How We Remember Matthew Perry Matters

Matthew Perry

Ketamine and Matthew Perry. 

Two things that few Friends fans would have associated with each other before this week. But after the full release of the late actor’s autopsy report on Friday, the dissociative anesthetic and the beloved sitcom star are forever linked. And it’s really unfortunate. And unfair.

My girlfriend sent me a text this morning that read, “So, was anyone surprised Matthew Perry died of drug use?”

No, I wasn’t surprised. Because addicts and alcoholics die from being addicts and alcoholics all the time. That’s how addiction works and why addiction is so scary for those of us who suffer from it and for the loved ones who have to watch. Death is always standing by when we are actively using. 

It’s also waiting in the wings when we are sober, because this disease is chronic. That means it doesn’t go away. Just like diabetes or high blood pressure, it’s a condition that must be attended to daily to keep in check. And unfortunately, it’s easy to get complacent — we are all imperfect human beings just doing our best. We make mistakes.

And that’s likely what happened to Perry. He slipped up in his recovery program, made a mistake, and it cost him his life. But that doesn’t diminish any of the good his recovery brought to himself and others while he was alive. As Sean Daniels said so well in his op-ed for The Los Angeles Times: “That type of thinking is exactly what keeps people sick. Shame is an ally of addiction, and this notion threatens people in recovery with the possibility of extra shame: that no matter what you do to get sober, if it ends poorly, it was all worth nothing.”

While it’s tragic that Perry’s attempts to get sober ultimately ended poorly, it certainly does not mean that his recovery was “worth nothing.” Perry did not have to share his story with the world — he risked public scrutiny and judgment in doing so. But like other well-known people who’ve chosen to speak openly about their struggles with addiction, he took that risk. 

And because he took that risk, more people will get help. More people will feel less alone. More people will find the hope and strength they need to battle this beast. 

Because addiction IS a beast, as Perry well knew. “It’s the cold, hard truth about being an addict,” the actor said in a 2022 interview with GQ. “The work you have to put in every day to save yourself from this monster that lives in your brain is a baffling thing to live with.” 

When asked why he wrote his 2022 memoir, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, the actor said (among other reasons): “I wanted the general public to realize how hard it was to quit and not be judgmental for people who are using. Because it is really, really hard.” 

Addiction is not only hard to quit, it’s hard to “stay quit” from. For many, relapse is a part of recovery and sadly, we don’t always recover from relapse. Sometimes, as was the case with Perry, relapse is the end of the war. 

But even in death, Perry is in service to the recovery community. Many of the people he helped are still here, and his book will continue to help people well into the future. That’s the legacy he leaves behind — and more people will recover because of it.


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