Friends actor Matthew Perry who died on October 28, wasn’t just Chandler Bing
He may have died young at the age of 54, but Matthew Perry had entertained generations with his wit, his sarcastic remarks, and his ability to become relatable to all fans. He was not just Chandler Bing, a ‘friend’ who couldn’t live without making fun of another person, but an actor who knew how and when to up the ante.
Contrary to popular belief, there was more to Perry the actor than being the quick-witted Chandler on the hit 1990s sitcom. Unlike most of his colleagues (barring Jennifer Aniston, who went on to have a successful Hollywood career), there was a time when he was considered the next big thing in Hollywood, and his success confirmed that even if for a short time.
Perry worked in multiple films sharing the screen with A-list stars like Bruce Willis, Salma Hayek, and Elizabeth Hurley, among others, and even continued his A-game in TV shows besides Friends. After the show’s conclusion in 2004, he kept appearing in leading roles in shows like Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Mr. Sunshine, The Good Wife, and its spinoff The Good Fight, Go On, and even created the remake of The Odd Couple which lasted for three seasons.
However, the relatability Chandler brought to the table was something no other character had offered before and hasn’t been able to match since. He was your best friend when you needed one, had a sarcastic comment for every occasion, and above all, broke the ice with his witty comments even when the ice wasn’t supposed to be broken.
I must admit here that I was late to the Friends revolution, mainly because I somehow concluded that it was from the same universe as Beverly Hills, 90210. However, after watching the first few episodes I immediately related to Chandler Bing, not because of his funny surname, or his first name being a surname, but because he said what was meant to be said. He was like someone you knew who was born without a filter in his brain and said things that were obvious but not openly shared. That’s what made him the best of the lot.
In his memoir Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing which was published last year, Perry explained why he was able to connect with Chandler Bing, who in turn ended up connecting with so many souls across the planet. He wrote that when he read the script before the audition, he knew it was meant for him, and that rarely happens. “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. It wasn’t that I thought I could play ‘Chandler;’ I was Chandler.”
Let’s take a trip down memory lane and find out the different faces of Perry, and don’t be surprised if Friends features in the list on multiple occasions; after all, Perry was Chandler Bing, and Chandler Bing, was Perry.
A Hollywood leading man
As a general unwritten rule, American TV actors don’t do well in Hollywood and vice versa but there have been many exceptions, with Perry being one of them for a seven-year period. He was cast in multiple rom-com flicks because of his ability to handle both parts of the genre well – the romance and the comedy part. In Fools Rush In he played a hopeless romantic who couldn’t stay away from the love of his life, in The Whole Nine Yards and its sequel The Whole Ten Yards he played a dentist who lived in the same vicinity as a mafia hitman.
At a time when sequels weren’t a regular thing, it was Perry who believed in the film’s success more than his co-star Bruce Willis, who agreed to be a part of Friends if the film did well at the box office, and it did. Then there was Three to Tango where Perry’s character pretended to be gay so that his company’s design for a multimillion-dollar cultural center ended up as the winner.
And if that’s not all, he was there in Serving Sara, as a process server who had his heart in the right place but was mostly in the wrong place himself. All these films came out between 1997 and 2004, when Friends was on top of TV ratings, making Perry both a film and a TV star at the same time. He used his popularity as a TV star to draw the audience in cinemas and was labelled a bankable star until a few of his films flopped, and he got addicted to ‘that terrible thing’, drugs.
The king of sarcasm
If you label Friends’ characters, everyone has multiple traits except the funnily named Chandler who is good at making fun of everything that moves or doesn’t even move. In the character’s own words, “I’m not great at advice. Can I interest you in a sarcastic comment?”. The actor was so good at such comments that when in one of the episodes he was asked to NOT make a sarcastic comment, it was hard to control himself, making that the highlight of the entire episode.
According to Perry, he developed his funny side when he was young to make his single mother smile, a tactic that worked until she remarried Canadian broadcaster Keith Morrison. And when he finally became famous and appeared on the cover of People magazine, he sent it to one of his old teachers who had predicted that “he would never amount to anything if he kept joking around all the time,” Thank God he was wrong!
