Sunday, October 29, 2023

In Praise of Matthew Perry OR I’m a Closet Friends Fan

The sudden death of actor Matthew Perry at age 54 has made me more upset than I would have thought possible. It’s kept me awake all night and made me come to the decision to come out of the closet about something that has caused me some degree of shame: I’m a closet Friends fan.

I feel the need to say this publicly because I’ve often made fun of those tourists taking selfies outside the Friends house on Bedford and Grove Streets. But consider this: People from all over the world travel to a house that was just used for an exterior shot on a show that was filmed in Los Angeles—20 years after it went off the air!

I think that says something beyond our country’s obsession with celebrity. I think it says the show touched them on a deep, emotional level.

Now, I can’t claim to be a fan of the show in the same way that I’m a fan of, say, Seinfeld. Seinfeld is more misanthropic, for lack of a better word, and that seems to be closer to my personality than Friends, which seems to have a higher opinion of the human race.

But I have to say that, on the occasions when I’ve left my TV on after Seinfeld, I’ve been surprised by how well-written and well-acted the show is.

In fact, I’d have to say that the cast of Friends may be one of the best ensembles in sitcom history, a rare instance where it was the group that was the star, rather than any individual actor. And the show itself, it must be said, is one of TV’s greatest sitcoms.

And why is that? Why is this show so popular and why has there been such an outpouring of grief for Perry, who stood out even among this group of talented actors?

I think it’s because the show was about the importance of friendship itself, how no matter what may be happening in your life, you always have your friends to fall back on.

I think Perry’s passing will be a marker in the lives of Gen Xers, the moment when they lost their innocence and confronted their own mortality.

There’s something so tragic about it (although I suppose every passing is tragic to some extent). This man brought joy to so many people and yet was in personal pain because of his drug and alcohol addiction. (If you read his memoir, you know what I’m talking about.) As someone who gets physically ill after two drinks, it’s hard for me to understand how someone can drink so much. But I can certainly understand being in pain and wanting to be able to “fix” it with something like alcohol.

Why does this happen to so many artists (or is it just that we hear about it more often because they’re artists)?

I’m reminded of Whitney Houston, whose documentary, Whitney: Can I Be Me?, I’ve watched countless times. I always think, this woman had everything. She was beautiful, rich, famous and had one of the best voices in the history of pop music. And yet she destroyed her voice (and thus her life) with drugs.

Or Amy Winehouse, another great singer who literally drank herself to death.

And now we have Matthew Perry, who was such a gifted comic actor.

Could his death be any more tragic?

No, it can’t.

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