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‘Right now, I am everywhere’: Matthew Perry’s endless loop

On an intense tour for his candid memoir, the “Friends” star shares his story of addiction — repeatedly

Matthew Perry, photographed in New York last week while on a heavy promotion tour for his new memoir, “Friends, Lovers, and the Big, Terrible Thing,” in which he describes his long struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. The book was released Nov. 1. (Jelani Rice for The Washington Post)
10 min

NEW YORK — For a big celebrity, the 13th step of recovery may be the tell-all book tour.

Here is Matthew Perry by the numbers.

Half his life spent in and out of treatment or sober-living centers. Fourteen stays in rehab. Sixty-five times in detox, beginning at age 26, two years into co-starring in the 10-year TV sitcom juggernaut that was “Friends.” Fourteen surgeries. More than 6,000 Alcoholic Anonymous meetings, though anonymity was rarely an option.

“Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing,” published last week, is written with frequent filter-free candor after decades of trying to keep his troubles secret. “I’m a back-against-the-wall, old-time addict,” says Perry, 53, perched in a Tribeca hotel room, three days after the memoir’s official release. “I have anxiety with a side order of depression.”

Book World: In Matthew Perry’s memoir, a need for fame leads to 65 rehab stints

In therapy since age 18, Perry names names and discloses price tags. He shares stories of impotence, exploding colostomy bags, dumping Julia Roberts, making out with Valerie Bertinelli (with passed-out husband Eddie Van Halen nearby), unrequited crushing on Jennifer Aniston and an insatiable quest for fame that rivaled his appetite for pills and alcohol.

“I have a never-ending need for attention, but it’s never the right kind of attention,” he says. “It didn’t work. It didn’t fix that hole in me, and that was surprising to me.”

Perry looks tired, nigh onto exhausted at 10 a.m. The actor is the midst of an intense, whirlwind media tour during which he is asked to relay these horrors on an almost hourly basis. How he almost died. The story of being too incapacitated to appear in a movie with three scenes opposite Meryl Streep.

His memoir’s initial printing is 1 million, second only this season to John Grisham, according to Publisher’s Weekly. He’s returned to his 1990s status as a boldface fixture in gossip columns.

Yet, given his near-death odyssey, it’s fair to worry what it is like for Perry to constantly recount his tortuous history. He writes that the longest he’s been sober is two years, with several relapses. How long has it been this time? “I’m keeping that a little quiet,” he says. “Long enough that I felt it was very safe to write this book.”

Perry’s candor keeps making news. “It’s putting me on the map, and people are talking about me again. That’s nice because it’s been five or six years when there was none of that,” he says. “Sometimes I think I went through the addiction, alcoholism and fame all to be doing what I’m doing right now, which is helping people.”

He remains astonished at “how big this book has become, and how much my face is back in the public eye,” he says. “Right now, I am everywhere. The paparazzi’s back. The offers are coming. Television shows, movies.” He was offered a television drama the previous day, he says, “but it wasn’t good enough.”

In “Friends, Lovers,” Perry writes that he spent $7 million on rehab at many of the world’s five-star centers. Now, he concedes that it was probably $9 million.

During Season 3 of “Friends,” circa 1996-1997, Perry shares that he ingested 55 Vicodin a day and dropped to 128 pounds. At his heaviest, downing a daily quart of vodka, he weighed 100 pounds more. Perry abused drugs and alcohol every year of the “Friends” decade except Season 9, which, he notes, was “the only one where I was nominated for an Emmy.” He received three more dramatic nods for performances on “The West Wing” and “The Ron Clark Story.”

Perry was often so hung over on set that if his character — sarcastic, tightly wound, sweater-vested Chandler Bing — needed to move from the couch to the table, “I had to make sure that my hand was leaning on something so I wasn’t shaking,” he says.

“It was not lost on me that Chandler had grown up way faster than I had,” he writes.

He never used pills and alcohol while on set, he says. But off the set? Constantly. “There was a point where it was really evident,” says “Friends” co-creator and executive producer David Crane in a phone interview. “Like any family, you don’t see it until you’re meant to see it. Success just makes everyone more so. Whatever you have going on, it exacerbates whatever your deal is.”

Crane downloaded the memoir but had yet to read it: “I’m approaching it with some trepidation, knowing how much pain is there.”

Perry was a member of an exclusive club of six reaping $1,100,040 an episode — yet he felt utterly apart from his fellow stars while drowning in addiction. Aniston visited his dressing room to express the cast’s concern. They were there for him. Perry says he recalls thinking, “This is very nice that she’s doing this but I’m going to drink in 15 minutes.”

