In Sam Esmail’s new film of Rumaan Alam’s novel Leave the World Behind, the sudden apocalyptic collapse of society is the only thing that can come between a Gen-Z tween and the streaming Friends episodes on her iPad. This feels extremely real: At any given moment, even in a world on fire, somebody somewhere is busy forming an intense parasocial bond with the cast of Friends, including Chandler Bing, the character played by the late Matthew Perry for ten seasons on what is estimatedly the most profitable non-Simpsons television show of all time. Before the show jumped to Max, Netflix used to catch viewers dozing and ask, “Are you still watching Friends?” Symbolically, globally, for nearly twenty years since “The Last One” first aired on a forgotten medium called broadcast television, the answer has never stopped being “Yes.”
This—the odd condition of being sentenced by success to share your life and the public consciousness with an omnipresent media version of yourself who’s younger and zingier, to hear people whisper Chandler in any room you walk through—was one reason why it cannot have been easy to be Matthew Perry, who died this weekend, at 54, by drowning, in what looks to be an infinity-pool hot tub in what is presumably the same Pacific Palisades home he described to GQ’s Chris Heath as “kind of a dream house kind of thing” in 2022. (If nothing else, it never stopped being extremely lucrative to be Matthew Perry.)
Perry will be remembered as a great if underutilized supporting character from the end of Sorkin-era West Wing (the vaguely Scarborough-esque speechwriter Joe Quincy, a centrist daydream of upstanding Republicanism), for playing off his own tabloid narrative as a recovering-addict comedy writer on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, as the mobster who leaves you to die in the desert at the beginning of the video game Fallout: New Vegas, and as the disillusioned adult self of a teenager who used to be Zac Efron in 17 Again.
Thanks to his 2022 memoir, we will also remember Perry as having battled a substance-abuse problem that held its own against every conceivable treatment program short of incarceration, until it didn’t. Although toxicology reports are still pending, law enforcement sources told TMZ that no illicit drugs were found in Perry’s home; either way, anyone who’s read Perry’s book will understand the extent to which he beat the devil by not expiring on a park bench or a hospital bed. He played two hours of pickleball the day he died, went home to a hot tub with a Michael Mann view, maybe indulged a rich fantasy life in which he’s Batman. It is at least possible to imagine him at peace.
He is survived by Chandler Bing, who will never die, as long as a laugh-tracked multicamera sitcom set in a New York City more demographically Caucasoid than Stockholm continues to be a comfort to streamers in need of talking wallpaper, an infinity hot tub for the brain, a sedative as light as latté foam. (At any given moment, somebody is also probably falling asleep to a Friends episode—there’s no way it wouldn’t top any chart that tracked the rapid eye movements of viewers busy drooling in the arms of a couch.)