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'Friends' co-creators tell NPR they will remember Matthew Perry for his heart

The stars of <em>Friends</em>, from left, David Schwimmer, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, Courteney Cox Arquette, Jennifer Aniston and Matt LeBlanc pose after the show won outstanding comedy series at the 54th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in 2002.
Reed Saxon
The stars of Friends, from left, David Schwimmer, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, Courteney Cox Arquette, Jennifer Aniston and Matt LeBlanc pose after the show won outstanding comedy series at the 54th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in 2002.

There has been an immense outpouring of grief – and love – for actor Matthew Perry, who died last Saturday at his home in Los Angeles.

The 54-year-old actor had skyrocketed to fame playing Chandler Bing, one part of the chosen family on NBC's Friends. Chandler was nervous, insecure and sarcastic, but above all else, he was funny.

During the audition process, Friends co-creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane say they were questioning their writing, whether the character was funny. Then Matthew Perry showed up, and they knew he was their Chandler Bing "from the moment he opened his mouth and started saying words from the script," Kauffman said.

Crane added: "Within three lines, we were just like 'Oh, thank God, this is it.'"

Kauffman and Crane spoke with All Things Considered host Juana Summers to remember their former colleague.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Interview Highlights

Juana Summers: You were also friends. You saw him up close every day for a decade. What was it about Matthew Perry that made him so beloved by so many? What was it that the two of you loved about him?

Marta Kauffman: His heart. He had a huge heart. He was just a loving guy who seemed to, you know, get along with everybody. He didn't cause relationship drama. And he was vulnerable at the same time. You know, he used his sarcasm and ability to tell jokes in real life to deflect whatever was going on that was deeper. But as time went on, he became more and more vulnerable and authentic.

David Crane: The thing that I just keep coming back to is he is really one of the funniest people I have ever worked with, I mean, as a human being, because there are a lot of actors who can kill a joke in a script, but they're not especially funny as people. And Matthew was really funny. Just, you know, one of those people who you looked forward to seeing every day.

Summers: Is there a favorite moment that either of you have of watching Matthew Perry as Chandler in the show that still really showcases the ginormous talent and humor and wit that he brought to the character?

Crane: One of my favorites is the very last line of the series he had. He had the last line of the show when they're all leaving the empty apartment and someone says, "Hey, you want to go get coffee?" And he takes the perfect pause and says, "Where?" And I can't do it like that, you know. But he absolutely made it funny and poignant. And when I think about his ability to spin even one word, that's the moment for me.

Kauffman: Look, there's so many moments that are hilariously funny. There's one of them for me – and for some reason, this moment really stuck with me because it was the character Richard, played by Tom Selleck, sharing a poem, a beautiful poem. At the end of which there is a pause. And Chandler says, "What?" And it was the perfect, perfect pause. Perfect. And the reading of the line is unbeatable.

Summers: Perry was so open about this struggles with addiction, and his book last year chronicled his attempts at recovery, the health problems he had because of opioid abuse. And one of the revelations in that book was the fact that he didn't remember filming about three years of the show. I'm wondering what that looked like from your vantage point.

Crane: How sad is that? I mean, I read that in the book and it just killed me because – even in the worst of times – he was doing amazing work and he was always funny and he was always present. And the fact that he doesn't have that memory or didn't, it was just heartbreaking.

Kauffman: And, you know, there was a short period of time where it felt like intellectually he was different. There was a period of time and everyone was very concerned. And, you know, I think that's probably one of the times he doesn't remember.

Summers: Marta, you told NBC News that when you talked to Matthew Perry a couple of weeks ago, that he was in a good place, he was playing pickleball. He quit smoking. I have to imagine that could make this more difficult and more painful.

Kauffman: It does. "Unfair" is the word that keeps coming to mind. You know, he was in a good place, and it felt solid to him. I got the sense that he didn't feel like he was on precarious ground. He seemed happy, healthy and found that being of service, helping other addicts and alcoholics gave him a new purpose. He's said this, that he hopes that when he dies, it's not going to be Friends, Friends, Friends, but he hopes it's about that he tried to help people.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Gabriel J. Sánchez
Gabriel J. Sánchez is a producer for NPR's All Things Considered. Sánchez identifies stories, books guests, and produces what you hear on air. Sánchez also directs All Things Considered on Saturdays and Sundays.