Friends star Matthew Perry, who played king of sarcasm Chandler Bing, dies aged 54

Friends star Matthew Perry, who played king of sarcasm Chandler Bing, dies aged 54

Matthew Perry, known for his portrayal of the wise-cracking, sarcastic Chandler Bing in the hit Nineties sitcom Friends, has died aged 54.

The actor was found dead in a hot tub at his Los Angeles home on Saturday, according to US media.

Police were called to his home at around 4pm and found Perry unresponsive, sources told the Los Angeles Times and TMZ. The Los Angeles Police Department confirmed to The Independent that officers had been called to Perry’s home, but declined to comment further.

There were no initial signs of foul play, sources said. An investigation is ongoing.

The actor’s death was later confirmed by the broadcaster NBC, who said in a statement: “We are incredibly saddened by the too soon passing of Matthew Perry.

“He brought so much joy to hundreds of millions of people around the world with his pitch-perfect comedic timing and wry wit. His legacy will live on through countless generations.”

Perry rose to fame for his longtime role as Chandler Bing in Friends, one of the most successful TV series of all time. It ran for 10 seasons on NBC from 1994 to 2004, and turned its young cast – Perry, Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow and Courteney Cox – into global stars.

Perry as Chandler Bing with the main cast of ‘Friends’ (Getty)
Perry as Chandler Bing with the main cast of ‘Friends’ (Getty)

Following a close-knit group of six friends living in shared apartments in New York City, Friends included a number of major storylines about Chandler, such as his clandestine romance with Monica Geller (Cox), the sister of his friend Ross (Schwimmer), which eventually leads to them getting married.

Perry was born in 1969 to his father John Bennett Perry, an actor, and mother Suzanne Marie Langford in Plymouth, Massachusetts. He spent his childhood between Montreal, Canada and Los Angeles, and was a classmate of future Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau.

He began acting at a young age before shooting to stardom on the Nineties sitcom smash-hit Friends, where he portrayed the boundlessly hilarious and quick-witted Chandler Bing in 234 episodes. He was nominated for an Emmy in the role in 2002.

Of the six friends, Chandler arguably enjoyed the best character progression through the show He began as a socially awkward young man who was hopeless when it came to women, and later became a responsible husband and father capable of moments of real sincerity.

The cast of ‘Friends’, Perry third from right, in a promotional still (Getty/Warner Bros Television)
The cast of ‘Friends’, Perry third from right, in a promotional still (Getty/Warner Bros Television)

He was also known for many of the show’s best one-liners, some of which he came up with himself, and hundreds of its most memorable scenes. He and co-star LeBlanc formed a double-act as Chandler and Joey, best friends living across the hall from Monica and Rachel (Aniston).

Among his best story arcs were his on-off relationship with the insufferable Janice (Maggie Wheeler), a love triangle with Joey’s girlfriend Kathy, and a one-night stand in London with Monica that turned into a lasting romance.

Monica and Chandler in an early ‘Friends’ episode (Warner Bros)
Monica and Chandler in an early ‘Friends’ episode (Warner Bros)

It was often noted how similar Perry was to his onscreen role. When he first read the script, he was convinced that someone had stalked him for a year, stolen his jokes, and mimicked his “world-weary yet witty view of life”.

“It wasn’t that I thought I could play Chandler; I was Chandler,” he said.

The similarities were such that Perry’s actor friends approached him for advice before auditioning for the series in 1994. Perry would suggest techniques and claimed that his friends copied him; when it came to his audition, he “broke all the rules” and used the odd emphases that became one of Chandler’s defining characteristics.

Perry with Schwimmer and Cox during the final episode of ‘Friends’ (HBO)
Perry with Schwimmer and Cox during the final episode of ‘Friends’ (HBO)

He admitted his insecurities to his new castmates during an interview arranged by producers before filming commenced. His humour was a defence mechanism. Indeed, Perry was so wracked by self-doubt that a joke met with silence from the audience would send him into “convulsions”.

Writing in his memoir – Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing– in which he chronicled his struggles with addiction along with memories of his career, Perry recalled a moment, three weeks before his audition for Friends, when he dropped to his knees and prayed.

