Matthew Perry addiction

Matthew Perry’s death has shown we need to change the way we speak about addiction

The way his suffering has been shamed has been horrendous

Matthew Perry passed away at his home in Los Angeles on Saturday. The Telegraph, harshly, called him “the Friend who never quite seemed to get it together”. MailOnline, meanwhile, said he “died lonely and longing for a wife”. After a multiple decade long struggle with addiction, tabloids felt justified detailing the “pill stash” he had at his home at the time of his death: anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication— neither illegal.

The public and press reaction to Matthew Perry’s death has, at times, been accusatory, troubling, and deeply unfair. “Matthew Perry always looked like the most unhealthy celebrity I’ve seen,” wrote one person on Twitter. “He wasn’t obese or anything. He was just messed up. Couldn’t speak, couldn’t walk right. Made his millions on Friends and didn’t work again. Went on a 30 year opioid and alcohol run.” 

But talking about Matthew Perry’s – or anybody’s – battle against addiction this way severely lacks compassion and common sense. People don’t choose to be addicts for fun. Plus, Matthew did, in fact, work again after Friends: He was nominated for an Emmy for his performance in The West Wing. He wrote a memoir that helped de-stigmatise addiction through his openness about his own struggles with substances. He opened a sober living space called Perry House in his former Malibu home. He got sober, which is taxing and never-ending work in itself.

Fundamentally, addiction isn’t something money or fame can actually get rid of. Millions of people suffer across the globe right now. There’s an opioid crisis. Alcoholism is rife. Addiction is a terrifying and lonely condition, which has life-long impact for the sufferer themselves and the people around them. On top of that, addicts are  shamed by society for having no “self control” instead of being understood.

Matthew Perry’s commitment to cutting through this stigma was remarkable. He spoke openly and frankly about the ways he struggled from the age of 24 when he was first cast on Friends. He survived his colon bursting from opioid abuse. He went to rehab 15 times. Kept trying, despite the never-ending accusatory headlines and judgement for his supposedly “slurred speech” during the 2021 Friends reunion. He revealed to the New York Times he’d been sober for 18-months in 2022 and was proud of the work he’d done to help others do the same.

Matthew Perry’s death isn’t less tragic because he was an addict. And the very fact he’s being judged, even after passing, is a glaringly obvious sign we need to to change the way we speak about addiction and be kind to people who’re suffering. We should acknowledge and be inspired by Matthew’s legacy: Speak more openly about addiction. Treat the condition as a struggle that needs support rather than something shameful. To help people who need it, simply by being understanding.

As Matthew said in the final video he posted to Instagram in November 2022: “I want people to understand that they’re not alone… their behaviour is not insane… they have a disease and it’s not their fault.”

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Featured image credit via Netflix