds us of the age of innocence, where the woke button was disabled and life goals were ordinary.

Matthew Perry and Friends
From left: Matthew Perry, Courteney Cox Arquettte, David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston and Matt LeBlanc of the television show "Friends" arrive for NBC's 75th Anniversary event on May 5, 2002 in New York. Image Credit: AP

Raw exposed admission

‘I’m Chandler; I make jokes when I’m uncomfortable,’ one of Chandler’s famous lines from the show in retrospect cuts deep. Perry wasn’t lying, his brilliance just did a good job of hiding his inner struggles. The funniest man of our generation was also the most tormented.

Eventually he told us. His battle with substance abuse and alcohol was intense, he couldn’t remember the time he said, “somewhere between season three and six.” He also admitted to a phase where he had more than fifty painkillers in a day, knocking his health sideways. “If you gauge my weight from season to season — when I’m carrying weight, it’s alcohol; when I am skinny, it’s pills. When I have a goatee, it’s lots of pills,” he writes in his book.

Even when his body was numb, the genius of Perry or… Chandler delivered punchlines, season after season without missing a joke. But the fame and pressure to perform was insidious, it ate him up, “I would sometimes say a line and they wouldn’t laugh, and I would sweat and… and just, like, go into convulsions. If I didn’t get the laugh I was supposed to get, I would freak out.” There was almost a raw exposed admission of finding fame. “I didn’t think what the repercussions would be.”

He made us laugh

Perry had moved on, but his fans were still looking elsewhere. He was not the quintessential star, he said so himself, “You have to get famous to know that it’s not the answer. And nobody who is not famous will ever truly believe that.” His trips to rehab were no longer hidden, he passionately championed the cause of others struggling like him. His voice he hoped would be remembered for more than that of Chandler Bing.

…then there were five. The way we will watch the reruns of ‘Friends’ will change forever; we now know that armchair next to Joey stays empty. Nostalgia is better-sweet, he made us laugh, he has also made us tear up. A man who was perhaps the accidental star. Matthew Perry gave us a lifetime of joy but once again had the last word.

So, no one told you it was gonna be this way…