The actor is getting candid about his struggles in his new memoir.
Matthew Perry shot to fame playing the lovable goofball Chandler Bing on Friends — but behind the scenes, the actor’s life was far from easygoing. For much of filming, Perry struggled with alcohol addiction, and later, opioid addiction. He is opening up about some of the darker times in his life in his new memoir, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, out Nov. 1.
Perry, 53, has struggled with addiction since a jet ski accident in 1997 and entered rehab for the first time that same year. He has also long been open about his road to recovery, telling The New York Times in 2002, “I didn’t get sober because I felt like it. I got sober because I was worried I was going to die the next day.” In 2000, Perry was hospitalized for alcohol-related pancreatitis, and the following year, while filming the rom-com Serving Sara, production paused for two months so he could seek help. He also credits his Friends costars for being supportive and protective of him during some of his more difficult moments: “It’s like penguins. Penguins, in nature, when one is sick, or when one is very injured, the other penguins surround it and prop it up. They walk around it until that penguin can walk on its own. That’s kind of what the cast did for me.” They’re his penguins.
On Wednesday, Perry sat down with PEOPLE to talk about what drove him to write his memoir — and the terrifying near-death experience he had a few years ago that played a role. When he was 49, Perry revealed that he had suffered a gastrointestinal perforation, but he had actually suffered a burst colon due to opioid overuse and was fighting for his life because of it. He writes in the memoir that he was in a coma for two weeks, in the hospital for five months, and had to use a colostomy bag for nine months.
“The doctors told my family that I had a 2 percent chance to live,” he old PEOPLE. “I was put on a thing called an ECMO machine, which does all the breathing for your heart and your lungs. And that’s called a Hail Mary. No one survives that.”
The same day, four other people were put on an ECMO machine — and only he survived. His miraculous recovery caused a shift in mindset and inspired him to come forward with his story to try to help others who are struggling with addiction. “Why was I the one? There has to be some kind of reason,” he wondered.
Perry also credits a comment his therapist made as the push that got him to stop taking opioids. “My therapist said, ‘The next time you think about taking Oxycontin, just think about having a colostomy bag for the rest of your life.’ And a little window opened and I crawled through it and I no longer want Oxycontin anymore.” The scars from his stomach surgeries — he’s had 14 over the years — also remind him of the importance of sobriety.
As for why he’s finally coming forward? “I wanted to share when I was safe from going into the dark side of everything again,” he told PEOPLE of his decision to bare it all. “I had to wait until I was pretty safely sober — and away from the active disease of alcoholism and addiction — to write it all down.” Mainly, though, he says he was sure his story would help people.
Although Perry has been open about his struggles throughout the years, he tells PEOPLE that those who read the memoir will be surprised “at how bad it got at certain times and how close to dying I came.”
While he didn’t share how long he’s been sober, he did say that he counts each day and his sobriety is extremely important, telling PEOPLE, “everything starts with sobriety. Because if you don’t have sobriety, you’re going to lose everything that you put in front of it.”
While the book may contain some shocking revelations that may be hard for some fans to read, Perry says that overall, the book is “filled with hope — because here I am.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, please contact the SAMHSA helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.