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US Weekly - October 2000

The Gospel (according to Matthew Perry)

by Todd Gold

With a little help from his Friends, Matthew Perry bounces back from his bummer summer with a new house, a new house, a new bod and a new outlook on life. Seven years ago Matthew Perry parked an old, beaten-up Porsche outside Warner Bros. Studios’ Stage 24. It was a Monday morning. Five days earlier, he had auditioned to play Chandler Bing on a new series called “Friends Like Us”. Along with “ER”, it was the hot script that summer, the one all of Hollywood’s ambitious young actors wanted, and Perry, a skinny, wisecracking 24-year-old on the verge of exciting show business after rapid flights through four different TV series and numerous pilots, had landed a part. Inside, he encountered five other actors, TV’s preeminent director, Jim Burrows, talented writers and the sense that something great was about to happen. “I remember watching Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, and David Schwimmer getting laughs,” says Perry. “Everyone was really funny. There wasn’t a weak link. At the very least, I knew that I was finally going to be involved in a show that was really good. But I also felt like my life was going to change.” Cut to a Wednesday afternoon in mid-October 2000. Perry, wrapped in smoke and sunk into a light-green sofa underneath a poster for his movie “The Whole Nine Yards” in his Stage 24 dressing room, is…well, put it this way; He’s a big star. Maybe getting bigger. His stocking feet are propped up on a coffee table, and though he has lit enough candles to make swami feel at home, he doesn’t claim to possess any sort of psychic ability. But now, an instantly likeable guy in jeans and an untucked shirt who still cracks wise and occasionally seeks advice from pals like Courteney Cox Arquette and Jennifer Aniston(“Jennifer and I always disagree about what he should do,” says Cox Arquette), it’s hard to fathom just how much his life has changed. The other morning he prepared for his next feature, a comedy called “Servicing Sarah”, by having breakfast with his costar Elizabeth Hurley. “Matthew has all the equipment to play any type of role,” says “Nine Yards” director Jonathan Lynn. “I’ve been telling everyone for a long time that he’s the next Tom Hanks.” Perry himself has designs on that type of career. “The other night I was watching Hanks in “Punchline”, and every 10 minutes I’d yell out ‘That’s what I wanted to do’,” he says. He has a shot. Thanks to “Friends” solid perch at or near the top of the Nielsen ratings since its first Thursday night, he has become one of the most recognized faces-and wealthist actors-on the pop-culture landscape. Even he struggles to comprehend the totality of his stardom. “Fame is hard to imagine unless you experience it,” he says. “It’s not a natural thing. There’s nothing normal about it.” Perry pauses, proof of his perfect timing. “Let me put it this way,” he says. “You don’t exactly want to be recognized while going number one and especially not number two.” But there are perks, of course. The metal parked in front of the stage attests to that. At about 4 p.m., Schwimmer drives off in his silver Ferrari, the last Friend to leave for the day, exculding Perry, whose black convertible Mercedes cost more than the average American’s salary. “A long time ago, my father[actor John Bennett Perry] told me that you can look at the cars parked next to the stages and tell how long a show’s been on the air,” says Perry. “If there are Hondas, it’s a first year show. If there are a bunch of Porsches and Mercedes, it’s a fifth year show.”

Now, as a result of last summer’s celebrated contract negotiations, a fleet of Brink’s trucks would be required to deliver each Friend his or her $750,000 weekly paycheck. “We’re a group of people who won the lottery,” says Perry, who claims to be unfazed by the wealth even when it’s pointed out after taping a mere six episodes so far this season, he has already made more than $4 million. “Hey,” he says, shrugging, “we still have to come in to work at 10.”

Like Chandler, Perry can’t resist such a smart remark. It’s also just the sort of line that has helped make the 31-year-old the show’s comic nerve. “If you give Matthew a joke, he’ll sell it, land it, and it’ll be great,” says “Friends” excutive producer and cocreator Marta Kauffman. “If it doesn’t work, he’ll come up with an idea. He’s just hysterically funny.”

