Or, a restless farewell
Back when I first started this blog, I had the idea for a post about the concerning number of times I have said or done or felt something very Chandler Bing. That I can pinpoint these words or actions or feelings as such is only thanks to Matthew Perry’s outstanding honesty in his creation of the character, which kind of destroys you even as it makes you laugh.
He was more than Chandler, as the obits have taken pains to elaborate on. But that’s what he’ll always be, first and foremost, to me and, I suspect, many others. (Lest we forget, he was also the older Zac Efron in 17 Again.)
I barely passed through the internet last weekend—preparing for a good old-fashioned Reformationstag performance of polyphonic chapel music will do that to you—and so managed to miss the news given when it hit in the US. I found out from my mom on our next phone call. She’d figured I must not have known or else she would have heard from me, and she would have.
It’s devastating because it is both sudden and not necessarily the farthest out of left field. His wellbeing always seemed the most precarious of the Friends group. I’ve been meaning to read his memoir, which came out last year, but evidently Lisa Kudrow wrote in her foreword that she was asked constantly about how he was doing, that in fact that was the single question she got most.
Perry was remarkable in that he originated a character and, with him, a whole new philosophy of confronting your insecurities and personal demons, and also forged a real-life blueprint for dealing with those insecurities and demons. His work on- and offscreen has helped and will continue to help so many people in difficult situations. Whether it was Chandler trying to quit smoking or Perry himself battling an opioid dependency, this was a man we could look to for an example of perseverance. And we still can, even though he’s no longer with us.
As for Chandler Bing (or Ms. Chanandler Bong, depending on what you’re mailing), there will never be another character like him. He was undeniably successful at…whatever he did for a living, and he was charismatic in ways that made his supposed ‘loser’ status pretty implausible, and he ultimately found a loving relationship with a level of security and commitment that he wasn’t afraid of, and he simultaneously struggled with feelings of inadequacy and unavailability and had a level of awareness of these things that no one else anywhere on TV at the time displayed. The character would be proud of the mental-health discourse we enjoy today, imperfect as it is.
Like I said of Sondheim what seems like ages ago, I understand the basic concept of human mortality. But I don’t go around anticipating people’s deaths. Nobody does. We engage in this low-level denial to sustain our fundamental executive functions. So then, when we lose someone we didn’t count on losing, or not so soon, or whatever the circumstance, it hits hard.
I never thought watching Friends would make me cry. I just have to accept that that’s what it might do for a little while. That it will feel lopsided. That I will perceive a hole, even though the cast are all there onscreen and their one-of-a-kind group chemistry remains, undiluted and undiminished.
I might still do that other post someday. But I doubt Chandler needs my nostalgic rehashes to keep the memory alive. He and his creator are just that immortal.
In memoriam Matthew Perry, 19 August 1969-28 October 2023. I’m not sure I could say what your job was, unless ‘giving people hope’ counts.
Image: you hear it, don’t you (Friends S2E17)