I like to think that I am quite an emotionally intelligent person. But when my best friend told me that Matthew Perry had passed away, I froze and was overwhelmed with sadness and I just couldn’t comprehend why.
I didn’t know Matthew personally. I hadn’t even met him once in person while he was still alive.
It’s taken me days to process my feelings towards his death and as I reflect more deeply about it now, the pieces of the puzzle appear to be forming much quicker than I anticipated.
Growing up in a turbulent home environment, so much of my time was spent watching television, watching movies. I was consumed about the stories and characters I saw on screen, I almost felt closer to those individuals than I did my own family.
My teenage walls were plastered with posters of the TV Show, Friends. I would spend hours rummaging through magazines to stick cut outs of the actors, the show, the trivia across my walls. Every weeknight that Friends was on Channel Nine, I would be ready with my remote control to tape the new episode onto VHS, racing from my bedroom to bathroom to pause and unpause between advertisements.
It wasn’t just that these 6 best friends made me laugh and yearn for a friendship like theirs, I was intrigued by the stories of the actors’ lives. In fact, when some of the world commented on Matthew’s drastic weight change, I was a teenager who felt sadness for him. Sadness that someone who appeared so happy and so full on life on screen was, in fact, dealing with the struggles of addiction.
Growing up around individuals who were consumed with their own addictions to cigarettes, marijuana, alcohol, and probably other substances that I wasn’t even aware of – I knew almost firsthand the impact that these addictions had on the users. I had lived it, breathed it, even to the point that I become a survivor of child sexual abuse because of it.
The interesting aspect about watching the screen – being a viewer of it, a consumer of it – is that the actor’s abilities, the music, the storyline – everything that comes with acting and transforms imagination into reality – immerses you into another world and you really feel like you a part of it. Like you know these characters, like you have some form of emotional connection of them.
Matthew Perry played Chandler Bing, a character who often used humour to disguise how he was really feeling, a coping mechanism so common in today’s society. Sometimes it really just feels easier to laugh than to cry.
But at his core, Chandler wasn’t just some sort of larrikin who laughed away everything, he was a caring friend. The sort that Monica later fell in love with. The friend that Joey was heartbroken to see move out of their apartment. The friend who always worked on being a better friend, on growing.
From what I heard and could only gather from the interviews and stories I heard about Matthew Perry, Chandler and Matthew were one of the same. Matthew Perry too, continued to laugh and smile, despite his inner struggles.
It is emotionally hard for me to comprehend that a man I used to watch on TV, quite obsessively, is no longer alive to bring any more laughter to us viewers. To the people around him. To model quite admirably that addiction can be beaten. That it isn’t a definitive end for anyone.
My heart tells me it wants to go back in time to the teenage self who shrieked at receiving the Friends full boxed seat in the mail. To a time when Matthew Perry was still alive, when the group of 6 best friends was really complete. Both on and off the screen.
But then I remember the beauty and essence of any screen work – television or movies – is that an actor’s work always lives on. That you have the privilege to play back their hours and hours of work, their extensively long working days, their final cuts after take after take, and still be witness to their smile and their laugh.
Even if the screen replays a character, it is still them. At least, in physical form. And Matthew Perry’s work for over 10 years, for many decades in film – is a legacy that will live on, that we can still appreciate, that we can still love – years after his death.
This is the magic of the screen, the magic of acting, the magic of television and movies.
When the individual moves on from here and passes away, we can continue to remember the emotions they evoked in us and the laughter they created.
Rest in Peace Matthew, thank you for reminding me that no matter your life’s circumstances, you always have the ability to rise above them.