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Remembering actor Matthew Perry

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Matthew Perry, star of the hit TV sitcom "Friends," has reportedly died at age 54. Several news outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, have quoted unnamed law enforcement sources to say that Perry was found unresponsive in a hot tub at his home Saturday after an apparent drowning. There's been no official cause of death released yet. An actor since his teenage years, Perry was best known for playing the charming, sarcastic Chandler Bing on "Friends." Perry, who grew up in Canada, spoke with Terry Gross on Fresh Air in 2007 about having a dad who was a working actor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

TERRY GROSS: So your father was the guy who did the commercials on TV for Old Spice?

MATTHEW PERRY: Yeah. That's actually led to most of my problems because my father is the handsomest man in the world.

GROSS: (Laughter).

PERRY: So that's led to why I look at myself on TV in the first place and also why I immediately go to the problem.

DETROW: He saw his dad succeed, but also saw him fail and saw the pauses between success that come so often in show business.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

PERRY: You know, his big lesson to me was to make sure that there's something else in your life that is more important than acting or you'll go bananas. And so I've tried to follow that, and I know that he feels that way, too.

DETROW: Perry was honest about his intense struggles with addiction, as NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans recounted on Weekend Edition.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ERIC DEGGANS: Perry released a memoir last year where he talked a lot about his issues with substance use, saying he first started drinking heavily as a teenager, and by the mid-1990s, while he was making "Friends," he was addicted to painkillers like Vicodin. He later entered multiple rehab programs and became an advocate for helping those with substance use disorders. During an interview with the CBC last year, Perry said it was tough for him to watch old reruns of "Friends" because he could see the effects of his addictions. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

PERRY: Well, I didn't watch the show and haven't watched the show because I could go, drinking, opiates, cocaine. Like, I could tell, season by season, by how I looked. I think I'm going to start to watch it because it's been an incredible thing to watch it touch the hearts of different generations.

DETROW: The show did reach several generations of fans. It was a decade-defining cultural juggernaut in the '90s. Nearly 10 years after it went off the air, NPR's Louisa Lim found a recreation of the "Friends" gang's main hangout, Central Perk, in Beijing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DU XIN: I'm crazy about "Friends." I'm a huge fan. For me, it's like a religion. It's my life.

LOUISA LIM: I just wonder, though, 'cause I think for young Chinese people, life is really competitive. You know, getting an education, passing your exams, finding a job, finding a partner, it's all like a big competition. With "Friends," they're never worrying about money. They're never worrying about jobs and things like that.

XIN: So that's why we like "Friends." We're looking for this kind of life. Maybe one day, if you like, you can find a good job you like, just like Chandler. He quit the job he hated and he found another one he liked. So I think this TV show also told us you have to choose a living way which you like.

DETROW: And as a mainstay on streaming apps, "Friends" became a cultural force again in recent years, this time for Gen Z viewers. So even though Perry as Chandler said goodbye in the finale nearly 20 years ago...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FRIENDS")

PERRY: (As Chandler Bing) Look around, you guys. This was your first home, and it was a happy place filled with love and laughter. But more important, because of rent control, it was a freaking steal.

DETROW: ...The character never stopped being a mainstay in people's lives. Matthew Perry was 54 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'LL BE THERE FOR YOU")

THE REMBRANDTS: (Singing) So no one told you life was going to be this way. Your job's a joke. You're broke. Your love life's DOA. It's like you're always stuck in second gear. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.