Friends alumni Matthew Perry opened up about his addiction journey to People ahead of the November 1 release of his memoir Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing. Perry, 53, told the publication, “I wanted to share when I was safe from going into the dark side of everything again. I had to wait until I was pretty safely sober — and away from the active disease of alcoholism and addiction — to write it all down. And the main thing was, I was pretty certain that it would help people.”
Perry opens his memoir with the revelation that he almost died a few years ago at age 49 due to his colon bursting from opioid overuse. Suffering from a gastrointestinal perforation, the actor spent two weeks in a coma, five months in a hospital and had to use a colostomy bag for nine months due to his colon bursting. Doctors told Perry’s family when he was first admitted to the hospital that he “had a 2 percent chance to live,” he recalls. “I was put on a thing called an ECMO machine, which does all the breathing for your heart and your lungs. And that’s called a Hail Mary. No one survives that.” He recalls that five other people were put on that machine that night — four died and he was the only survivor.
When Perry was first cast on Friends as Chandler Bing at 24, his alcohol addiction was just starting to surface. “I could handle it, kind of. But by the time I was 34, I was really entrenched in a lot of trouble,” he admits. “But there were years that I was sober during that time. Season 9 was the year that I was sober the whole way through. And guess which season I got nominated for best actor? I was like, ‘That should tell me something.'”
Perry was also abusing opioids during his time acting on Friends, taking as much as 55 Vicodin a day and weighing 128 pounds. “I didn’t know how to stop,” he said. “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. I couldn’t stop because the disease and the addiction is progressive. So it gets worse and worse as you grow older.”
Over the years, Perry went to rehab 15 times and had 14 surgeries on his stomach. “That’s a lot of reminders to stay sober,” he says. “All I have to do is look down.” While he prefers not to disclose how long he’s currently been sober, he does still count each day. For those who read the memoir, “I think they’ll be surprised at how bad it got at certain times and how close to dying I came,” Perry says. “I say in the book that if I did die, it would shock people, but it wouldn’t surprise anybody. And that’s a very scary thing to be living with. So my hope is that people will relate to it, and know that this disease attacks everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re successful or not successful, the disease doesn’t care.”