“God, you can do whatever you want to me,” he begged. “Just please make me famous.”

Perry wrote that he had first started drinking aged 14, but his addiction grew worse under the “white-hot flame of fame” after he starred in Friends. While he was drinking heavily during the first two seasons, he became addicted to the opiate pain medication Vicodin after a jetski accident while filming Fools Rush In with Salma Hayek in 1996.

Perry wrote that he had once got down on his knees and begged: ‘God, you can do whatever you want to me... just please make me famous’ (AP)
Perry wrote that he had once got down on his knees and begged: ‘God, you can do whatever you want to me... just please make me famous’ (AP)

At his worst moments, he would take 55 strong painkillers a day to get through filming. In his memoir, he wrote that fans would have been able to tell whether he was drinking or taking drugs depending on his appearance: “When I’m carrying weight, it’s alcohol; when I’m skinny, it’s pills; when I have a goatee, it’s a lot of pills,” he said.

Perry wrote that he was “never” drunk or high during filming. He also recalled a moment where he was confronted by Aniston about his substance abuse.

“‘I know you’re drinking,’” Perry recalled Aniston telling him. “To be confronted by Jennifer Aniston was devastating. And I was confused. ‘How can you tell?’ I said. I never worked drunk. ‘I’ve been trying to hide it.’

“‘We can smell it,’ she said, in a kind of weird but loving way, and the plural ‘we’ hit me like a sledgehammer,” Perry wrote.

The cast of Friends remained just so, long after the final episode aired in 2004, and seemed overjoyed to be reunited on set for the HBO special.

In his review for The Independent, critic Adam White wrote: “Perry, who has famously battled his demons, is the most reserved of the six, probably because of the rumoured dental surgery he had right before filming. You leave the reunion just wanting the best for him.”

Perry with his ‘Friends’ co-stars in 2002 (AP2002)
Perry with his ‘Friends’ co-stars in 2002 (AP2002)

While Perry (and indeed his co-stars) never enjoyed more success than when appearing in Friends, he appeared in other small-screen credits, such as Boys Will Be Boys, Growing Pains, Beverly Hills 90210, The West Wing, Scrubs and The Odd Couple. He also appeared in films including Fools Rush In, The Kid and 17 Again.

He had been on a hiatus from acting since 2017.

In 2021, he called off his engagement to literary manager Molly Hurwitz, just months after proposing. In a brief statement, he told People: “Sometimes things just don’t work out and this is one of them. I wish Molly the best.”

His previous relationships included six months dating Julia Roberts, who guest-starred in Friends in 1996 and had specifically requested that she get to be in scenes with Perry.

Perry and Julia Roberts on the set of ‘Friends’ (Friends)
Perry and Julia Roberts on the set of ‘Friends’ (Friends)

In his memoir, Perry described how the pair would send “hundreds” of faxes before they began dating, before moving on to five-hour phone calls and eventually going on real dates.

Reflecting on their split in April 1996, Perry wrote: “Dating Julia Roberts had been too much for me. I had been constantly certain that she was going to break up with me.

“So instead of facing the inevitable agony of losing her, I broke up with the beautiful and brilliant Julia Roberts.”

Perry revealed that he’d been the one to break up with all the “wonderful women” he’d dated because he was “deathly afraid that they will find out that I’m not enough... and they’ll break up with me”.

While not the most prolific social media user, Perry had taken to Instagram earlier this month to share a sweet photo with his father.

In the snap posted on 15 October, he could be seen posing with his arm around his father, the pair of them wearing broad smiles.

“Here is me, and my father John, both holding a beverage,” he wrote in the caption.

In its report of his death, the Los Angeles Times cited a heartwrenching quote from Perry during a discussion about his memoir in April at the Festival of Books.

“Nobody wanted to be famous more than me,” he said. “I was convinced it was the answer. I was 25, it was the second year of ‘Friends’, and eight months into it, I realised the American dream is not making me happy, not filling the holes in my life. I couldn’t get enough attention. Fame does not do what you think it’s going to do. It was all a trick.”