Matthew Perry: ‘doctors told my family that I had a 2 percent chance to live’

Matthew Perry has a memoir coming out November 1st. I was intrigued when I heard the announcement because I think Matthew’s a smart guy and I like his humor, so I think he’d be a good writer. And, he has a story to tell, being raised privileged (he grew up with Justin Trudeau), he’d hoped to be a pro tennis player, his enormous fame with Friends, his crippling addiction to opioids, his sketchy romantic life and his near-death experience after suffering from a GI perforation. Only now, in his memoir, we learned the perforation was a burst colon due to an overuse of Oxycontin. He spent two weeks in a coma, five months in the hospital and nine months with a colostomy bag. When he entered the hospital, the doctors told his family Matthew had a 2% chance to live. But he survived to write about it.

Matthew Perry is ready to share the truth about his life.

The Friends star, 53, beloved for his portrayal of Chandler Bing on the hit TV series, has written a heartbreakingly beautiful memoir, Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing (available Nov. 1), detailing his journey — one filled with incredible highs and shattering lows.

“I wanted to share when I was safe from going into the dark side of everything again,” he tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s cover story. “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. And the main thing was, I was pretty certain that it would help people.”

Perry opens his memoir with the revelation that he almost died a few years ago at age 49.
Publicly acknowledging at the time that he suffered from a gastrointestinal perforation, the actor had actually spent weeks fighting for his life after his colon burst from opioid overuse. He spent two weeks in a coma and five months in the hospital and had to use a colostomy bag for nine months.

When he was first admitted to the hospital, “the doctors told my family that I had a 2 percent chance to live,” he recalls. “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.”

Candid about his relapses — he has been to rehab 15 times over the years — Perry has become well-versed on the tools necessary to maintain sobriety. “I’m pretty healthy now,” he says, before joking, “I’ve got to not go to the gym much more, because I don’t want to only be able to play superheroes. But no, I’m a pretty healthy guy right now.”

While he prefers not to disclose how long he’s currently been sober, he does still count each day. “It’s important, but if you lose your sobriety, it doesn’t mean you lose all that time and education,” he says. “Your sober date changes, but that’s all that changes. You know everything you knew before, as long as you were able to fight your way back without dying, you learn a lot.”

He also has his scars: He’s had 14 surgeries on his stomach so far. “That’s a lot of reminders to stay sober,” he says. “All I have to do is look down.”

His impetus to stop taking drugs? “My therapist said, ‘The next time you think about taking Oxycontin, just think about having a colostomy bag for the rest of your life,'” Perry recalls. “And a little window opened and I crawled through it and I no longer want Oxycontin anymore.”

[From People]

Matthew wrote in the book, “if I did die, it would shock people, but it wouldn’t surprise anybody.” There were seasons of Friends that Matthew didn’t look well and you knew something was off. Following his admission of an Oxy addiction, speculation followed him every time his look changed. I always took his word for it when he said he was sober. But going to rehab 15 times tells me he struggled a lot more than I knew. I also didn’t realize alcohol was such a big part of his addiction, but it predates his issue with opioids. He was starting to have a dependency on booze when he started Friends.

The night Matthew went to the hospital and was put on the ECMO machine, he said five people were put on ECMO machines that night, but he was the only one who lived. He sees that as his call to help others. We know that Matthew turned one of his homes into a recovery house for addicts and has mentored addicts as well. He clearly wants to beat this demon and I believe he wants to help others beat it. I hope he’s really has gotten there this time.

People added this at the end of their article so I will include it too: If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, please contact the SAMHSA helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.

Photo credit: People and Instagram

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57 Responses to “Matthew Perry: ‘doctors told my family that I had a 2 percent chance to live’”

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  1. Becks1 says:

    How horrifying for him. For some reason I thought his substance abuse issues had long been over, but clearly not. I’m glad he’s okay now. 15 relapses! I can only imagine how hard it is to stay sober in Hollywood, especially when working on a show like Friends, with the popularity, the long hours, etc. I’m looking forward to reading his memoir and for him to tell his own story.

    • whatWHAT? says:

      yeah, 15 times got me too. I had no idea it was that many.

      another article I read about this said that, at the height of his addiction he was taking 55 pills a day. 55! that’s crazy. I’m so glad he’s getting better.

