Mathew Perry was 54 when he died. It happened only a few days ago and at the time of writing this article, it’s not clear exactly what happened.
We know that he drowned in a hot tub or a Jacuzzi after coming home from a two-hour game of pickleball. What we don’t know is if it was a stroke, a cardiac arrest, or some other acute medical issue that led to the drowning.
Matthew Perry was, by all accounts, an incredibly kind, thoughtful, and caring person. He was highly intelligent and extremely talented. He was also someone who had struggled for many years with substance abuse.
Medication for pain became his “substance of choice”
He had been to rehab numerous times over the years seeking treatment for his issues with alcohol and drugs. He had significant problems with opioid addiction — an enormously difficult substance to quit.
His problems began after he was given Vicodin (acetaminophen and hydrocodone) after a jet ski accident in 1997.
He attended rehab that year but after he developed pancreatitis in 2000, he was given Dilaudid (hydromorphone) and that became his “new favourite drug,” as he recalled in his 2022 memoir, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing.
He had serious health problems over the years and he came close to death several times but still, he managed to survive. Finally, he attained sobriety in 2021. He wrote a best-selling memoir. His life was getting back on track. And then, suddenly, he was gone.
Why did he turn to addiction?
It’s impossible to know what makes one person become addicted to opioids after being given the medication for pain when another person can just walk away when the prescription runs out.
It’s impossible to know why one addict is eventually able to achieve sobriety and another one fails. Addiction is a complex condition with so many moving parts.
There is the underlying personality structure; the childhood environment; the presence — if any — of early-life trauma; the stressors of adult life; the individual’s coping mechanisms, and the presence — or lack of — professional and social support. All of these factors play a role in an addict’s recovery.
I have no idea why Matthew Perry was susceptible to substance abuse. The stress of being a celebrity is enormous and many people in the public eye end up with this problem. But why him and not his co-stars? We’ll never know.
I’m sad that he spent so many years struggling with addiction and ill health. I wish that he’d had more time to just enjoy his life. I’m so sorry that he had to die alone.
A good person to the end
It’s especially sad because he was such a good person. He opened up his Malibu home in 2015 as a sober living facility. For the past several years, he let everyone around him know that he was there to help if they wanted to get sober.
He said that when he dies, he wants to be remembered for helping people stop drinking, more than he wants to be remembered for his appearance on Friends. He showed up for everyone else but he was unable, ultimately, to save himself.
Opioid addiction is a huge problem these days. Young people are being given doses of Dilaudid at parties, not having a clue about what they’re getting into. Fentanyl, a highly addictive opioid, is being mixed with all sorts of other drugs, and people don’t even realize when they’re taking it. The death rate from overdose is climbing year by year. It’s a true public health crisis — one that Matthew Perry tried his best to mitigate.
It’s tragic that this smart, talented, and generous person spent so much of his precious life fighting his demons. It’s even more tragic that when he had finally slayed them, his beaten-up body ended up giving out.
I wish his friends and family only good things from now on. I hope that some day, they find peace. I can’t imagine what they’re going through, right now.
If nothing else, I hope we can learn from Matthew about how no amount of wealth, fame, intelligence or good looks can compensate for the suffering created by alcohol and drug addiction.
I hope that we use his passing as a reminder of how short life is and how much we need to take care of ourselves and each-other.
Rest in peace, Matthew. This truly is the one in which our hearts are broken.
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