The book is a tough read at times, especially for people with friends and relatives who struggle with alcoholism and addiction.

“I think it was really quite honest and brutal and so brave. And, to me, part of what was so brave was letting you know what he was thinking the whole time,” says “Friends” co-star Lisa Kudrow, who wrote the memoir’s foreword, on a call from New Zealand. “He’s really smart. We all know he’s really, really funny but he can be really compassionate and rational and levelheaded.”

The book was done without help from a ghost writer. Perry tapped out the proposal on his phone’s notes app, while riding in the back of a car. “It was pretty easy to write it, to just sort of vomit onto the page the highs and lows of my life,” he says.

“He had a desire to tell this story himself as opposed to being speculated about,” says Flatiron Books editor Megan Lynch. “I never needed to touch the voice. It was so resonant, loud and clear.”

As details from the memoir emerged, Perry wound up having to publicly apologize to actor Keanu Reeves, whom he disses twice in the book, writing that Reeves “still walks among us” yet River Phoenix and Chris Farley died young from drug overdoses.

“A mistake. I realized that wasn’t a nice thing to do,” says Perry, who has apologized repeatedly. “I should have used my name. I just wasn’t thinking.” Additionally, a story he relays in the book about beating up Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in grade school may have been misremembered. “Now, I don’t think that I did,” he says. And Bertinelli took to TikTok, “mortified” that Perry recounted a make-out session that occurred in their 20s.

The book tour, especially theater events in New York, Princeton and Washington, has proved therapeutic. “I’m more comfortable talking to 1,500 people than sitting on my couch watching TV,” he says. He loathes being alone, though he’s gotten better at that. Currently not in a relationship, Perry says that, with one exception, he’s terminated every romantic relationship he had — mostly with actresses. “I was so fear-driven. I would end these relationships, and there are five or six women there that I would love to be married to.” His “assistant/best friend,” he writes in the book, lives with him. Why does he fear being alone? “I think I’m afraid of my mind a little bit,” he says.

Perry is not a fan of the second A in Alcoholics Anonymous. He wasn’t granted the accommodation. “It plays to the stigma. It’s a disease. Why should we hide that?” In Bill W.’s “The Big Book” about AA, “the point of his story is these bad things kept happening to him and he still kept drinking after that,” Perry says, a cup of coffee and water bottle by his side. “My story makes that sound like a Cinderella story. My story is so much worse than Bill’s story.”

Here is what he wants to tell people dealing with addiction: “If hard work and determination was all it took to get you sober, I would have gotten sober 20 years ago. It’s not about that. It’s about a spiritual connection. It’s about opening up your mind and your heart to be able to have a spiritual experience,” he says. “I scared people, a lot of people. There are about five people who said ‘I’m done. I can’t watch this anymore. I’m finished.’ I think I scared them enough that they may be gone forever.”

“The only thing that made me keep a lid on my using and drinking was that I had the greatest job in the world. I can’t blow this up. I can’t lose this job,” he says. Miraculously, he didn’t. “When you’re making a million dollars a week, you can’t have the 17th drink. If I didn’t have that, the show, I’d probably be on the streets.”

In “Friends, Lovers,” Perry shares his obsession with Batman. He has moved frequently but keeps a Batroom — a “Mattroom” as he calls it — filled with superhero memorabilia. He jokingly calls an assistant “Alfred” who, in turn, calls Perry “Mr. Wayne.” The actor bought a mammoth $20 million apartment that never felt like home, because he thought it seemed like a place where Bruce Wayne would live.

“We both are loners. We both are wealthy. We both drive cool, black cars,” says Perry, who owns an Aston Martin Vantage V8 Roadster. “I don’t fight crime — but I do save lives on occasion.”

He does not watch “Friends,” though he did during his recent Diane Sawyer interview, which made him cry, “looking at this very thin, lost, scared man,” he says. “It’s a difficult thing for me to watch, because I’m thinking, ‘Oh, I was on Vicodin at that time. Oh, I was drinking at that time.’ But I should watch it because I think it would cheer me up to see it, because it’s good and it’s funny.”

The acting offers are returning now, years after “I fell off the map” and no one was talking about Matthew Perry in a good way. There’s even discussion of a filmed version of the memoir. Perry would play himself during the later years.

“Show business is an amazing thing. You can be nothing and then get some big job and become huge again,” he says. The book, he hopes, is the path back in. “I’m open to everything,” he says.

And then, like that, Perry is out of his chair with barely a goodbye, and gone, sort of like Batman.