When the Hollywood icon and America's sweetheart dated, it was a match made in heaven. But why did the A-list lovers split? Perry unpacks it all in Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing: A Memoir…
Let's start from the beginning, shall we? Matthew was born in Williamstown, Massachusetts in 1969. The three were one happy family, and everything seemed like it would fall into place for them.
But little did they know, they were heading toward their first in a series of bumps in the road they would encounter. When little Matthew was just 9 months old, his parents made the difficult decision to end their marriage. His father moved to LA, and baby Matty was raised by his mother in Canada.
A Lonely Kid
Matt has said he often felt like he didn't belong anywhere, and he struggled with loneliness. At just five years old, he flew alone from Canada to LA to see his dad. The actor remembers being terrified, but when he finally landed and saw the city below, he felt a sense of relief.
His dad recalled that when Matt was a few weeks old, he wouldn't stop crying. So, the doctor thought it'd be a good idea to give Perry a gentle calming medicine to help him settle down, even though these kinds of meds can sometimes cause people to rely on them a bit too much, especially in the long run...
Actor, Not Acrobat
Despite his difficult childhood, Matt was a keenly intuitive student. He excelled in math and science, and was also a gifted athlete (despite Chandler not being one). He played tennis and hockey and even considered a professional sports career. With enough time, perhaps Matt could have found happiness in Ottawa.
However, it took some time for Matt to realize that his true passion was performing and acting. In high school, he appeared in several school plays and loved the feeling of being on stage and making people laugh. By fifteen years old, Matt had made up his mind and knew where he was headed.
A Passion for Acting
Even at age fourteen, Matt was showing signs of early substance abuse. He had his first drink as a teenager and things only worsened when he started acting professionally. In his later age, Matt confessed that drinking may have been an early step towards more serious substance use he would face in the years to come.
In his memoir, Matt wrote "Acting was another one of my drugs," he continued. "And it didn't do the damage that alcohol was already starting to do. In fact, it was getting harder and harder to wake up after a night of drinking." So, how exactly did Perry make his way into Hollywood?
He Wasn't Giving Up
While still in high school, Matthew Perry landed his first film role. He played a supporting role opposite the then-teen heartthrob River Phoenix in the movie A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon (1988). Unfortunately, the film didn't make much of a splash, but Matt continued auditioning eagerly and waited for his next break.
The young actor starred in his first sitcom, Second Chance, in 1987. The show had a wild premise: a guy dies and goes back in time to mentor his younger self, played by Matt. Sadly for teenage Matt, the show didn't catch on with audiences and was canceled after one season.
More Failed Attempts
After a couple breaks with not much success, Matt had his fair share of guest appearances and small features, namely Empty Nest and Growing Pains. After his first sitcom fizzled out, Matt booked a starring gig on Home Free. Once again, unfortunately for the young star, the show was canceled after a few months.
Next up, Matt then secured himself a role as the pilot for LAX 2194, a futuristic airport show that never made it to air. With disappointment after disappointment, in 1993, Matt was starting to think that maybe acting wasn’t for him. Little did he know, something with potential would soon became available...
A Career on the Horizon
A script for a TV show with six friends in New York City landed on Matt's lap. It was called Insomnia Cafe before adopting the new name Six of One, then Friends Like Us. Finally, it became the show we know and love today: Friends. Matt remembers, "Everyone who read it knew it would be great."
In his memoir, Matt expressed, "It wasn't that I thought I could play 'Chandler,' I was Chandler." None of us can deny that. Co-creator David Crane told Variety, "We were so sure that Chandler would be the easiest part to cast. It's got the most joke jokes. It's sarcastic and kind of quippy, but no one could do it. No one."
Not Blah, He Was a Hoot
Matt said he was heartbroken when his agent said he couldn't do Friends because he was already locked into LAX 2194. Other actors considered for the role were Jon Favreau and Jon Cryer. Cryer, now famous for his hit show Two and a Half Men, told James Corden the tape he recorded in London got lost in customs on its way to L.A.
