Book review: Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing
For a few moments, imagine you are an actor in the US in the late 90s. You are a part of the most successful TV show in the world, you have millions of dollars in the bank and you have just starred in a movie which is sitting at the top of the box-office charts in the country.
For all intents and purposes, you have peaked as an actor. You are at the top of your game, making more money than you ever thought possible. The fame that everyone yearns for but only a handful gets access to is in the palm of your hands.
But rather than enjoying this success, being the toast of the town, you are busy hiding in your bedroom, spending most of your waking hours either chugging alcohol, smoking cigarettes or contacting multiple drug dealers, crooked doctors and nurses to make sure your steady supply of drugs never ends.
For all of us, this is an imaginary situation, one which seems a little hard to comprehend. But this was the reality of Matthew Perry, the Canadian-born US actor who is better known in the world as “Chandler Bing” from “Friends”.
In Perry’s tell-all memoir published November last year titled “Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing”, the actor recalled in great detail his lifelong battle against addiction, which he calls the ‘Big Terrible Thing’.
In 2000, “Friends” was a cultural phenomenon in the US and Perry, as Chandler Bing, was among the most famous faces in television. Matthew’s new movie “The Whole Nine Yards”, which he co-starred with Bruce Willis, had come out and it was one of the biggest hits of the year.
Perry had the rare distinction of being part of the TV show with the highest TRP and the movie at the top of the box office at the same time. But he couldn’t enjoy any of that as by that time he was trapped in the clutches of addiction.
He had already been to rehab three years back and returned sober and free of drugs. But the sobriety didn’t last too long for Perry.
In the book, Perry reveals that he has gone to rehab 15 times in his life, has endured 65 hell-like detoxes, attended over 6000 Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings and spent upwards of $7 million to get rid of his addiction.
He first tasted alcohol at the age of 14 with a couple of his friends. Perry recalled that while his fellow first-time drinkers were puking all around him, he was lying on the ground, staring at the night sky and for the first time in his life feeling as if he was whole, as If he was enough.
Perry’s first tryst with painkillers came much later in life. He first took Vicodin, a type of opioid pain medication, after a Jet Ski accident while shooting for the movie, “Fools Rush In”. Perry described the feeling, “I was in complete and pure euphoria. The pill had replaced the blood in my body with warm honey.”
Little did Perry know that this was the beginning of an opioid addiction which will cause his colon to literally explode!
This feeling of not being enough is something Perry has dealt with all his life. He comes from a broken family. His parents got a divorce when he was very young. Both of them got remarried, and Matthew said that he never really felt a part of either of those families.
It’s not that he didn’t love his parents or his half-siblings. He did, and they all loved him back immensely. Perry also recounted numerous gorgeous and famous women he dated who loved him with all their hearts. He also had no ill feelings towards his Friends co-stars and said that starring in Friends saved his life.
He was surrounded by love from all corners. Still, it wasn’t enough.
From his actions, it might seem like Perry wanted his addiction to take his life. But Perry claims that is not the case. More than anything else in the world, he wanted to stop living the life of an addict.
“I would give up everything– every car, every house, all the money– just to make it stop.”
But the ‘Big Terrible Thing’ refused to go away.
In many ways, Perry’s life mirrored Chandler Bing’s. Both of them are children of broken marriages, both are scared of making long-term commitments and both use humour to mask their emotions.
Perry also picked up the resemblance when he first read the script of the pilot for ‘Friends Like Us’, the initial title of ‘Friends’.
“When I read the script for Friends Like Us, it was as if someone had followed me around for a year, stealing my jokes, copying my mannerisms, photocopying my world-weary yet witty view of life. One character in particular stood out to me: it wasn’t that I thought I could play “Chandler,” I was Chandler.”
But the one thing Chandler didn’t have but Perry did was ‘Big Terrible Thing’.
Should you spend your money and time to purchase and read this book? If you’re looking for a book full of Chandler-like quips and funny behind-the-scenes stories of Friends, then maybe no. This book has a fair bit of that and also many amusing stories of Perry’s eventful life. But those pages work as momentary respites from the main focus of the book, which is Perry’s battle with addiction.
However, if you’re interested to see how a man surrounded by so much love, wealth and success still descended to the lowest of lows and what made him realise that he is, in fact, enough, you should read this book.
For me, there are three key takeaways in the book.
All the fame and money in the world will not be enough to fill the gaping hole of a heart which thinks of itself as inadequate.
Addiction, more than anything, is a disease. Addicts need our sympathy and help, not our judgment and ridicule.
For whatever reason, Matthew Perry is really not fond of Keanu Reeves.