Matthew Perry | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Matthew Perry

Matthew Langford Perry, actor, producer, writer (born 19 August 1969 in Williamstown, Massachusetts; died 28 October 2023 in Los Angeles, California). Matthew Perry was a film and television actor famous for his combination of dry wit and slapstick humour. He was best known for playing Chandler Bing on the hugely successful NBC sitcom Friends (1994–2004). He was nominated for five Primetime Emmy Awards and eight Screen Actors Guild Awards. He was candid about his addiction to drugs and alcohol and his struggles with recovery. He died suddenly at the age of 54.

Early Life

Matthew Perry was born to parents John Bennett Perry, an American actor and model best known as the "Old Spice" sailor, and Canadian Suzanne Perry (née Langford), a journalist. After Perry’s parents divorced when he was a baby, he moved with his mother to Ottawa, where she worked as press secretary to Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Perry went to the same school and grew up around Justin Trudeau, who is two years younger than him. Perry’s mom, Suzanne, married journalist Keith Morrison, who became Matthew’s stepfather.

As a child, Perry displayed interest and talent in both comedy and tennis. In fact, tennis dominated his efforts until his mid teens: he was once ranked 17th in Canada in the junior singles category and third in doubles. It was the desire to compete in the US that prompted him to move to Los Angeles at the age of 15 to live with his father. However, as Perry once explained in an interview, “I was a very good tennis player in Ottawa, Canada — nationally ranked when I was, like, 13. Then I moved to Los Angeles when I was 15, and everyone in LA just killed me. I was pretty great in Canada. Not so much in Los Angeles.”

Early Career

While his tennis career did not survive through high school, Matthew Perry had already begun to pursue an acting career. He landed guest roles on such TV series as Charles in Charge, Silver Spoons and The Tracy Ullman Show, and was involved in improv comedy at the LA Connection in Sherman Oaks, California. A big break came when a director spotted him in a restaurant and cast him opposite River Phoenix in the movie A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon (1988).

After graduating from the Buckley School, a prep school in Sherman Oaks, in 1987, Perry landed a starring role in the sitcom Second Chance (later titled Boys Will Be Boys), playing a high school student whose older self is sent back in time by Saint Peter to guide his younger self. Perry gave up his plans to attend university and dedicated himself to pursuing a career as an actor. As he later wrote in his 2022 memoir, he believed that “Fame would change everything, and I yearned for it more than any other person on the face of the planet. I needed it. It was the only thing that would fix me. I was certain of it.” He made a string of appearances on such TV series as Highway to Heaven, Growing Pains, Who’s the Boss?, Beverly Hills, 90210 and Dream On before landing the starring role in the short-lived sitcom Home Free in 1993.

Career Highlights

Fame came in 1994 with the NBC sitcom Friends. Matthew Perry almost missed out on the show because he had committed himself to LAX 2194, a series about baggage handlers at an airport in the year 2194. When Perry read the script for Friends Like Us, he immediately identified with the character of Chandler Bing and convinced the producers to audition him despite his other engagement.

Friends became one of the most successful series in television history. With more than 20 million viewers a year, it ranked in the Top 10 every season and its impact on mass culture was undeniable. Perry’s quirky way of sarcastically emphasizing words became ubiquitous. The cast of Friends — each of whom was paid US$1 million per episode from 2002 on, in addition to millions in residuals each year — was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series seven times, winning in 1996. Perry received an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series in 2002.

During Friends’ 10-year run, Perry also appeared in the TV series The John Larroquette Show, Caroline in the City, The Simpsons, Ally McBeal, The West Wing and Scrubs. His dramatic turn on The West Wing earned him Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series in 2003 and 2004. He also starred in a number of big-screen comedies — including Fools Rush In (1997), Almost Heroes (1998), Three to Tango (1999), The Whole Nine Yards (2000) and its sequel The Whole Ten Yards (2004) — as well as David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago, which played London’s West End in 2003.

Perry continued to work in film and television after Friends, though he failed to achieve anywhere near the same success. His performance in the TV movie The Ron Clark Story (2006), about a smalltown teacher who relocates to an inner-city school, earned him Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations for best lead actor in a made-for-TV movie. He starred in Aaron Sorkin’s much-hyped Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006–07), which was cancelled after one season. He co-wrote, produced and starred in the series Mr. Sunshine (2011), played a sportscaster who unwillingly joins a therapy group to help him cope with the death of his wife in the series Go On (2012–13), starred in a short-lived reboot of The Odd Couple (2015–17), and played Ted Kennedy in the mini-series The Kennedys After Camelot (2017).

Addiction and Recovery

By the time Friends came off the air in 2004, Matthew Perry had been through two rounds of rehab for addiction to prescription pills. At one point, he weighed only 128 pounds. His on-set drinking became such an issue on Friends that his castmates launched an intervention. In his memoir, Friends, Lovers, and the Big, Terrible Thing (2022), Perry described being addicted to alcohol after his first drink at age 14 and addicted to drugs after his first prescription painkiller, taken after a jet ski accident in 1997. In a 2022 interview with HBO’s Bill Maher, Perry talked about going to open houses so that he could steal pills from people’s medicine cabinets. The New York Times described how Perry’s addictions led him on a “medical odyssey… including an exploded colon, a stint on life support, two weeks in a coma, nine months with a colostomy bag and more than a dozen stomach surgeries, among other travails.”

Charity Work and Advocacy

Throughout his struggles with addiction and recovery, Perry spoke often of his desire to help others achieve sobriety. In 2011, Perry lobbied the US Congress in support of drug courts, which treat drug offenders through the health care system rather than the criminal justice system. With addiction recovery specialist Earl Hightower, Perry converted his 5,500 square-foot beach house in Malibu into a sober living facility called Perry House, to help men transition from rehab back into their daily lives. In 2013, Perry and Hightower received the Champion of Recovery award from the Obama Administration's Office of National Drug Control Policy.

In a 2022 interview with CBC’s Tom Power, Perry said, “The best thing about me, bar none, is that if somebody comes to me and says, ‘I can’t stop drinking, can you help me?’ I can say ‘yes’ and follow up and do it. When I die, I don’t want Friends to be the first thing that’s mentioned. I want that to be the first thing that’s mentioned. And I’m gonna live the rest of my life proving that.”


On 28 October 2023, almost a year to the day after the publication of his tell-all memoir, Perry was found dead in a jacuzzi at his home in the Pacific Palisades neighbourhood of Los Angeles at around 4:00 in the afternoon. There was no indication of foul play, and an official cause of death was not immediately available.

See also Matthew Perry (Profile).