When Matthew Perry met Julia Roberts

Tributes have been pouring in following the untimely death of former Friends star Matthew Perry at the age of 54.

Loved ones, including his co-stars, have spoken of their shock and devastation at the tragedy.

The actor, who played wise-cracking Chandler Bing for ten years in the much-loved sitcom, was found unresponsive at his Pacific Palisades home in Los Angeles on 28th October.

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The date happened to be the birthday of his ex-girlfriend, Hollywood actress Julia Roberts. The couple had started dating in the mid-1990s, when Roberts made a guest appearance on Friends.

According to the Matthew Perry autobiography, Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing, published in 2022, he broke up with the star because of his own feelings of inadequacy.

He openly admitted he had battled drug and alcohol addiction for many years, including during his time in Friends.

He ended his relationship with the “beautiful and brilliant” Pretty Woman star because he feared she was going to dump him, and it had become “too much” to deal with.

Perry’s big break

Born in Williamstown, Massachusetts, in 1969, Perry was a top-ranked junior tennis player in his youth. However, his childhood was divided between his divorced parents, and he later described himself as a “latchkey kid” who spent a lot of time alone.

He hid his sense of abandonment by learning to be humorous, using quick one-liners – in the same way that his character Chandler Bing did in Friends years later.

While living with his mother in Ottawa, Canada, Perry started misbehaving when he was ten and his school grades plummeted. First drinking alcohol at 13, he said he wanted to “shut everyone out”.

At age 15, he moved to Los Angeles to live with his father and decided to become an actor. He won roles in the sitcoms Growing Pains, Charles in Charge, Home Free and Sydney.

After reading a script for a new sitcom, Friends Like Us, created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman for the NBC network in 1994, he immediately wanted the role of Chandler. He felt like someone had followed him round, copying his mannerisms and stealing his jokes. “It wasn’t that I thought I could play Chandler – I was Chandler,” he explained.

At 24, he was the youngest lead actor to be cast. He knew from the start the show was going to be “huge”. The sitcom’s name was soon shortened to Friends.

He hoped the show would enable him to put the bad times behind him, but self doubt crept in. If the live audience didn’t laugh at his lines during filming, he would start “sweating” and “freak out”.

Meeting Julia Roberts

In 1995, when the show’s producers first approached Julia Roberts, Matthew Perry was surprised to learn the Academy Award-winning actress had agreed to star in an episode of Friends – as long as her plot involved Chandler Bing.

As a result, Perry sent her three dozen red roses and a card, telling her he was excited at the prospect of her doing the show – and more so that he had an excuse to send her flowers.

Roberts replied jokingly that she would be on the show if he could explain quantum physics to her! The following day, he sent her an explanation of wave-particle duality. Not only did she agree to appear in Friends, but she also sent him some bagels!

In the days before social media, they started to communicate via fax, before they met in person. No matter how busy their schedule, they would send multiple faxes to each other every day, totalling “hundreds”.

He described Roberts as having been “placed on this planet to make the world smile”. He would sit by his fax machine three or four times a day, watching her letters slowly coming through – he found her “captivating”.

It wasn’t long before the faxes became romantic, leading to five-hour phone conversations, before they finally met face-to-face.

They were already in a relationship by the time Roberts’ double-length Friends episode – entitled The One After the Superbowl – aired on 28th January 1996. Roberts played Chandler’s old classmate, Susie Moss.

At elementary school, Chandler had pulled up Susie’s skirt on stage, revealing her underwear to other pupils. When they meet as adults, Chandler invites Susie on a date, and she agrees – but little does he know she has an ulterior motive for meeting him.

The episode attracted 52.9 million viewers (a 47% share of the total audience that evening), making it the most-watched episode of Friends ever.

Afterwards, Roberts said it was “the most nerve-wracking thing” she had ever done, apart from the audition for Pretty Woman. She said Perry was “incredibly funny” and she wanted to “inspire the same kind of joy that he does”.

Self-doubt creeps in

The couple dated for six months before splitting up later in 1996. Perry later admitted he was struggling with addictions and felt he wasn’t enough for her. His old self-doubt crept in, and he was “constantly certain” she was about to break up with him.

He believed she was “slumming it” by dating him in the first place. Describing himself as “broken” and “unlovable”, he thought he was facing the “inevitable agony of losing her”, so he broke up with her instead.

Perry dated other women after his relationship with Roberts ended, although he said in his biography, he found it hard to let people into his life.

After Friends ended its ten-year run in 2004, he went on to star in numerous films, including Birds of America in 2008 and 17 Again in 2009. Between 2015 and 2017, he co-wrote and starred in a remake of the sitcom, The Odd Couple, for CBS.

Roberts has always remained tight-lipped about her romance with Perry and there is no evidence that they remained close, or even kept in touch, after it ended.

Perry suffered near-fatal health problems in 2018, when he needed seven-hour life-saving colon surgery to rectify problems caused by opiate abuse. He had only a 2% chance of survival and spent two weeks in a coma. In his book, he said frankly he had “all but killed” himself in a “futile attempt to feel better” by taking “a lot of drugs”.

He admitted to having spent periods in rehab, attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and going to therapy twice a week for 30 years.

Following Perry’s sudden death, his Friends co-stars Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Matt LeBlanc and Courteney Cox released a joint statement, saying, “We are all so utterly devastated. We were more than just cast mates. We are a family.”

Perry used his own experiences to lobby support for addicts. He even turned his $10 million Malibu beach home into Perry House, a sober living facility for men. His project received a White House award in 2013.

His work to help addicts will forever be remembered, alongside the great impact he made as an actor.

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