Naturally so. Earlier in the day, for instance, as the cast rehearsed for the show’s Christmas episode, he entered a scence dressed as Santa Claus. As he was about to give Ross’ son a present, his pants accidentally feel down, leaving him hanging, so to speak. Without missing a beat, he ad-libbed “And my gift to you is years of therapy.”

It caused a titter to ripple through the crew, but the joke just as easily could have been about Perry himself. Lately, he has needed help straightening out his life. A dependency on painkillers compelled him to go into rehab in 1997. Since then, his weight has gone up and down more often than Oprah’s, and when he showed up on this year’s premire episode episode looking frighteningly thin, speculation was that Perry, who was also hospitalized last May for pancreatitis, had a drug problem. One tabloid claimed he had damaged his liver so badly with drugs that he needed a transplant. “That’s absolutely false,” says Perry. And drugs? “Not true,” he says.

However, he doesn’t deny crashing his Porsche into a house on May 20, the day he checked out of the hospital. “The irony was terrible,” says Perry. “I was going to hand with my father at his place outside L.A. I made the first corner around my house on these really narrow streets, saw a courier van in the middle, swerved to the right and – well, I don’t really know what happened – I crashed into this porch.” His ego suffered the most damage. As Perry recalls, “That night, Leno joked that the police said there was no report of drugs, alcohol, or speeding –‘and he calls himself a celebrity?’”

Actually, today Perry calls himself lucky – and for all the right reasons. Looking fitter and healthier than at any time in recent memory, he claims that his personal tribulations cause him to come to terms with a life that had accelerated too quickly for his own good. “I’ve had my share of, you know, troubles with partying too much and going out too much,” he says, carefully measuring his words. “I really lived life to its fullest and that got me in trouble from time to time. Never the bad-boy type of trouble, but…”

There are not buts about it. Perry voluntarily checked himself into Hazelden treatment center in Minnesota three years ago after developing a dependency on Vicodin, the painkiller prescribed to him following a Jet-Ski accident and dental surgery. “Let me say, life had gotten to a point where I got sick if I didn’t take that pill,” he says. “It scared me.”

Maybe not enough, however. Though his 28-day stint allowed him to kick the pills and gave him the confidence to insist “anything can come at me now and I feel like I can handle it,” Perry continued to drink and carry on. This despite the effects that were visible to “Friends” viewers, who noted his fluctuating weight. After last season’s finale, Perry skipped the wrap party. Though he claims not to remember whether or not he went, a source close to the show says, “Matthew was really working on himself then. There was going to be alcohol at the party, and he didn’t want to be around it. It was a big deal that he wasn’t there, and everybody was very supportive of his decision.”

Soon after, Perry’s body sent him a message of its own. “I was sitting at home at night and I got a pain in my stomach,” he says. “I called up a friend of mine at the hospital, thinking they were going to check me out and something was going to happen, and I’d go home.” Instead, the diagnosis was acute pancreatitis, a relatively rare inflammation of the prancreas that’s caused by, amoung other things, alcohol abuse and prescription drugs. Perry pleads guilty. “In my case, it was hard living and drinking hard and eating poorly,” he says. “You play, you pay.”

“But there were no pills involved,” he adds. “I learned my lesson at Hazelden.” And in the hospital. Perry’s two and a half weeks at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center served as a serious wake-up call. “You get scared when they won’t let you leave,” he says. Understanding the need to clean up his lifestyle. Perry recouped over the summer by shuttling between his father’s house near Santa Barbara and that of his mother, Suzanne Morrison, in Laguna Beach. “It was time to put the pieces back together, and that’s what I did,” he says.

He was scarily thin when “Friends” started up again in August, the result of having dropped 20 pounds during his illness. “I was still healing,” he says. “I couldn’t eat more than chicken soup. By the second episode you can see I’m better.”

