Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing: Matthew Perry (book review)

If you watched the recent Matthew Perry’s interview with Diane Sawyer, or others he did while promoting the Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing (2022), you pretty much know the story. The interview is the small version of the train wreck, the book is the long, slow-motion derailment and repeated ordeal.

Like most train wrecks, you can’t look away, and here you even get sucked up in Perry’s retelling of the self-inflicted carnage. Perry the author is a lot like Perry the actor. If you close your eyes, you obviously won’t be able to read the words on the page, but it’s Chandler Bing telling the story. Like Leonard Nimoy, who was Spock, Perry is Chandler Bing.

A couple of things are quickly evident. Perry’s childhood put him on this self-destructive and unfulfilled life. Not to blame the parents; actually they bear a substantial amount of blame, but they mainly failed by not being parents. Perry refers to a lifelong struggle to fill the hole inside; his mommy issues. It’s more complicated than that, but fame and fortune only supercharged the impossible task of filling the hole in his soul.

Perry had a childhood that seemed pretty sweet. Famous parents, great schools, opportunities, athletic talent. Behind the facade, his parents divorced while he was a baby, and never seemed to give him what he craved – their love and attention. He talks of being emotionally scarred by being shuttled, alone, between parents who lived in different countries.

“I held firm in my belief that fame would fill that unaccompanied hole in me, the one that Valerie refused to fill. But now it was just me and vodka attempting and failing this seemingly impossible task. When fame finally happened, well .. we’re coming to that.”

For quite awhile, Perry was a functioning drunk and drug addict, but often he wasn’t. Somehow his career kept moving forward.

“I was twenty-four, and already I was missing 50 percent of my auditions. I was tailing out as an actor. Drinking was slowly but surely winning the war against auditions, and no one was really interested in me anyway. I wasn’t getting any movies, and the roles I got on TV were hardly setting the world alight. I was hungover half the time, the rest of the time I was on my way to lunch or the Formosa.”

His life consisted of self-medicating: drink, drugs and sex. His was a journey to fix what was broken and hurting; going deeper and deeper into the hole.

“I was trying to re-create my childhood and win,” Perry wrote. “That’s why I slept with so many women.”

“Dating Julia Roberts had been too much for me. I had been constantly certain that she was going to break up with me, why would she not? I was not enough; I could never be enough; I was broken, bent, unlovable. So instead of facing the inevitable agony of losing her, I broke up with the beautiful and brilliant Julia Roberts.”

The closer he got to something good, the harder to pushed it away. Perry was so self-loathing, that’s such a sad reality, the man who seemed to have everything, yet lacked the most basic happiness.

“You can track the trajectory of my addiction if you gauge my weight from season to season-_when I’m carrying weight, it’s alcohol; when I’m skinny, it’s pills. When I have a goatee, it’s lots of pills.”

The faces of Matthew Perry, substance abuser.

“I didn’t know then why the sex ended. I do now: the creeping, nagging, endless fear that if we got any closer, she would see the real me, and leave me.” This was Perry in his relationships; eventually either he would leave or he’d make sure his girlfriend did. The self-fulfilling prophecy at work. You’ll leave me, so let’s get it over with.

Fear is a constant theme in Perry’s life, that he will be exposed or found out. This fear started at a young age, watching his parents, and traveling alone as he was shuttled between the. “I needed to remember that my dad left because he was afraid, and my mom was a kid who was just doing her best. It wasn’t her fault that she’d had to commit so much time to the fucking Canadian prime minister.”

So is a negative self image. Fame seemed more of a liability as it supersized his problems, something being the life of the party didn’t solve. “Because, why else would anybody like me? It would take fifteen years for me to learn that I didn’t need to be a joke machine.”

“The idea of being famous, the idea of being rich, the idea of being me, I can’t enjoy any of it unless I’m high,” Perry writes. “And I can’t think of love without wanting to be high. I lack a spiritual connection that protects me from these feelings.”

Of course, Perry’s journey would nearly kill him, and those parts of the story are sad and difficult to read. So much wasted. What makes this such a captivating read is the humor, the edginess that made Chandler so interesting to watch. You pull for the guy, as you do in real life.

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