Matthew Perry, best known for playing Chandler Bing in Friends, died at the weekend. Greg Downes pays tribute to a comic genius who had powerful encounters with God
Friends was first aired when I was a student at the University of Oxford. It quickly became compulsive viewing - not only among myself and my friends, but among an entire generation of single 20-somethings, who were the same age as the protagonists depicted in the cult TV show. Matthew Langford Perry, who player Chandler Bing, was born just six months after me.
Fame came early to Perry, who once prayed when he was young: “God, you can do whatever you want to me, just please make me famous”. He later referred to it as “very dumb prayer” and, towards what would sadly be the end of his life, he reflected: “Now, all these years later, I’m certain that I got famous so I would not waste my entire life trying to get famous. You have to get famous to know that it’s not the answer. And nobody who is not famous will ever truly believe that.”
Perry’s memoir Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing (Headline) was a candid and brutally honest account of the struggles he faced, of which alcohol and drug addiction were only the symptom - as so often is the case.
In his autobiography he recalls how, at his lowest point, he prayed to God in desperation: “God, please help me, show me that you are here.” Having prayed, Perry experienced the power of the Holy Spirit and, in that moment, it caused him to sob uncontrollably. “I wasn’t crying because I was sad — I was crying because for the first time in my life, I felt OK,” he commented. “I felt safe, taken care of.”
“He saved me that day, and for all days, no matter what” - Matthew Perry
Perry went on to explain how he’d spent years struggling with faith but, in that moment, all the pain and hurt he’d so desperately been trying to escape disappeared. “I had been in the presence of God. I was certain of it” he said.
Comparing this with his vain, boyhood prayer he said: “This time I had prayed for the right thing: help. God had shown me a sliver of what life could be.” His conclusion of this divine encounter was this: “He saved me that day, and for all days, no matter what. He had turned me into a seeker, not only of sobriety, and truth, but also of Him.”
Gone too soon
His autobiography was published less than a year ago, on 1 November 2022. It opens with this heartbreaking and poignant line: ”Hi, my name is Matthew, although you may know me by another name. My friends call me Matty. And I should be dead.”
It may be that his earthly struggles precipitated a premature end but I believe he was right in his statement of faith: “He saved me that day, and for all days, no matter what.”
Only because of what Christ has done for us can we say: “Matthew Perry: rest in peace and rise in glory.”