Matthew Perry on Sobriety and Service: "Two Alcoholics Talking to Each Other Is a Big Deal"

From left: Phoenix House residents Ben C., Dennis M. and Stephanie J.
Christopher Patey

The actor highlights the work of the Phoenix House rehab center, reveals plans for his sober living facility and discusses the importance of giving back: "If an alcoholic comes up to me and says, 'Will you help me stop drinking?' I will say, 'Yes, I know how to do that.'"

A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

It's not often in Hollywood that you hear an actor say winning an award is "silly." But that's how Matthew Perry describes his recent honor from Phoenix House, a wide-reaching nonprofit drug and alcohol rehabilitation organization. "I'm an award-winning alcoholic, I guess," he says with laugh, sitting inside Phoenix House's residential treatment center in Venice and recalling the June 15 gala where he was presented with the 2015 Phoenix Rising Award. "I shouldn't be getting an award; Phoenix House should be getting an award."

Officially launched as an independent nonprofit in 1972, Phoenix House since has become a top provider of alcohol and drug abuse treatment and prevention services, with a roster of more than 120 programs across 10 states serving more than 5,000 men, women and adolescents with care including detox, outpatient and residential treatment, sober living, mother and child programs and after-school initiatives.

It's the youth program — Phoenix House opened its first academy in 1983, providing residential high school for teens with substance issues, a network that now includes nine academies in six states, including a Southern California location in Lake View Terrace — that particularly spoke to Perry.

"Phoenix House was kind enough to open their doors about four months ago when I went on a tour of [the Lake View Terrace facility]," says the Odd Couple star, 46, who is in the process of relocating his own sober-living facility, the Perry House, from Malibu to Santa Monica or Studio City. "Getting sober is a really hard thing to do, and I saw hope on the faces of the kids."

Recognizing that look of optimism is easy for Perry, whose face brightens when he talks about the lessons he's learned from his own recovery, a years-long journey that has included several inpatient treatment stays and now a sober life focused on giving back. "I've had a lot of ups and downs in my life and a lot of wonderful accolades," he says, "but the best thing about me is that if an alcoholic comes up to me and says, 'Will you help me stop drinking?' I will say, 'Yes. I know how to do that.' " 

Perry also is aware of the role his fame plays in shining a spotlight on the subject of recovery. "Everybody knew" of his substance abuse issues, he says, which made it easier to step out of the shadows and share his story in detail for a People magazine cover story in 2013. "When I was in big trouble, it was so public because I was on a TV show that 30 million people were watching," says the actor. "The fact that I [am] on TV makes people listen a little bit more, so I take advantage of that from time to time."

Reaching out one on one also has an impact. "When you're having a bad day, the best thing you can do is call somebody and ask them how they're doing," Perry says, "and actually pay attention and listen to the answer to get out of your own head."

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