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Onscreen, Matthew Perry was the charming, heartwarming and hilarious Chandler Bing whom America came to adore. But behind the camera, he struggled with a much darker reality of crippling alcohol and opioid addiction and multiple stints in rehab.
In the final years of his life, he wanted to leave a legacy of inspiring and helping other addicts overcome life's most difficult hurdles.
Last year, Perry published a memoir, "Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing," in which he detailed his relationship with alcohol, his addiction to Vicodin after a 1997 jet-ski accident and a near-death experience in 2019 after his colon burst as a result of his use of opioids.
The memoir starts with the prologue: “Hi, my name is Matthew, although you may know me by another name. My friends call me Matty. And I should be dead.”
'Why was I the one?'
In the brutally honest pages, Perry shared vulnerable insight into his private life, from his fractured familial relationships and chasing his acting dreams to powering through his cycle of drug and alcohol abuse, leaving readers with an indelible message of hope and resilience.
“I never raised my hands and said, 'That’s enough, I can’t take it anymore, you win,'” he wrote. “… And because of that, I stand tall now, ready for whatever comes next.”
One part of the book details the near-death experience in 2019 in which Perry's colon burst because of his opioid use. He was left in a coma for two weeks and hospitalized for five months, and he had to use a colostomy bag.
During the health scare, he was placed on an ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) machine, which provides prolonged cardiac and respiratory support to the heart and lungs. Perry recalled that doctors told his family he had a “2% chance to live.”
“There were five people put on an ECMO machine that night and the other four died and I survived,” he said in an interview with People magazine last year. “So the big question is why? Why was I the one? There has to be some kind of reason.”
Perry's recovery gave him a new purpose
He recounted in the book how his substance abuse issues started when he was 14 years old, being just 24 when he landed "Friends" and how skyrocketing to fame escalated his alcohol and drug abuse. At one point, according to the book, he took up to 55 pain pills a day. His weight fluctuated from 225 pounds to 128.
“I didn't watch the show and haven't watched the show, because I can go, 'drinking, opiates, drinking, cocaine' — like I could tell season by season by how I looked,” he said, referring to the stage of addiction he was in during filming, in an interview on the “Q with Tom Power” podcast in Toronto in November.
In an interview with The New York Times in October 2022, he estimated: “I’ve probably spent $9 million or something trying to get sober.” (The book, released in November, puts the figure closer to $7 million.) He said at the time of the interview that he had been clean for 18 months.
Despite his pain and struggle, Perry said his recovery journey left him with a prevailing sense of duty to help others walking similar paths.
“I am no saint — none of us are — but once you have been at death’s door and you don’t die, you would think you would be bathed in relief and gratitude. But that isn’t it at all — instead, you look at the difficult road ahead of you to get better and you are pissed. Something else happens, too. You are plagued by this nagging question: Why have I been spared?” he wrote in the book.
'When I die, I don’t want “Friends” to be the first thing that’s mentioned'
In 2013, Perry converted his mansion in Malibu, California, into a sober living house, which ran for two years. The same year, he received the Champion of Recovery award from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. He also became a spokesman for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.
In the interview on the “Q with Tom Power” podcast last year to promote his memoir, Perry said he wanted to be remembered most for what he did for others.
"The best thing about me, bar none, is if somebody comes up to me and says: ‘I can’t stop drinking. Can you help me?’ I can say yes and follow up and do it," he said.
Perry spent the rest of his days doing just that.
Actor and comedian Hank Azaria, who also appeared on “Friends,” shared on Instagram that Perry helped him get sober.
“I’m a sober guy for 17 years. The night I went into AA, Matthew brought me in. The whole first year I was sober, we went to meetings together,” he said. “As a sober person, he was so caring and giving and wise, and he totally helped me get sober.”
Azaria said Perry was his first friend when he moved to Los Angeles, and he called him “the funniest man ever.”
The British singer Adele paid tribute to Perry during her Las Vegas show on Sunday. Adele, who stopped drinking this year, said: “He was so open with his struggles with addiction and sobriety, which I think is incredibly, incredibly brave.”
Since Perry was found dead Saturday in an apparent drowning at his home in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles, others have shared how his story resonated with them. Law enforcement sources say there’s no signs of foul play in the death investigation.
"I’ve said this for a long time: When I die, I don’t want ‘Friends’ to be the first thing that’s mentioned," he said. "I want [helping people] to be the first thing that’s mentioned. And I’m going to live the rest of my life proving that.”
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com