As someone who has grown up around celebrity culture (my mum worked in the music industry when I was younger and was a big Whitney fan), and she would always have copies of the National Enquirer magazine and other similar publications sitting on the kitchen table.
Television wise, I grew up watching Friends. I found it relatable because growing up in Cape Town we lived in a large apartment block called ‘The Palms.’ I don’t remember much, except everyone that lived there were really close and it was like an extended family. So I remember watching Friends for the first time and how it reminded me of home.
Over the years, there would be a certain buzz around the characters, such as Rachel’s haircut for example, and you felt like these strangers were a part of your life.
As an adult and especially during lockdown, Friends became therapy. The show that you would switch on when you needed a laugh or to take the edge off a hard day. My anxiety toolkit would always consist of an episode of Friends alongside other tools and modalities. My daughter watched Friends for the first time during lockdown 1.0 and I soon realised that the reason that she kept asking to watch an episode every day was because it was a form of escapism for her too.
Then in February 2021, while in the middle of another lockdown, I downloaded countless episodes of Friends onto my phone in preparation for a week in hospital where I was going to be induced. I knew that it was going to be a lonely period for me and Friends was the one show that would lift my spirits.
So, to say that hearing about the death of Matthew Perry was devastating would be an understatement. I was just winding down for bed at around 1am after watching my beloved Springboks win the rugby World Cup. For some reason I thought that I would quickly check my X (formally Twitter) newsfeed, and I was shocked when the breaking news was that Matthew Perry had died. I was so tired that I thought I was seeing things, so I found myself googling 5 or 6 news sites before realising that it was actually true.
I was completely floored, and still am. How could Chandler be dead? The funny, down-to-earth guy who pulled me out of so many dark and difficult times. Ross and Chandler were my favourite characters and I would often watch the infamous “Pivot, pivot” scene when I needed to laugh. It is often said that people with anxiety watch the same thing over and over again as the brain processes it easier than it would something new, and it makes them feel safe. I can relate to this so much, so in losing Matthew Perry a part of me has lost some form of safety.
I’ll be honest, this is the first time that a death of a celebrity has affected me so deeply. I cried for a whole week, anytime anyone shared a Chandler meme online, or a quote. Many of my friends, especially those with anxiety and depression, felt extremely moved by his death too. I have honestly never seen such an outpouring of grief for a celebrity before, and that is a testament to how much we loved him. Perhaps it’s down to his vulnerability in character and in real-life. We all knew about his addictions and low self-esteem, yet he showed up on set every day to make us smile and laugh. He was our rock, our escape. We were rooting for Chandler and we were rooting even more for Matthew.
I’m happy that Matthew had the opportunity to share his story, in his own words, with the publication of his memoir, ‘Friends, Lovers And The Big Terrible Thing.’ I listened to the audio version earlier this year and my heart broke when he spoke about all the challenges that he had faced. Please take the time to read or listen to it if you get the chance.
I don’t know when I’ll be ready to watch Friends again. At the moment it still feels very raw, but I’m easing myself in by watching short clips online.
Has a celebrity death affected you in this way before?