Matt's friend, Craig Bierko, was offered the role in his stead. Although he was "devastated," Matt encouraged Craig to accept the role. However, Craig turned down the role in favor of a leading role instead of an ensemble cast. He later said Craig's "desire to be the star of his own show saved [his] life."
The One Where They Found Chandler
In his book, Matt recalls thinking, "God, you can do whatever you want to me. Just please make me famous." After L.A.X. 2194 was axed, Matt was finally free to take on new roles. And, in the nick of time, he got a call from Marta Kauffman, the co-creator of Friends, and his life changed forever.
Back into the audition process, Matt had helped so many of his friends practice lines for their auditions that he knew the script by heart. Matt recalls that he "nailed" all of his auditions. At age twenty-four, the youngest member and the last to be cast, Matt won his spot on Friends.
A Second Family
In his memoir, interviews, and the Reunion in 2021, Matt and the rest of the cast have shared their never-ending love for each other. Lisa Kudrow, the actress famous for portraying quirky Phoebe, told the New York Times, "I love Matthew a lot. We're part of a family. I'll always be there for him."
In his 2021 interview with Access, Matt shared how close the cast was to one another. "We kept a friendship, and we did become really good friends," he added. "And we are really good friends to this day. And we kept that going, and I think that was very important." Art really does imitate life.
Looking Out for One Another
In the same 2021 interview, Matt shared a rule the cast had during filming. "If we were hooking up or if there was any strangeness going on, that might mess with things," he revealed. The cast shared ten years of memories, with each member invited to celebrations, including Jen's wedding to Brad Pitt in 1998.
The group was famously so close that Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer, who were both earning more than the other four cast members, took a pay cut to ensure all the cast were paid equally. From then on, all the way through season 10, all cast members were paid equally.
Jen Saved His Life
While Matt has always been open about his love for his fellow cast members, he talks most fondly about one cast member. When asked about Jennifer Anniston on the Access red carpet, Matt said, "She's terrific." He added, "We don't see each other as much. I wish the group would see each other more times. But she's the greatest."
He shared with Diane Sawyer that when his substance abuse started to affect him at work, Jennifer "was the one who reached out the most." A source told US Weekly that Jen's support saved Matt's life without question. At one point, Jen even confronted Matt about being intoxicated on set. The encounter hit Matt like a "sledgehammer."
But it wasn't only their friendship that made Matt speak volumes about Jen. In the show's early seasons, Matt revealed he had a massive crush on his co-star. He even asked Jen out but to little avail. The Horrible Bosses actress turned him down. Jen later slipped at the Friends reunion that she only had eyes for David.
In his book, Matt also admitted that he knew he and Jen weren't to be once Jen married Brad Pitt. He also revealed that, while his crush on Jen was extreme, he would later develop an interest in Lisa and Courtney too. He explained his thinking to GMA, "How can you not have a crush on [them]." Enough said.
Enter Julia Roberts
By 1995, Julia Roberts was a Hollywood icon. Having already appeared in Mystic Pizza (1988), Steel Magnolias (1989), and Pretty Woman (1990), Julia was a household name. Naturally, Friends producers wanted her to make an appearance on the show. But Julia had one request and one request only.
Matt wrote in his memoir, "Julia had been offered the post-Super Bowl episode in season 2, and she would only do the show if she could be in my storyline." If you can believe it, Julia only agreed to appear if she could work directly with Matt. Talking about writing fate, Julia knew where the best storylines were.
Three Dozen Roses
Once Matt heard of Julia's demand, he sent the Notting Hill star three dozen red roses. In charming Matt fashion, it was accompanied by a card that read, "The only thing more exciting than the prospect of you doing the show is that I finally have an excuse to send you flowers." No one can accuse Matt of not being romantic.
