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Matthew Perry's Tragic Death Punctuates the Life of a Superhero
The Actor's Death--Regardless of the Cause--Should Lift the Shame of Discussing Addiction
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As we collectively mourn the passing of Friends star Matthew Perry, please allow me to make the case that he was a real-life superhero.
His book, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing: A Memoir, is among the most meaningful books ever written by a celebrity.
“The big terrible thing,” of course, is addiction.
His disease predates Friends. He struggled with it for three decades. As he describes his experiences in the book, it ravaged his body, devastating his general health and bringing him face-to-face with the Grim Reaper at least once. That isn’t to say that addiction is the cause of his death—that remains undetermined as I pen this.
For me, his memoir was touching because I’d seen every episode of Friends. He also starred alongside Salma Hayek in one of my favorite films, Fools Rush In. Hearing his stories in his own voice—I “read” the audiobook, which he narrated—moved me
Forgive the predictable cliche, but he felt like a friend to me. He shared such palpable pain that I frequently found myself in tears as I listened, feeling that someone I cared for and about was suffering.
I encourage you to read the book. Buy it at your local bookstore or borrow a copy from the library. Even if you haven’t seen or appreciated his body of work, I think you’ll find the stories of his fight with addiction revealing. It will help you—as it helped me—better understand the challenges of this disease.
His life and book are helping to address another problem. His openness is paving the way for more frank conversations in more contexts—including those that may be more genuinely personal to us—about addiction.
The Centers for Disease Control counted 109,179 deaths from drug overdoses in 2022 alone. With nearly a million dead in just the last decade, few people feel untouched by the ravages of the disease.
Perry’s superpower was his relatability. Employing that as he shared the story of “the big terrible thing” gives us permission to talk about this painful topic more openly, removing more of the shame of those who suffer from it. This openness potentially allows for some better and earlier interventions, treatments and outcomes for our loved ones.
Given the number of people dying from drug addiction combined with the reach of his fame and the lasting nature of a memoir like his, he will influence millions of people, potentially helping tremendous numbers to survive and thrive through recovery.
His life—not his death—will help us better serve those who struggle. His impact may be impossible to measure, not only because of the inherent difficulty of determining who survived who otherwise might not have, but because the number of lives he may have saved and may yet deserve credit for saving could be large.
What do we call those who save lots of people? We call them superheroes. I hope that is how we’ll remember Matthew Perry.
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