As you may already know, sadly, Matthew Perry, the actor who portrayed Chandler Bing in "Friends," passed away at the age of 54. As a fan of the show, I have been deeply saddened in the past few days. Perry’s passing serves as a reminder that a familiar era is slowly fading away. You may have come across related reports on Perry's personal story recently.
He was born in Canada, and his parents got divorced when he was very young. He grew up with his mother and stepfather. At the age of 15, he moved to Los Angeles and rose to fame after joining the cast of "Friends" at 24. Throughout his life, he battled alcohol addiction, which started during his teenage years, and later developed a drug addiction due to a medical accident at 27. At the peak of his addiction, he took 55 pills a day. He went in and out of rehab more than 65 times and attended over 6000 AA meetings. Over the past 30 years, he struggled with addiction and recovery. This is a striking difference from Chandler's happy life in "Friends." However, it is important to note that there is a fundamental similarity in personality between Perry and Chandler— they both are inherently pessimistic. One could argue that it is Perry's underlying pessimism that influenced Chandler's character development.
Chandler's most prominent characteristic is his humor. While other characters' humor is often derived from their actions, Chandler primarily expresses his humor through jokes. In the first episode of the show, for example, when Ross is being consoled after his divorce and says, "I just wanna be married again," Rachel enters Central Perk wearing a wedding dress. Chandler immediately responds with a joke, "And I just want a million dollars!" This is the third joke Chandler makes within the first three minutes of the episode. In his first two jokes, he makes fun of his own mother for never calling him and himself for not having sex while dating. It can be said that the comedies of other characters arise from their unconscious behavior and speech, while Chandler's humor is intentional/intentionally designed. Furthermore, Chandler's sense of humor knows no boundaries. For instance, under Monica's encouragement, Chandler invites his estranged transgender father to their wedding, creating an awkward atmosphere. At that moment, Chandler finds the courage to say, "We'd really love it if you could be there. I know it would make me happy...Madam." That is Chandler, who always seizes the opportunity to crack jokes, even in the most uncomfortable situations.
Why would someone frequently tell jokes? In psychology, the typical explanation for this behavior is that jokes create a protective barrier. By constantly making others laugh, the speaker can maintain emotional distance from others and avoid getting hurt or forming deep emotional connections. Chandler's ability to crack jokes at any given moment can be seen as part of his defense mechanism. This aspect of his personality is closely linked to his upbringing. At the age of nine, Chandler's parents got divorced on Thanksgiving, and he witnessed his father undergo a gender transition while his mother pursued a career as a writer of erotic novels. As a result, Chandler developed a habit of smoking and began using humor as a shield to safeguard himself. In addition to humor, Chandler also displays an avoidant personality when it comes to intimate relationships. He does not fully believe that he can be loved, and is hesitant to love others. When he unintentionally says "I love you" to Monica for the first time, his immediate reaction is to deny doing so. This trait is also evident in Perry himself. He was previously in a passionate relationship with Julia Roberts, and they were seen as a very sweet couple by others, but their relationship ended a few months later. Perry revealed the reason behind their breakup in his autobiography in 2022. That segment in his memoir shows that Perry strongly believed he was not deserving of happiness. He frequently put himself down and gave up before even trying. This is also one of the psychological defense mechanisms of avoidant attachment that serves to protect oneself.
Perry's own experiences are remarkably similar to Chandler's. However, compared to Chandler, Perry's experiences are even more challenging. Chandler receives encouragement from his friends to quit smoking for many years and has a wonderful marriage with Monica. Unfortunately, for the past thirty years, Perry struggled with addiction, and neither married nor had children. In my opinion, when a person becomes excessively immersed in illusion and numbness brought about by alcohol and drugs, he or she gradually becomes desensitized to the fear of death as well. Therefore, I believe Perry always had a subtle desire for death. This temperament is also reflected in Chandler's behaviour. Chandler consistently jokes about everything in life, reflecting another form of negativity within him—an indifferent attitude towards everyone and everything. It is as if everything, including his life, career, and intimate relationships, can be easily let go. I believe that this negative emotion originates from both the writer's imagination of Chandler and Perry’s negative temperament. Fundamentally, Perry’s actual personality is in harmony with that of his fictional character.
Perry preoccupation with death becomes more apparent in the later parts of “Friends.” He revealed that his severe addiction to alcohol and drugs caused him to lose his memory while filming certain seasons of the show. During the period when Chandler is noticeably overweight, Perry was struggling with alcohol addiction. Conversely, the latter became extremely thin when he was battling drug addiction. To ensure filming went smoothly, the production team even assigned Perry to a coach to ensure he performed his scenes while he was sober. It is reasonable to speculate that Perry's condition also influenced the way the writers portrayed Chandler. As a result, Chandler contemplates death more frequently after the seventh season. For example, he mentions multiple times in the show that he may be the first to die or die alone.
The scene of Chandler taking a bath can be seen as a manifestation of his death wish. Encouraged by Monica, he starts to enjoy taking baths, which is not considered a "manly" activity, and gradually relaxes while smelling the flowers, listening to music, and feeling the water flow. At that moment, he thinks to himself, "I can actually feel my tension just melting away. I could drown in here, drowning...”
Drowning can be seen as a metaphor for Perry's real life. His last Instagram post is a photo of him in a bathtub.
The negative mindsets of both Perry and Chandler are also commonly observed among people in urban areas and resonates strongly with audience in today’s modern society. By looking at Perry's Instagram, one would not perceive him as a big star. Instead, he came across as a regular person who often experienced depression and sadness. Especially after moving to the city on my own, I realized how relatable Chandler's state is. My friends and I all have our own family issues and often question whether we deserve love. We are also uncertain about what the future holds, and unsure whether happiness or death will come first. Therefore, we focus on living in the present and finding joy and humor through networking events. However, deep down, when we are alone, we are aware that everything we have can disappear. This is why, even though Perry and I are from different generations, I can understand and relate to him and the character he portrayed in “Friends.” This understanding intensifies the sadness brought about by his passing.
For certain exceptional actors, when they invest their emotions and feelings into a character, a part of their lives remains in that portrayal. Perry is undoubtedly one such actor. Therefore, the only comfort amidst this sadness is the firm belief that he will not be forgotten. In the world of “Friends,” Chandler will continue to live happily. In the hearts of the show’s fans, Perry will always be remembered. In this last part, I want to share my experience as a non-American viewer of “Friends.” I was not born when it first aired. “Friends” premiered in my birth year. I started watching the show when I was 12 years old, two years after the final season had aired. I binge-watched all 10 seasons during my summer vacation. In just two months, it felt like I had developed a friendship with the six main characters as I witnessed their journey from youth, marriage to parenthood and signs of aging appear on their faces. From them, I learned about life in New York that I had never experienced, and that gave me hopes for the future. Even my present life is influenced by “Friends”— I live close to my best friends and we gather for meals, watch TV, play games, and chat every evening after work or on weekends. I lived a life like that of the characters in "Friends" when I was between 22 and 30 years old. I am grateful to Perry for portraying Chandler over the course of 10 years, and I am equally so to the other five main cast members. They are all my old friends in my spiritual world. In my heart, we will always be together and they will always be there for you.