Can you guess how Julia responded? Likely not. The actress sent Matt back a batch of bagels, and lots of them too. Love really is like a bagel: it's best when it's fresh and warm. So began a secret relationship between the two stars, and what better channel of love is there than a fax machine.
Love By Fax
While Julia was in France shooting a film and Matt was in LA filming Friends, the two communicated over fax in what Matt has described as a "three-month courtship." Every day, Matt would eagerly wait for Julia's messages. He would even prematurely leave social events to check if she had faxed him.
"Three or four times a day, I would sit by my fax machine and watch the piece of paper slowly revealing her next missive," Matt wrote. In his memoir, he described her messages as "so smart" and how she wrote to him was "captivating." It's not hard to see why most people would find even one word from Julia as heaven.
Quantum Mechanics of Affection
In one particularly cheeky fax, Julia told Matt that she would refuse to feature in Friends unless he wrote her a paper that would "adequately explain quantum physics," according to the 17 Again star in his memoir. Of course, Matt hit the books and did what he could to win Julia's demanding heart.
Matt gave Oppenheimer a run for his money, and the following day, he faxed her a paper "all about wave-particle duality and the uncertainty principle and entanglement." While this shows Matt's commitment to booking Julia, it demonstrates that just about anyone can learn quantum physics if they put their mind to it.
Writers Rally the Cause
It wasn't only Matt that was rooting for a relationship with Julia. As it turns out, he had the entire writer's room of Friends behind him. Writer Alexa Junge has said the crew was on 'Team Matthew' and "trying to make it happen for him." Sounds nice to have an army of writers helping craft your every word.
Over their daily faxes, Julia would ask Matt questions like, 'Why should I go out with you.' Unsurprisingly, writers know how to speak to the heart, and that they did. Junge insisted that the team was behind him every step of the way. She said, "Everyone in the writers' room helped him explain to her why."
The two were finally official after three months of pre-email and text correspondence. Matt met Julia's family, and she met his family too. He wrote, "It was like she was placed on this planet to make the world smile, and now, in particular, me. I was grinning like some 15-year-old on his first date."
The couple would have five-hour conversations and even took a vacation together to Taos, New Mexico, where Matt admitted he wished he could "relive" those days repeatedly with the Erin Brockovich actress. While dating her, he remembers feeling like "the king of the world."
Susie and Chandler
Their "courtship" had unfolded in the leadup to filming the Friend's episode. By the time shooting began, Julia and Matt were already a couple. The actress was playing Susie, a childhood friend of Chandler, with hidden intentions. Later it is revealed she has returned to get payback on him for humiliating her in elementary school.
In the episode, the two share a passionate kiss. At the time, fans were so convinced by their chemistry that they thought they might be together. With no proof at the time of their relationship, Matt jokes in his memoir that their kiss "was real." Matt shared that he thought she was "wonderful" on the show.
The Beginning of the End
What began as just an enjoyment of alcohol for Matt ended up as an abuse of it and then dependence on even worse substances. In 1997, Matt experienced a jet ski accident while shooting When Fools Rush and was prescribed opioid pills to deal with the pain. Back then, the seriousness of the medication was not yet known.
Instantly and unintentionally, he got hooked and became utterly dependent on painkillers for relief. Within a few months, the actor dropped twenty pounds, and fans quickly noticed his significant weight loss. Along with his use of Vicodin, he was taking as many as 55 pills per day.
In his memoir, Matt confessed that there was an easy way to tell how his substance abuse had progressed. "You can track the trajectory of my addiction if you gauge my weight from season to season," he added. "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 actor simply put, "I just didn't know how to stop." Over just a few seasons, Matt's weight fluctuated excessively and bounced between "128 pounds and 225 pounds." In classic dark Matt humor, he even joked in his memoir that he "returned to [his] birth weight."
