For the first time, Matthew Perry is opening up – candidly and in raw detail – about his life behind-the-scenes of the hit sitcom in his debut memoir, “Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing” (Flatiron Books, 272 pp.) He chronicles his battles with alcohol and drugs like Vicodin, Xanax and OyxContin, which cost him frequent hospital visits and trips to rehab, while reflecting on the relationships that influenced him today— including ex-girlfriends like Julia Roberts and the late Jamie Tarses and high-profile pals like Bruce Willis.
In true fashion, Perry tells his personal story in a heartfelt yet hilarious manner. Readers can look forward to humorous, insider moments in the spotlight (like hitting Chevy Chase in the groin during a tennis match). But more notably, Perry’s memoir is full of vulnerable, raw and painful revelations about an addiction recovery that took decades to overcome.
With candor and compassion, “Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing” displays Perry’s dedication to continue fighting a near-fatal battle – not only for himself, but for those similarly struggling.
“There is light in the darkness,” Perry reassures readers in the prologue. “You just have to look hard enough to find it.”
From the glitz and glamor of early “Friends” fame to life-threatening health scares, here are the biggest takeaways from Perry’s debut book.
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Jennifer Aniston rejected Matthew Perry before ‘Friends,’ confronted him about substance use
“Friends” chronicles the whirlwind romance of two best friends, Chandler Bing and Monica Geller (played by Courteney Cox). But in real life, the actor was crushing on another Central Perk companion: Jennifer Aniston.
Prior to joining the hit sitcom in 1994, Perry says he met his co-star three years before “Friends” through mutual acquaintances. Ambitious and in awe of her beauty, he asked Aniston out on a date, which she respectfully declined – a memory that made their eventual reunion awkward for Perry, at first.
“Fairly early in the making of Friends I realized that I was still crushing badly on Jennifer Aniston,” he writes. “Our hellos and goodbyes became awkward. And then I’d ask myself, ‘How long can I look at her? Is three seconds too long?'”
Through the years, Perry was able to overcome his fleeting crush to establish a worthwhile (and platonic) friendship, especially after she started dating Brad Pitt. But as the “Friends” actor was struggling with alcoholism, which became noticeable on set, he experienced another awkward encounter with Aniston: when she confronted him about his drinking.
“‘We can smell it,’ she said, in a kind of weird but loving way, and the plural ‘we’ hit me like a sledgehammer,” Perry says, which prompted him to get a sober companion at work with him to start his road to recovery.
Matthew Perry says he kissed Valerie Bertinelli – right next to Eddie Van Halen
As the title of his book implies, “Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing” includes humorous and entertaining anecdotes about Perry’s past relationships and flings in Hollywood. But one celebrity crush he fondly remembers is Valerie Bertinelli, with whom he starred in the 1990 CBS sitcom “Sydney.”
Perry, who was 19 at the time of the show, called his feelings for Bertinelli, then 30, “real.” They were so strong that he even “harbored elaborate fantasies about her leaving Eddie Van Halen,” her husband at the time.
“During filming, I fell madly in love with Valerie,” Perry writes. “There was no one more attractive than Valerie. Not only was she stunning and vivacious, but she also had this great, booming, adorable laugh.”
His dreams later came true when he and Bertinelli allegedly shared an intimate kiss in her home, while Van Halen “had enjoyed the fruits of the vine a little too hard … and eventually just passed out.” However, his hopes of turning her into his girlfriend were thwarted when, the next day at work, she failed to acknowledge their night together.
Perry clarifies that Bertinelli had “done nothing wrong.” But “inside, I was devastated,” he writes, adding that he was secretly “grateful” that the show was cancelled four weeks later. “I didn’t have to see Valerie anymore.”
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‘He knew how to live life’: Partying with Bruce Willis proved difficult at times
While his relationships with his “Friends” co-stars are well-known, Perry dedicates a whole chapter to his “The Whole Nine Yards” co-star, Willis, whom he calls a “wonderful actor” and more importantly, “a good-hearted man.”
Their bond, according to an initially starstruck Perry, was unexpected yet naturally strong. The two new best friends golfed, laughed and drank together, partying all night and through the early morning when they weren’t filming.
“I was thrilled to be around him, because he knew how to live life,” Perry writes.
But as their late-night partying progressed, Perry was secretly struggling to catch up to Willis, who was a “partier (while) I was an addict,” and consequently relied on Xanax to counteract the alcohol.
“Bruce has an on-off button. He can party like crazy then get a script like ‘The Sixth Sense’ and stop partying and nail the movie sober.”
