Inside Matthew Perry's Bond With His Fellow Friends Stars

Though he couldn't be any funnier, Matthew Perry credited Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc and David Schwimmer for propping him up when needed—which was often.

By Natalie Finn Oct 31, 2023 11:00 AMTags
Watch: Matthew Perry’s ‘Friends’ Co-Stars Mourn His Death

Friends premiered 29 years ago.

That number feels impossibly high and yet also completely inconsequential, considering how Matthew Perry's sudden death on Oct. 28 made so many people feel as if they'd lost someone who was still playing an active role in their lives.

Cue the catharsis in the form of Chandler Bing appreciators everywhere wondering whether the news could be any more tragic.

But while countless fans felt connected to Perry in some way, mostly from his Emmy-nominated run on Friends but also from a series of other characters the multifaceted actor inhabited over the course of his four-decade career, there were only so many people who knew him. Only so many who were actually there to witness his undeniable talent up close and watch him struggle through the life-threatening lows that Perry himself was surprised to have survived.

For 10 years, it was Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc and David Schwimmer who saw Perry almost every day, who laughed with him, loved him and were inevitably very worried about him.

Matthew Perry: A Life in Pictures

And yet, as Kudrow noted in the foreword to Perry's 2022 book Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing: A Memoir, she didn't know until reading the full story in those very pages just how harrowing his experience really was.

"He has survived impossible odds," she wrote, "but I had no idea how many times he almost didn't make it. I'm glad you're here, Matty."

Perry credited his Friends co-stars with supporting him whenever needed, which—his singular contribution to their winning ensemble aside—was often.

"They were understanding, and they were patient," he told ABC News' Diane Sawyer in an interview that aired exactly one year before he died in an apparent drowning. "It's like penguins. In nature, when one is sick or very injured, the other penguins surround it and prop it up and walk around until that penguin can walk on its own. And that's kind of what the cast did for me."

Warner Bros. Television

And while more personal memories will inevitably trickle out in the days, weeks, months, or even years to come, it wasn't surprising that the surviving five Friends chose to release a joint statement—a way of not only paying tribute to Perry but also to honor their enduring status as a known unit.

"We are all so utterly devastated by the loss of Matthew," Aniston, Cox, Kudrow, LeBlanc and Schwimmer said in an Oct. 30 statement to People. "We were more than just cast mates. We are a family. There is so much to say, but right now we're going to take a moment to grieve and process this unfathomable loss.

"In time we will say more, as and when we are able. For now, our thoughts and our love are with Matty's family, his friends, and everyone who loved him around the world."

In his memoir, which much like the author himself was simultaneously heartbreaking and hilarious, Perry remembered the day when Aniston came into his dressing room to let him know she knew he'd been drinking.

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"We can smell it,' she said, in a kind of weird but loving way," he recalled, "and the plural 'we' hit me like a sledgehammer."

Having previously crushed on Aniston in real life ("ever since she started dating Brad Pitt I was fine"), Perry wrote that it was especially "devastating" hearing it from her.

NBCU Photo Bank

He got a sober companion to keep him dry at work, he continued, but on another occasion—after he showed up to set and didn't even notice he was slurring his lines, a mix of alcohol and "some kind of medication" from the night before kicking in—"everybody from the show" confronted him.

They asked what he was going to do, and he promised to "fix it." Instead, he went to go shoot the movie Serving Sara and his substance abuse only escalated, until he finally ended up in treatment in early 2001. He watched ex-girlfriend Julia Roberts win her Best Actress Oscar for Erin Brockovich from in-patient rehab that March, cracking the room up when he announced, "I'll take you back," during her speech. 

And Perry was still in rehab, he wrote, when Monica and Chandler's wedding episode aired on May 17, 2001.

Danny Feld/NBCU Photo Bank

The following year, the six leads jointly negotiated their landmark $1 million per episode contract. Perry shared that the ninth season of Friends, which aired from September 2002 to May 2003, was his only completely sober season. (And, not coincidentally, it was the season he scored his sole Emmy nomination.)

He also admittedly "felt nothing" while everyone else was bawling after they wrapped the series finale in 2004, not knowing if that was due to the detox opioid he was taking at the time or if he was "just generally dead inside."