"Unfortunately," Matt told People magazine, "that still wasn't enough to get me to quit drinking." Even with fourteen separate surgeries to reduce the damage done by overconsumption of alcohol, Matt remained unconvinced that anything would be able to stop him.
With as many as 15 visits to rehab since 1997, Matt was aware he needed to stop but couldn't. In his memoir, he stated, "If the police came over to my house and said, 'If you drink tonight, we're going to take you to jail,' I'd start packing." The actor was too caught up in it all, and it would take a lot more to stop him.
The Curse of Fame
The man who had prayed to God for fame just a few years before began to consider the money and celebrity status almost as a curse that gave him unlimited access to these substances. There was nothing the star wouldn't do to get what he needed. Matt faked migraines and went to open houses to look for medicine.
In 2002 he spoke with People magazine, "All the superficial things about [fame] came true. I was naive enough to think it would fulfill all aspects of my life." Without a regular intake of Vicodin and opioid pills, Matt could not function because he would get "so sick."
The One That Got Away
Between 1995 - 1996, Julia and Matt were as happy as can be. But everything came to a halt when, two months after the episode with Julia aired, Matt abruptly ended the relationship. For some reason, Matt had convinced himself that Julia was “slumming” it with him and that he was unworthy of her.
When he broke the news to Julia, he wrote, “I can’t begin to describe the look of confusion on her face.” For one of the biggest movie stars at the time, he imagined she was horrified a “TV guy” was breaking up with her. With Matt’s self-deprecating tone, it’s sad he never considered she was upset for losing him.
Going Separate Ways
Matt wrote in his memoir, “Dating Julia Roberts had been too much for me. I had been constantly certain that she would break up with me. Why would she not? I was not enough; I could never be enough.” This revelation came in the middle of his book, where Matt always felt like he was not worthy of her love.
By the time he had ended his relationship with Julia, Matt was very dependent on alcohol, and his abuse was only worsening. He continued by saying, “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.”
Nowhere To Hide
After a devastating breakup, Matt leaned heavily into drinking. He added, "I thought I could handle [drinking so much] kind of," he told People. "But by the time I was 34, I was entrenched in a lot of trouble." At what could have been the height of his career, Matt was in dark rooms and only with drug dealers.
Matt knew the rest of the cast was aware of his problem when they gathered in his dressing room and told him they could smell it. While this intervention helped him see that he could no longer hide secrets because "secrets kill a person like [him]," it didn't stop him from the downward spiral he was about to face.
Friends Help Friends
Matt has always been quick to credit and acknowledge his castmates for their support despite his difficulty in controlling his addiction. "They were understanding, and they were patient," he said in his memoir. In particular, according to the star, Jen was the most frequent cast member to check in on him.
In his memoir, Matt likened the main cast to a herd of animals in nature. "It's like penguins. When one is sick or very injured, the other penguins surround it and prop it up and walk around until that penguin can walk on its own. And that's kind of what the cast did for me."
Road to Recovery
In 2018, Matt's colon burst, and he was put on life support and spent 14 days in an induced coma. He was not the only one treated for the same health emergency that day, but he was the only one to survive. He contemplated in his book, "Why was I spared when these four people passed away? There has to be a reason that I'm here."
To move on, Matt's therapist gave some harsh but encouraging words; they said to him, "The next time you think about taking OxyContin, just think about having a colostomy bag for the rest of your life." He continued, "And a little window opened, and I crawled through it, and I no longer want OxyContin."
Despite longing for fame to solve his problems all those years ago, Matt shares that he would trade all his fame and fortune to never struggle with substance abuse. But because he can't, he is just happy he figured it out. He said, "I'm grateful to be alive. And that gives me the possibility to do anything."
In 2001, Matt watched from rehab as Julia received an Oscar for her performance in Erin Brockovich. He recalls being "incredibly happy for her" but also happy to have survived another day. And, much to the amusement of other patients in rehab and like the Chandler we know and love, he announced, "I will still take you back."