Asked how he’s feeling now, Perry replies, “I’m back on my feet again and totally fine.” Does that mean he’s sober? “I am going to take the Fifth on that one,” he says, after thinking through his answer. “If I was sober for three years, I wouldn’t tell you. And if I got drunk last night, I wouldn’t tell you. That’s personal. I’ll say my life is in order.”

For the most part, Perry’s life has always been orderly. Born in Williamstown, Massachusetts, he was barely a year old when his parents divorced. He lived with his mother, a former press secretary for the late Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (she would later marry NBC broadcaster Keith Morrison), in Ottawa, where he was a top-ranked junior tennis player. At 15, he moved to Los Angeles to be with his father. All thoughts of a professional tennis career disapeared after he debuted as George Tibbs in Buckly High School’s production of “Our Town”. “I liked the attention,” he says. “I wanted the light to shine on me.”

“Our Town”. “I liked the attention,” he says. “I wanted the light to shine on me.” It did. At 19, he was given a small part in the 1988 River Phoenix film “A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon.” He spent the next five years guest-starring on sitcoms and in TV movies. Prior to seeing the original “Friends Like Us” script, Perry starred in a pilot called “LAX 2194”, which was about airport baggage handlers in the future. “As a result, I was unavailable to do “Friends”, even though there was a part in it that I kept hearing was exactly like me,” he says. “By the time somebody at “Friends” saw “LAX 2194” and realized it wasn’t going to get picked up, I’d helped so many people read for Chandler that when I finally had my audition, I knew it cold.”

He’s not kidding. “They said, ‘Can you take 10 minutes and do the office scene?’” recalls Perry. “I said, ‘No, I can actually do that for you right now.” I auditioned for it on a Wednesday, again on Thursday, again on Friday, and then on Monday we started. And they haven’t looked back.”

There was a pause during contract talks last summer, and Perry swears that he prepared to bid “Friends” adieu if negotiations had failed. “Whatever the group was going to do, I was going to do,” he says. But emotionally, creativally, and progessionally, he wasn’t ready to leave. “I side with America on that,” he says. “It’s a great job. All I’ll say is that everybody walked away happy.”

After signing the contract, Perry plunked down a couple of million dollars on a contemporary four-bedroom glass-and-concreate home in the Hollywood Hills and fulfilled a dream by adding a full-size movie theater. “One night I sat under the covers and laughed,” he says. “I just kind of giggled that I was in this position.” Perhaps more impressive than the view from the deck is Perry’s new perspective on life. “I achieved al the things I thought I wanted when I was 17,” he says. “But it ultimately didn’t make me happy. As James Taylor sings, the secret of life is enjoying the passage of time, and that’s what I’m going for. I’m hungry for that kind of happiness. The flashier aspects of my gig are nice, but you can’t rest your heart or your soul on them.” Perry’s new grown-up attitude isn’t merely talk. For the first time in years, he is playing tennis again, taking weekly lessons near the studio, and several times a week he wakes up early to work out with a trainer at the Warner Bros. gym. “It’s for the movie,” he says. “So that I’m not embarrassed when I take off my shirt at a public swimming pool.”

Perry hasn’t been to any of his olf nightclub haunts for at least six months. “I don’t think I’m going to meet my wife at the Sky Bar,” he says. “I hope I don’t. My father told me the right girl for me is going to be sitting in the corner talking to somebody. It’s not the girl standing in the middle of the room making everybody laugh.” Like Chandler, he admits to thoughts about settling down and staring a family. “My twenties were about work – making enough money so that I could do what I wanted to do – and partying, stuff like that,” he says. “I think – I hope – my thirties are going to be more about developing my social skills in a way I haven’t done before so that I get married in my thirties and have a child in my thirties.” Marriage? Kids? “Yeah, absolutely,” he says. “I’d be a great dad.”