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Aniston—whom he'd known the longest, having met her several years before they all booked Friends—was also the most there for Perry after the show ended. 

"She was the one that reached out the most," he told Sawyer. "You know, I'm really grateful to her for that." 

Of course it was always preferable to think of Monica, Chandler, Ross, Rachel, Phoebe and Joey as a cohesive whole off-camera as well, though that isn't usually the way TV shows work, no matter how genuine the onscreen chemistry. But rest assured, they had epic times together, even if LeBlanc, Perry and Schwimmer didn't eat the same salad every day.

Talking to ET while they were shooting the 2021 Friends reunion, Schwimmer remembered feeling from day one in 1994 that they had the best cast he'd ever seen or been a part of. "And then over the 10 years, obviously," he said, "we really grew close as a family, and part of the reason was that initial success of the show was something that no one else could relate to or was going through, except the other five actors."


They continued to hang out post-Friends, the selfie of all six of them that Aniston chose for her first Instagram post coming close to breaking the Internet in 2019, 15 years after Monica and Chandler moved to the 'burbs.

And they also kept showing up in each other's projects: Cox guest-starred on Perry's sitcom Go On, he and Aniston visited Cox's Cougar Town, Schwimmer played an extra version of himself on LeBlanc's Episodes and Cox, LeBlanc, Perry and Schwimmer popped up on Web Therapy with Kudrow.

"He's so sweet," Cox told Conan O'Brien of Perry in 2013. And "he's so funny. When I worked with him on Friends, he literally gave me my personality for 10 years."

When Perry joined Instagram in 2020, Aniston welcomed him with a nod to Monica and Rachel's lightning round loss to Joey and Chanandler Bong. "I'm shocked Matty is the last to join Instagram, considering he was a uh… umm… oh crap," she wrote. "Oh! A computer processing TRANSPONSTER."

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Not to mention, you can't fake the emotion that radiated from the 2021 Friends reunion.

"We've had a wonderful couple of days," Perry told ET of shooting the one fans had been waiting for for years. "It's been very nostalgic...Seeing the old set, seeing the crew and seeing the old guys. It's a very loving group."

"The old guys?" LeBlanc asked. Perry added, "The older guys. They are older than I am. I am the youngest."

"There was a period where we were all kind of in a puddle," Aniston told Rob Lowe on his Literally! podcast after the revelatory special premiered on what is now Max. "Maybe David didn't, I don't think we broke David."

But "Mr. Tough Guy" LeBlanc "got a little misty," she added. (Perry remembered his co-star's stoicism similarly, writing about the Friends series finale, "Even Matt LeBlanc was crying.") 

Courtesy of HBO Max

"It's funny, when we do get together, it's like no time has passed," LeBlanc told People. "We pick up right where we left off."

Yet the trip down memory lane was also "brutal" for various reasons, Aniston told Lowe, explaining, "It's nostalgic in a way that's kind of also a little melancholy. 'Cause a lot has changed and we have all gone down different roads, some easy and some not so easy for each of us."

While they were making Friends, Perry kept the direst details of his condition to himself, not only to save face or because he was in denial, but because he didn't want to screw it up for everyone else.

"I was the injured penguin," he wrote, "but I was determined to not let these wonderful people, and this show, down." Though, he added, addiction could still win the day, such as the time he dozed off on the Central Perk couch and LeBlanc nudged him awake before he missed his cue.

"Secrets kill you," Perry reflected to Sawyer last year. "Secrets kill people like me."

Getty Images / Handout

The fact that he had problems was not a secret on the Friends set. But when they worked together, "I didn't really try to intervene or confront him, because the little I knew about addiction was that his sobriety was out of my hands," Kudrow wrote. "And yet, I would have periods of wondering if I was wrong for not doing more, not doing something."

However, she was aware of how addiction could consume a person. "So," she explained, "I just focused on Matthew, who could make me laugh so hard every day, and once a week, laugh so hard I cried and couldn't breathe."

Perry was the reason they're all laughing in the fountain in Friends' opening credits, Kudrow recalled, noting that he was the one who lifted them up during that grueling nighttime shoot and continued to do so time after time.

Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Maybe it's only hindsight talking now, but there's an elegiac tone to Kudrow's foreword, though she was commenting on a life still in progress. She was obviously one of many who hoped Perry had made it to the other side of his struggles and was there to stay.

But for all the brushes with death that pockmarked the actor's 20s, 30s and 40s, no one was ready to say goodbye to him at 54.

Thinking about his legacy when his book came out, Perry said that he wanted to be remembered primarily for his efforts to help others who struggled with addiction, and writing his memoir was part of that.

"People have just loved it," he told E! News last November. "I shied away from nothing and I told the truth and the biggest thing was, the goal was, to help people and I know of a lot of people already who have been helped by it."

He also, incidentally, helped the people who loved him most understand him a bit better before it was too late.

Keep reading to see more photos of the Friends stars reuniting over the years:

Courteney Cox, Jennifer Aniston and Lisa Kudrow

"Hi from the girls across the hall," Aniston wrote on Instagram on Jan. 12, 2020.

Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox and Lisa Kudrow

The Friends ladies reunited at the SAG-AFTRA Foundation's Patron of the Artists Awards in Beverly Hills in November 2019. Cox and Kudrow presented Aniston with one of two Artists Inspiration Awards.

Matthew Perry and Courteney Cox

Monica and Chandler reunited in November 2019!

Matt LeBlanc, Courteney Cox and Jennifer Aniston

Joey, Monica and Rachel reunited for a fun night in October 2019.

Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow and Courteney Cox

"Halfway there... #girlsnight #?" Kudrow wrote in June 2019, teasing fans about a possible reboot.

Lisa Kudrow, Courteney Cox and Jennifer Aniston

The Friends ladies get together for Cox's 55th birthday dinner in June 2019.

Courteney Cox and Jennifer Aniston

In December 2018, Cox supported her friend at premiere event for her Netflix movie Dumplin'.

Courteney Cox and Jennifer Aniston

Also in June 2018, the two attended the Chanel Dinner Celebrating Our Majestic Oceans benefit for NRDC Malibu.

Courteney Cox and Jennifer Aniston

In June 2018, the two attended the American Film Institute's 46th Life Achievement Award Gala Tribute to George Clooney.

Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry

In 2016, the two onscreen roommates reunited in London, baby! LeBlanc caught up with Perry backstage after the latter star's performance in his play The End Of Longing, which marked his playwriting debut.

Biggest Friends Reunion

Lisa Kudrow, David SchwimmerCourteney CoxMatt LeBlanc and Jennifer Aniston reunited for a 2016 NBC special dedicated to Friends director James BurrowsMatthew Perry was unable to attend as he was in London to star in his play The End of Longing. He did, however, appear in a videotaped message to introduce his former cast mates.

Friends Meets The Big Bang Theory

Kaley Cuoco  was overjoyed to get a picture with the cast. She wrote on Instagram, "Ummmm NIGHT MADE. Can't breathe #friends meets #bbt @bigbangtheory_cbs I died and went to heaven."

Courteney Cox and Matt LeBlanc

The two reunited at the 2016 WGA Awards,  appearing together onstage to present an award.

Courteney Cox and Jennifer Aniston

The two attended a screening of Just Before I Go, which Cox directed, in 2015.

Matthew Perry and Lisa Kudrow

The two attended the Phoenix House's 12th annual Triumph For Teens Awards gala in Beverly Hills in 2015.

Courteney Cox and Lisa Kudrow

In 2014, Cox joined Kudrow at a premiere event for season two of the HBO series The Comeback.

Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox and Lisa Kudrow

Also in 2014, the ladies of Friends reunited on Jimmy Kimmel Live!...

Jennifer Aniston and Lisa Kudrow

...where Aniston and Kudrow competed against each other.

Matthew Perry and Courteney Cox

In 2014, Perry returned the favor and guest-starred on Cox's show Cougar Town.

Courteney Cox and Matthew Perry

In 2013, Cox guest-starred on her Friends co-star's show Go On.

Courteney Cox and Jennifer Aniston

In 2010, Aniston guest-starred on the season two premiere of her Friends co-star's show Cougar Town.