Matthew Perry Credits Friends for saving his life during his darkest days of addiction to alcohol and pills, but an intervention from the cast during his struggles “wouldn’t work” to get him sober.
The 53-year-old actor, whose memoir, Friends, lovers and the great terrible, is at the top of the bestseller list, spoke for her about recovery with Elizabeth Vargas Heart of the matter podcast for partnership to end addiction.
Perry, who had his first drink when he was 14 and was already struggling when he landed Friends in 1994, said he “kind of suppressed the drinking when I got that job because all the time I was like, ‘You can’t screw this up. This is the best job in the world.’ … And the job saved my life in many ways. But … I was drinking every night. Then it got worse and worse and worse and worse.” He first entered rehab at age 27 “because I weighed 130 pounds and I was very sick…and so on Friends at the same time.”
His co-star and girlfriend Jennifer Aniston called him out on his drinking and told him they could smell it. He told Vargas she wasn’t alone.
“Lisa [Kudrow] also said something,” Perry revealed. Then “everyone was in my dressing room at some point after a run-through that I’d been really shaky in” for an intervention. “But that’s not going to work,” he said of the well-intentioned effort. You need a professional. You need someone who really knows [addiction]. Because what people don’t really understand is that if there’s an intervention, all you have to do is say, ‘No. No, get out of my house.’ And then it’s over. If you have a professional, someone who does this for a living, and an interventionist and a plane waiting and then you go to rehab, that’s the way to do it. But 50 people said, “You have to stop drinking.” l can not stop drinking. What are you talking about? And I can’t let you know that I can’t stop drinking because then you try to stop me from drinking.”
Perry recalled going home and drinking after Aniston first privately berated him for his addiction. “I couldn’t stop,” he said. Aniston kept trying to help him, a reflection of the “sweet person she is,” Perry said. She also tried tough love. “The second I came back from rehab, she said, ‘I’ve been really mad at you,’” because his addiction had “put the show in jeopardy”. Perry recalled replying, “‘Honey, if you knew what I’ve been through, you wouldn’t be mad at me.’ But she had—and why should she?—no idea what I’d been through to be sober at that point.”
Perry estimates he spent $9 million trying to get sober. He’s been to 65 detox centers. While on Friends — the show that earned him $1.14 million per episode in recent years — he would steal pills from real estate open houses to feed his habit of 55 Vicodin a day. At one point, he had a 2% chance of living after his colon exploded due to Oxycontin abuse. Even after that, he had another brush with death — when the heart stopped for five minutes during surgery.
Perry, speaking with Vargas, who is also recovering from alcoholism, reiterated that addiction “is a disease.” He said when that finally clicked – that it’s actually a disease – it helped him in his recovery.
It was when he took 55 Vicodin a day and “I was very thin, very sick,” he recalls. “And they put me in this office with a religious guy. I don’t know exactly what he was, but he spoke to me… and the last thing he said was, ‘And it’s not your fault.’ And I said, “What? Say that again?” And he said, “It’s not your fault… You have a disease.” I mean I can’t tell you what that meant to me I didn’t know I just thought I was weak and I needed something that other people didn’t need And then I started to learn that it was a disease and I was so liberated by that.”
And it’s a disease that runs in Perry’s family. He said his father, actor John Bennett Perry, was also struggling. However, they had very different addiction trajectories.
“My dad was about how I learned to drink,” Perry said. “He would like to have five vodka tonics and then put the sixth one to bed. But he always woke up at 7 a.m. and … went to work. He was a very functional alcoholic.”
When he stopped drinking, it was like a switch.
“One night he had a glass too much and he fell through a bush or something and the next day his wife said, ‘Do you really want to live like this?’ And he went for a walk to think about his circumstances and stopped drinking [that day]. I’ve been to 6,000 AA meetings. I have been to 14 treatment centers. I’ve been to a mental institution. And you stopped going for a walk?!” he said.
Perry is currently 18 months sober. “I couldn’t write this book unless I was very strong in my sobriety, which I am now,” he said, “and I’m very grateful