    • ShazBot says:

      It’s such a good example of how you really have no idea what is going on in peoples lives, and we should be kind and compassionate.

  2. SAS says:

    I mean, as someone (much younger than him) living very happily with an ostomy bag, I’m crushed to see it used as a fate worse than death and dreading the cycle of headlines and ensuing discourse that says as much.

    So I’m not going to read it for that reason, but I greatly admire everyone fighting a battle with addiction and am glad he’s being so open about it. I hope the book is a great success for him with his healing and possibly helping others out there too.

    • Chaine says:

      Thank you for making this point. There is a lot of positive conversation and portrayal by younger people now on social media that normalizes using an ostomy bag and shows what it is like in everyday life. But before I started coming across these TikToks, I was completely ignorant about it and had basically the same view as Matthew Perry expresses. It’s unfortunate that he is taking this backwards and I guess ableist.

    • Ornamental says:

      Thank you for sharing this and for making this point! My mom also has had an ostomy bag for many years, and I was really disappointed in the way it was framed here, too. People DO learn to live – and even thrive – with all sorts of challenges. …One might think HE would be a bit more in touch with that perspective by now, but perhaps he still has a way to go. Also, given all the persistent struggles he’s faced, and the fact that addiction is an insidious beast, it makes me nervous to hear someone in his particular situation refer to themselves as ‘safely’ sober. Hope he’s right, though.
      …Also, YOU take care, because you’re an admirable tough cookie, yourself!

  3. Janey says:

    I’m going to order but as someone who is currently four days sober from alcohol (this time) I’m probably not going to read it yet.

    Good for him though.

    • Mabs A'Mabbin says:

      Congratulations! You can do this. One day at a time.

    • Roop says:

      Sending you a huge hug of congrats (from a stranger over the internet) on your four days of sobriety! That’s amazing!!! You can do this!

    • lucy2 says:

      Congrats Janey, wish you the best.

    • Louise says:

      I’m at 13 weeks tomorrow. We got this, Janey.

    • Betsy says:

      You got this, Janey (and Louise!). Think of how many people like me and lucy2 and Roop and Mabs A’Mabbin are out here cheering you all on and wishing you the best.

    • Becks1 says:

      You’ve got this, Janey and Louise!! You are doing great!

    • whatWHAT? says:

      Great job! To you, too, Louise.

      you BOTH got this.

    • SarahEC says:

      Sending good vibes to you and everyone else on that journey!!!

    • mia girl says:

      Keep it going Janey and Louise!
      One day at a time! 💪🏼

    • molly says:

      Good luck to you both! You’re doing great! Keep it up!!

    • Wednesday Addams says:

      I am 15 months sober, but sometimes it feels like 4 days. You can do this.

    • Tursitops says:

      Every day you can be a better version of yourself than the day before. It’s okay to stumble, because you can reset the next day.

      • Sas says:

        Six years four months sober. Just remember: Progress, not perfection. It is okay to slip up or relapse. Don’t give up.

    • DK says:

      Congrats to Janey, Louise, Wednesday Addams and all of you on this journey!
      Sending you strength – while admiring the strength you’re already showing, everyday!

    • guilty pleasures says:

      Hey all you sober peeps Well done, I am a dozen years in now, one day at a time. Reach out, connect, let’s do this!! it’s a good life!!

    • Sasha says:

      I know a great, and gentle online meeting, that yes, is AA, but a really really lovely one where there is unconditional support. I don’t go to regular meetings because they are too harsh. But this one changed my view and helped me on my journey. It’s called meditate at 8 and it’s on the listing for Vancouver BC meetings/directory (Google find a meeting Vancouver)

  4. Tarte au Citron says:

    Always liked Matthew Perry, I only want good things for him <3

  5. mellie says:

    My favorite Friend….you can definitely see his fluctuations throughout the show, it’s so sad, I can’t imagine how he kept going. I really hope he is doing well.

  6. Susan says:

    This is going to be an odd comment, but I am always blown away at the ability of some people to be riddled with addiction and or illness and still…put on such a good show. They have such talent to fake it? I don’t know how to word this. Like even when he was apparently at his worst, skinny, didn’t look healthy on the show…he was still a great team player. He hit his marks, he was funny, he had incredible timing. I am sober now, but when I wasn’t….well let’s just say I didn’t “hit my marks” and leave people wondering if I was ok (I wasn’t, and it was clear). I was barely functioning. Does anyone else understand what I am saying?

