The world was shocked by the news of Friends actor Matthew Perry’s passing. Best known for playing acerbic New Yorker Chandler Bing throughout the blockbuster sitcom’s 10-season run, the star’s demise comes roughly a year following the release of his autobiography, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing.
From its 1994 premiere, Friends was an immediate hit, resonating with audiences and critics alike. The years following the series’ 2004 finale have only seen that popularity grow. From regular binges on streaming platforms and a highly publicized reunion special, to thousands of tourists visiting the original sets daily at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in L.A. (and its official touring recreations), Friends remains a pop culture touchpoint for fans around the world.
I first encountered the series in the mid-nineties, and each weekly episode quickly became something that my family, classmates, and I came to look forward to. While we didn’t necessarily relate to the stories of six 20-something New Yorkers, we certainly enjoyed their uniquely defined personalities and interactions. From Smelly Cat and Ugly Naked Guy, to Ross saying the wrong name at his wedding, and the latter-season arrival of Paul Rudd, Friends became a familiar, comforting presence over the ten years it was on.
As opposed to the almost-caricaturish personas his co-stars would adopt in the series’ latter seasons, Perry’s Chandler, by virtue of his sardonic nature, always struck me as the most grounded and relatable of the bunch. Heck, for the majority of the show, he was the only one with a stable job. As the show grew in popularity and it was revealed that Perry himself was responsible for coming up with some of Chandler’s most iconic lines, it became increasingly difficult to separate the man from the character. Indeed, the man must have been doing something right when even the writers of the show were known to ask Perry, “What would Chandler say?”
He was the comic relief
Of the six main characters, Perry’s Chandler was distinctive for being the reflexively sarcastic one, ever ready with a witticism to mask his insecurities. Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) and Ross (David Schwimmer) could have their will-they, won’t-they relationship, Monica (Courtney Cox) was lovably neurotic, Joey was a struggling actor, and Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) was in a world of her own, but Chandler could always be counted on to deliver a one-liner that tied everything together. Impeccable writing and chemistry with his castmates notwithstanding, it was Perry’s inherent likability and distinctive delivery of “Could he BE any more _______?” that made his character iconic.
He was the best friend
Relationship-wise, the characters on Friends had their ups and downs, but when it came to bromances, none were more solid than that of Chandler and Joey. It didn’t matter if they were competing for an armchair or tearing apart their beloved foosball table—Chandler and Joey were more than bros and flatmates—they were brothers.
Take, for instance, when Joey walks in on Chandler in the middle of a candlelit bubble bath in Season 5’s The One with All the Kissing, unaware that Monica is hiding beneath the surface–he doesn’t judge his bro, he just asks him if he wants some fried chicken. If that isn’t a sign of true bromance, we don’t know what is.
He helped make Chandler grow up
While it took nearly the entire show’s run for us to learn what Chandler’s job really was (no, transponster doesn’t count), it’s arguable that Perry’s character saw the most growth of the entire ensemble. Going from the one with the one-liners to a fully functional adult with full emotional maturity, Chandler evolved over the seasons, and Perry’s performance reflected it. Ironically, the most recognizable aspect of this growth, his relationship with Monica, was unplanned, existing almost entirely as the result of audience reactions to the pair drunkenly hooking up.
In any case, the relationship provided much of the narrative momentum of the latter seasons, and Perry proved himself up to the task. When he finally proposes to Monica, saying, “You make me happier than I ever thought I could be. And if you let me, I will spend the rest of my life trying to make you feel the same way,” it’s impossible not to be moved.
He starred in good movies, too
Perry may have been best known for his role as Chandler on TV, but it’s easy to forget that he also starred in a handful of successful films during and after the show’s run, such as The Whole Nine Yards (2000) with Bruce Willis, Fools Rush In (1997) with Salma Hayek, and 17 Again (2009) with Zac Efron. Admittedly, the majority of the said films featured him playing variations on his Chandler persona, so it’s understandable why he didn’t transition to the Hollywood A-List like co-star Jennifer Aniston, but it’s always fun seeing our favorite actors in different scenarios.
He never stopped fighting his personal demons
Much has been written about Perry’s battles with substance and alcohol abuse over the years, with particularly unkind public attention being paid to his appearance in the 2021 Friends reunion special. With the actor’s struggles openly playing a part in Chandler’s fluctuating weight during his time in the original series, Perry’s willingness to acknowledge his flaws endeared him further to the fans who supported him.
“So much has been written about me in the past,” Perry shared in an Instagram post last year, prior to the release of his memoir. “The highs were high, the lows were low. But I have lived to tell the tale, even though at times it looked like I wouldn’t.”
Whatever is revealed in the days to come, the impact that Matthew Perry’s time spent as Chandler Bing will live on in the hearts of fans. Now, a spot is available on the couch in Central Perk, and it’s one that can never, ever be filled.
Thank you for the laughs, Mr. Perry. Rest in peace.