Despite the fun and spontaneity of their friendship, Perry more fondly remembers the end of their nights, when the sun was coming up and the party was over. They would sit and talk for hours, which opened Perry’s eyes to the fact that along with being the life of the party or a memorable actor, Willis was also a “good guy…and I would be his friend for life.”
“I, of course, pray for him every night now,” Perry writes.
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Why Julia Roberts, Matthew Perry relationship ended
As the TV star secretly battled drug and alcohol addictions, Perry acknowledges many loved ones he’s unintentionally hurt along the way, including Roberts.
The two starred together in a 1996 “Friends” episode titled “The One After the Superbowl,” but their chemistry was just as real off-screen. According to Perry, Roberts would only agree to guest-star on the sitcom if she could be a part of Chandler Bing’s plot – a request that surprised Perry.
In an attempt to woo her, Perry spent months courting the biggest movie star at the time with flower bouquets, flirty faxes and handwritten poems, which eventually captured her interest – both in appearing in the show and pursuing a romantic relationship behind-the-scenes.
Around this time, however, Perry says he also was pre-occupied in expanding his career while in the midst of struggling with drugs and alcohol again. As a result, he broke up with Roberts, which he did by announcing it on Jay Leno’s show in April 1996.
“Dating Julia Roberts had been too much for me. I had been constantly certain that she was going to break up with me,” Perry writes. “Why would she not? I was not enough; I could never be enough; I was broken, bent, unloveable. So instead of facing the inevitable agony of losing her, I broke up with the beautiful and brilliant Julia Roberts.”
The next time he “saw” his ex girlfriend was in 2001, on the television at a rehabilitation center. Perry was in the process of detoxing when he saw Roberts had won an Oscar for her performance in “Erin Brockovich.”
“I was incredibly happy for her,” he recalls. “As for me, I was just grateful to have made it one more day. When you are at the bottom, the days are long.”
Matthew Perry was ‘high as a kite’ when he proposed in 2020
For many, the unprecedented and isolating nature of the pandemic proved difficult, especially for Perry, who says he had a fear of being alone – stemming from low self-esteem and childhood issues. Luckily, he says he temporarily escaped his insecurities and abandonment problems by spending more time with Molly Hurwitz, whom he started dating in 2018 and proposed to in November 2020.
“I decided to get engaged,” he told People at the time. “Luckily, I happened to be dating the greatest woman on the face of the planet at this time.”
Matthew Perry is engaged!:‘I happened to be dating the greatest woman on the face of the planet’
However, Perry details why he called it off with his fiancée in June 2021. In his book, Perry reveals he was secretly high on hydrocodone, an opioid used to treat pain, at the time of the proposal.
“I bought her a ring because I was desperate that she would leave me. I didn’t want to be this injured and alone during Covid,” he writes, without naming Hurwitz explicitly. “I was high on 1,800 milligrams of hydrocodone when I asked her to marry me. I had even asked for her family’s blessing. Then I’d proposed, high as a kite. And on one knee. And she knew it, too. And she said yes.”
He added that he decided to call off the engagement during his journey back to sobriety.
“I think, ‘Wait … how did I get engaged? There are dogs living in my house. How did this happen?” Perry continued. “I had asked her parents, begged for her hand while high, and put up with the dogs. That’s how scared I was of being abandoned.”
The near-death coma experience that motivated Matthew Perry to quit
Throughout the book, Perry details an array of health complications stemming from his substance use, including alcohol-induced erectile dysfunction and pancreatitis at age 30. But one of the most eye-opening experiences in his journey was when he nearly died at age 49 after his colon exploded from opioid use.
As a result, the actor was in a coma, on life support, for two weeks. What followed was five months in the hospital and nine more with a colostomy bag – a traumatic experience that ultimately “miraculously remove(d) my desire to take drugs.”
“My therapist said to me, ‘The next time you think about OxyContin, I want you to think about living out the rest of your days with a colostomy bag,'” he writes. “Having had a colostomy bag for nine long months, my therapist’s words hit hard. And when this man’s words hit hard, the prudent thing to do is to get into action immediately.”
Today, Perry says he is 18 months sober. Still, he is adjusted to “how my body looks” with all its scars from the numerous surgeries he’s had done. However, he is grateful to be alive and to finally share his story – with concerned “Friends” fans and addicts who face stigma and judgment.
“In the end, admitting defeat was winning,” he concludes. “Addiction, the big terrible thing, is far too powerful for anyone to defeat alone. But together, one day at a time, we can beat it down.”
If your or someone you know is struggling with substance use disorders, you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357.The service is free, confidential and available in English and Spanish.