    • SAS says:

      Totally @Susan. The resilience of people in the midst of addiction is truly staggering. Sure, there’s a spectrum of “hitting your marks” to “barely functioning”, but the fact you’re just surviving given how overwhelming it all is, is really something. To be fair, there are certainly a lot of enablers and people propping up the A-listers at their worst that you never had!

    • Eleonor says:

      I don’t know a lot about addiction, so take this with a grain of salt: it’s possible there’s also “I can’t work without drugs” factor, and as long as he was performing nobody wanted to see the truth.

    • lucy2 says:

      I didn’t even think of that, but you’re right. Other than the weight changes, it was never obvious that he was struggling with addiction, he was always so good on the show.
      I really feel for him, he’s been fighting this for so long, and it’s really been brutal, it seems. I wish him the best, I hope he continues his recovery and has good health ahead of him.

    • Lizzie Bathory says:

      I just watched an episode of Dark Side of Comedy about Artie Lang. For decades, he was severely addicted to many substances. (Apparently at one point, his drug dealer recommended he switch from pain pills to heroin because it would be better for his liver.) He still managed to shoot TV shows, do standup & appear on Howard Stern’s show for 11 years, though he wasn’t always functional at that point.

      I think with some people it’s built-up tolerance, plus just the stamina required to have made it in that industry in the first place.

    • Lionel says:

      @Susan, Yes! It’s remarkable, isn’t it? On the Friends reunion show MP said something about the nearly crippling anxiety he felt every single time he had to deliver a line. And you could see his castmates’ shock and sorrow in their silence, as they realized that he’d been struggling during their entire working relationship and yet they’d never known,

      • Irish Eyes says:

        Yes the whole Friends reunion to me was so sad, probably the opposite of what was intended. But that admission from Matthew Perry stayed with me, it was shocking to hear him say it – to me he was excellent in his role, to hear that he was continually struggling was awful. Plus, his castmates’ shock was real, which made the whole situation even sadder. They were so close yet he never felt he could disclose how he truly felt inside. His pain was real, how sad that to him his only option was relying on drugs and alcohol.

  7. mia girl says:

    Addiction is insidious and it’s so sad to think about his struggles. He really had so much talent and potential that was thwarted by his addictions. Perry had such great comedic timing and delivery. I still enjoy that B level rom-com he made with Salma Hayek. He’s so charming and funny in it!

  8. Steph says:

    My sister was on an ECMO. That shit is terrifying. This was about a year before COVID lockdown, almost to the day. She started with a cold. Why to urgent care and got a zpak. Did not improve. Ended up in the ER with a fever of 105. Got admitted, did not improve. Her lines started failing, they intubated her. Her lungs continued to fail. We get av call about 6am from the drs telling us there is only one option, the ECMO. Even my mom, a nurse, wasn’t really familiar with it. But they said it was hey only option so we said do it. We get to the hospital, there’s a massive trail of bloody footprints leading to her room with about 20 drs in it and about 10 emergency staff members right outside. Keeping it together at that moment for my mother’s sake was the hardest act of self control I’ve ever had to do. The reason for all the blood is because a huge tube (think about the diameter of a fat man’s thumb) goes into the jugular and another one goes into the femural artery. That’s also why there was so much emergency staff, fuck up on either and the patient could bleed out in minutes. So a Dr takes us aside and tells us how the machine works (it does the gas exchange that your lungs are supposed to be going. O2 in, CO2 out). He tells us, no one who needs the machine for more than two weeks survives. So he put a timer on my sister’s life. And everyday that day for closer and she didn’t improve. I cannot tell you the stress. Plus, on top of that, mom ended getting pneumonia and admitted. So I’m running up and down between the two rooms and I ended up sick too. I think we got sick from spending so much time in the cticu. Anyway, it took my sister a month but she made a full recovery.

    • mia girl says:

      Holy sh*t @Steph… that does sound truly terrifying. So glad your sister made it through and that you and your mom are ok too.

      Take care of yourselves, those experiences are traumatic and the ptsd is real.

