Back in 2018, Matthew Perry spent several months in a hospital, saying only at the time that he suffered a gastrointestinal perforation. Now, in a new interview with People ahead of the publication of his new memoir, the Friends star explains that during that hospital stay, he nearly died after his colon burst from opioid abuse.
Perry 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 admitted, he said, “the doctors told my family that I had a two percent chance to live.” He was hooked up to an ECMO (Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) machine, which essentially did his breathing for him, referring to the measure as “a Hail Mary. No one survives that.”
He added, “There were five people put on an ECMO machine that night, and the other four died, and I survived. So the big question is why? Why was I the one? There has to be some kind of reason.”
In his upcoming book, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing (out Nov. 1), Perry discusses this harrowing episode as well as his long struggle with alcohol and drug addiction. As he explained, his initial issues with alcohol first arose when he was cast as Chandler Bing on Friends at 24 and quickly shot to fame. Though he said could “handle it, kind of,” at first, he admitted that within 10 years, he was “really entrenched in a lot of trouble.” At one point, Perry said, he was taking 55 Vicodin a day and weighed just 128 pounds.
There were some seasons, Perry said, when he was sober, noting he was clean for all of Season Nine. “And guess which season I got nominated for best actor [at the Emmys]?” he quipped. “I was like, ‘That should tell me something.’”
Perry said his addiction and flagging health were clear to his cast mates, whom he described as “understanding” and “patient.” He continued, “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.”
Perry said he wanted to “wait until I was pretty safely sober — and away from the active disease of alcoholism and addiction” before he wrote about his experiences in his memoir (he declined to say exactly how long he’s been sober). He also credits his therapist with giving him a particularly potent piece of advice that’s helped him from using drugs again.
“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 said. “And a little window opened, and I crawled through it, and I no longer want Oxycontin anymore.”