“He’ll be great”, echoes Cox Arquette. Perry speaks enviously of Cox Arquette’s life with her husband, David Arquette. “David and I are buddies,” says Perry. “He’s a great guy, and I’m so happy they’re married and together.” Nor will he ever forget Aniston’s weding. “Jen’s wedding was the most romantic night of my life, and I wasn’t even getting married,” he says with a grin. “She was a beautiful bride. The unfortunate thing is, Brad is an ugly man, but you put a tuxedo on him and he looks OK.”

As might Perry one day. He’s currently seeing a woman who he refers to mysterically as “the girl” and whom he identifies only as “someone who works behind the camera in the entertainment industry.” But first things first. “I’ve always been a good first, second, and third date,” he says. “Now I’m learning that the key to stuff is what follows. So I think I’m becoming a good boyfriend, or someone that can be a good boyfriend.” Maturity has not helped in one area, though: Perry is a slob. “Yeah, I’m messy,” he admits. “Basically, you know, my clothes come off of me and onto the floor.”

He’s also a closet sap who stocks his CD player with discs by Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos and anyone else that has played at Lilith Fair. “If there’s a woman in any kind of emotional duress and she sings about it, I’ll listen until I’m blue in the face,” he says. “I’m comfortable enough in my masculinity to admit this.” And now he’s comfortable with himself. “I’ve learned through all the things that have happened to me, all the ups and downs, the roller-coaster ride,” he says. “I’m in a good place. I know I’m amazingly lucky.” “By the way,” adds Perry before leaving, still bothered by one unanswered question, “I’m also sober.”


(friends like these) by Matthew Graham. In their seventh year together, the castmates are very busy, very rich and (big surprise) very happy. We’re a group of people whose lives changed at the same time, and that’s what bonds us, keeps us similar,” says Matthew Perry of his “Friends” castmates. “We love each other. There’s not a jerk around.” Courteney Cox Arquette, 36, says her marriage to David Arquette is as strong as ever and scoffs at tabloid reports that she’s pregant. “Not unless it’s immaculate conception,” she says. “David’s been on location.” In October she traveled to New York to begin an independent feature called “Get Well Soon”, and in February she costars with her husband and Kevin Costner in the action-thriller “3000 Miles to Graceland.” “Everything is great with me,” she says. “It couldn’t be better.” Two years ago, Matt LeBlanc, 33, popped the question to girlfriend Melissa McKnight, who has two children from a previous marriage. But it’s unlikely he will become the first boy Friend to wed. The problem? Time. Since August, LeBlanc has commuted weekly between the show’s Burbank set and Budapest, Hungary, where he is costarring with cross-dressing Brit Eddie Izzard in the comic spy caper “All the Queen’s Men”. “Playing a World War II soldier is a good departure from Joey. It’s the kind of stretch I wanted,” he says. All five of her castmates were at Jennifer Aniston’s wedding to Brad Pitt. The pair married July 29 at an estate in Malibu, California, and at last month’s Emmy Awards, Pitt told Us Weekly that “marriage is great.” Next up for Aniston, 31, is “So You Wanna Be a Rock Star”, with Mark Wahlberg, who recently called Aniston “an amazing actress. She’s everything I wish I could have – that kind of person.” After meeting Mili Avital on the set of “Kissing a Fool” in 1998, David Schwimmer, 33, remains the Israel-born actress’s biggest fan. “She won’t play the Hollywood game,” he has said. “She doesn’t care about parties or premieres.” Lately, Schwimmer has spent his spare time in England, playing a hardass military officer for the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers”, produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. “It’s nice to have money to put kids through college,” he told the Chicago Sun Times, “but any serious actor just wants the next project.” Married to French advertising excutive producer Michel Stern since May 1995 and the mother of 2-year-old Julian, Lisa Kudrow, 37, is the most settled down of the six. But that hasn’t slowed her down. She stars as a vindictive Lotto-girl opposite John Travolta in Nora Ephron’s dark comedy “Lucky Numbers” and just wrapped the romantic comedy “All Over the Guy”, with Christina Ricci. She explained her nonstop schedule by quoting Bette Davis: “Make sure you’re a character actor, because you’ll work forever”