And then there was Chandler, who gave iconic status to simple lines. Had the character not been relatable, many of the jokes would have fallen flat, hence kudos to the writers and Perry for coming up with the most sarcastic of lines that made the viewers laugh out loud. After all, had someone else displayed his happiness over two rehearsal dinners, we might not have been pleased but when Chandler said “I’m glad we’re having a rehearsal dinner. I rarely practice my meals before I eat.” it ends up making us laugh out loud.
If Joey had “How you doin”, as his line, Chandler had a witty introduction “Hi, I am Chandler. I make jokes when I’m uncomfortable.” His lines often ended up as the most-used by Friends fans and even today, whenever most of us hear the word pivot, it comes with Chandler’s delivery. And yes, he had the classic response for those asking about a mishap that occurred recently, and if you think there is something better out there than “Well, Joey was born and 28 years later I was robbed!” then you will have a lot of explaining to do, to those who will not agree with your assessment.
Matthew Perry, the lover boy
When Perry’s Chandler Bing and Courtney Cox’s Monica Geller became romantically involved in Friends, it added a new dimension to the classic series. From hiding it from their friends with whom they shared everything barring a toothbrush to their public display of affection after the secret it was out, the Chandler-Geller romance was too good to resist. Even the scenes where Chandler had to stand his ground in front of Monica’s ex (played by Tom Selleck) or had to explain to the mother of their adopted kids why he and Monica lied were immortalised by Perry’s brilliance.
The story might have ended with Courtney Cox’s Monica but there were others before her since in each of his films, Perry was paired with the most beautiful actress of the era. There was Salma Hayek in Fools Rush In, Neve Campbell in Two to Tango, Amanda Peet and Natasha Henstridge in A Whole Nine Yards and its sequel, Elizabeth Hurley in Serving Sara, and Leslie Mann in 17 Again and with all of them, he shared a chemistry that could rival that of Chandler-Monica. He used his irresistible charm to his advantage in these films and had his career not been ruined by drugs, and the bottle, he might have done more rom-coms than he eventually ended up doing.
The comeback king
Chandler Bing might have been written as a loser whose friends have no clue what he does for a living, but Perry had ideas that helped him stay relevant in the two decades after Friends. After all, he knew how to handle himself, and even explained the reason why when he said “Handle? I can handle it. Handle is my middle name. Well, actually it’s the middle part of my first name.”
Some blamed the filmmakers of 17 Again for casting Perry as the older version of Zac Efron in the 2009 American teen fantasy comedy but I don’t believe anyone else would have played a 37-year-old loser better than Matthew. The film might have been his last as a leading man, but he didn’t lose hope and continued to do what he did best — make people laugh — besides a few, unlike-Perry-performances on the smaller screen.
His non-Friends career included recurring roles in TV shows such as The West Wing and The Good Wife and its spinoff The Good Fight; had it not been for the latter two shows, people wouldn’t have been able to appreciate Matthew Perry as a serious actor. His lying, scheming character of lawyer Mike Kresteva was so deceiving that one moment he was the bad guy, and in the next (in the presence of others) he transformed back into the nicest guy in the world.
However, what kept him busy despite his failing health and addictions was his lead roles in Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip in 2006 and 2007. He used his experience on the set of Friends where the writers often collaborated with him to make their lines funnier, to give his all to a show set behind the scenes of a Saturday Night Live-ish comedy spectacular, but it didn’t last more than a season. What did make it to three seasons was Perry’s own creation, an update of The Odd Couple where he reunited with his 17 Again co-star Thomas Lennon to wreak havoc on the set.
And when all seemed lost for him, Perry came out with his memoirs, where he discussed everything under the sun that affected him both as a person and as an actor. He claimed in the prologue of his memoir that ‘I should be dead,’ and in less than one year, he became the first Friends co-star to leave the building, this time for good. However, his legacy will keep him alive as long as friendships exist.