    • Nuks says:

      Jesus hell. That sounds so traumatic, I am so sorry you and your family had to go through that. But thank you for putting those details down here, as it really helps me understand beyond an acronym what was really going on for people who have to experience this. I hope your family is well now.

    • QuiteContrary says:

      As someone who lost a sister to cancer, I’m thrilled that your sister survived. Sisters are irreplaceable.

    • Janey says:

      that sounds truly terrifying, I’m so glad everyone is ok.

      also “about the diameter of a fat man’s thumb” is my favourite unit of measurement and I’m going to steal it.

    • AnneL says:

      Oh wow, I am so sorry. What an ordeal. I’m so glad to hear she’s OK.

  9. Julia K says:

    Opiods cause constipation because they are CNS depressants which slows everything down including the rectal sphincter . This kind of constipation does not respond to the everyday over the counter laxatives. If left untreated, the stool in the bowel takes on the consistency of cement, which is why he ended up in big trouble and a colostomy. Whenever an opioid is prescribed, bowel care should be advised and followed up. This happened to a family friend who got into this problem after only 10 days on post up pain pills.

    • Lizzie Bathory says:

      Yes. My ex-boyfriend was in a serious car accident & was on pain pills while he recovered, but fortunately, he was also given prescription laxatives to counteract the opioids. Lots of people don’t know until they’ve experienced it.

    • Mel says:

      When I had my surgery earlier this year, I had an opiod hybrid prescribed for pain and they did tell me to use laxatives if I used them. I had no idea that this is the reason.

  10. Kirsten says:

    I know that for a long time it’s been commonplace, but we should stop talking about addictions as demons. This gives it a moral component, which means that use and relapse can be judged as moral failures. They aren’t, and this is actually something that keeps people from getting the help that they need.

  11. HeyKay says:

    Thank you for your post.
    I have been thru a similar event with a loved one, it always helps to hear that someone else shares the experience, to know others have gone thru it too.

    Matthew Perry is so talented. I wish him well in his future.
    His sharing his story will certainly help others.
    Bring things into the open, if you need help, please get help. I don’t care how many times a person goes to rehab. Keep going every time you feel you need to!

  12. Yup, Me says:

    I love that he’s made one of his homes a recovery space for others and I wish him well in his own recovery and continued healing.

    The comments threads always have so much valuable information from posters and I deeply appreciate that.

    All that said – I do not like what seems to be an emerging H-wood photo trend of making fair skinned people look darker than their complexion. I’m not sure what’s going on but it suddenly looks like celebrity mag images were taken immediately after their return from Burning Man (and before they’ve bathed). It’s this dusty, dim, orangeish effect. Like they’ve all used JLo levels of bronzer. Not a fan.

  13. QuiteContrary says:

    I also liked the Matthew Perry romcom “Fools Rush In.” Always have had a soft spot for him, and wish him all good things.

  14. Chaine says:

    I hope his recovery sticks this time. He still looks awful, you can tell his physical health is still precarious. Can’t believe he is only 53.

    • brubs says:

      was this comment necessary?

      • Jenn says:

        @brubs—although it is not how I would’ve worded it, I do think Chaine is coming from a place of genuine concern. But when it comes to measuring health, appearances are of limited value, yes.

        @Chaine, the photos of him modeling t-shirts seem to be from earlier in his recovery AND retouched in a weird way—in candid instagram shots he appears healthy, normal, and 53.

  15. MJM says:

    I like Matthew and send him much love as he works to stay sober and healthy.

  16. AmyB says:

    I am happy to hear Perry lived to tell his story! Addiction is so hard, and insidious. My ex-husband also struggled for decades with drug/alcohol addiction. It is horrendous and addicts are very adept at lying and deceiving those around them. It’s all part of the disease.

    I remember when they had the Friends reunion, people were commenting about Matthew’s appearance, speech. Hearing what he went through, it makes sense.

    I wish him all the best in the world in his recovery xoxo

    And to the other commentators here who talked about their journey!

  17. AJ says:

    My nephew was placed on an ECMO machine after he had a cardiac arrest at 5 years old. Its terrifying to see a loved one on this machine. He was also given a 2% chance at survival but he pulled through too. I had no idea Matthew was that ill. He has always been my favourite Friend so I look forward to reading this!