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Matthew Perry reflected on his new role as a writer and his decision to write the memoir, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, during a live conversation at New York City’s Town Hall on Wednesday night.
While talking with Jess Cagle, the actor revealed what makes him laugh in the midst of his addiction journey. And, after noting he has good people in his life and enjoys playing pickleball, Perry shared that his work as an actor and new career as an author has helped him feel fulfilled.
“I’m all of a sudden a writer. And that got born out of a meeting that I had with my sponsor and I was feeling uncomfortable and agitated,” he recalled, noting that the sponsor suggested he “beat” the negative feelings by doing something creative. “And I sat in front of my laptop and 10 days later I had written a play. So I was a writer.”
Perry explained that he continued writing and hopes to eventually bring his work to the big screen. “I just wrote a screenplay that will hopefully become something, which I’d like to direct,” he shared.
Speaking of movies, Cagle asked Perry who would play him if Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing was adapted into a film. “I would play me after the coma, after that part of my life. The five months in the hospital,” he said. As for who would play the younger version of him, Perry quipped that his 17 Again co-star Zac Efron could take on the role.
In the book, which was released Tuesday, the actor chronicles his struggles with alcohol and painkillers. While he’s been open about his addiction for decades, Perry further reveals just how close he came to death on several occasions.
During the conversation, Perry admitted he’s wondered if he’s only alive today because of the beloved character he played on Friends.
After recalling an experience of a man performing CPR on him for five minutes when his heart stopped, Perry said he’s wondered, “If I wasn’t on Friends, would he have stopped at three minutes?”
He also revealed why now is the right time to release the memoir and divulge information about his health scares. “I felt very secure in my sobriety,” the actor shared. “It took very hard work to get there. Because you can’t write a book like this and then, you know, you appear drunk at your local bar.”
“The highs and lows of my life have been amazing. I wanted to talk about everything,” he continued. “I wanted to talk about the lows because no matter how far down the scale you’ve gone, you can help someone who’s gone that far down the scale.”
While Perry said “it wasn’t that difficult to write” the memoir, he admitted it was hard to recall “the night that I almost died in the hospital.” In the book, he reveals that his colon burst as the result of a drug overdose in 2018. He was in a coma for two weeks and remained in the hospital for five months during the recovery process.
While the writing came easy, Perry avoided reading the book but was forced to face his fears when it came time to record the audiobook version. “I read it in one big gulp and it’s like I disassociated a little bit,” he said. “I honestly was like, ‘Oh my God, what a horrible life this man has had.’ And then I realized it’s me and I got grateful.”
Perry writes about several of his past romances in the book, including with Julia Roberts. Years after the pair split, the actor writes that he was in rehab when Roberts won an Academy Award in 2001 for her titular role in Erin Brockovich.
After noting he had “a long existing problem with dating,” Perry admitted he would often break up with “great” partners, including Roberts, to get ahead of the “fear” that they would break up with him and he would turn to drinking as a result.
“I was at a treatment center and I was detoxing and I had a bunch of blankets all over me and I was just shaking,” he recalled of watching Roberts accept the award. “She won the Oscar for Erin Brockovich, which she deserved, she was wonderful in. And she got on stage and in front of everybody in rehab, I just went, ‘I’ll take you back!’”
He said the experience helped him realize that the people attending the awards show weren’t his “people” anymore. “The people that are in the circle around me right now are the people for me,” he said of the other patients at the center. “Those are my people and remain my people.”
Another topic of conversation had Perry recall some of his proudest moments. When it comes to his career, he said the increased viewership of Friends following 9/11 stands out as a fond memory. “During that period of time, everybody … went to it for comfort,” he said.
Perry then added that “today” counted as one of the moments he’s most proud of.
The conversation concluded with the actor sharing the advice he would give the younger version of himself today. “The kind of message that I guess I give out with this book is don’t give up,” Perry said. “There’s help out there. I’ve been helped on a daily basis. If I didn’t get help, I wouldn’t be sitting here. It’s all about finding somebody that knows more than you about this stuff and just listening to them.”
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