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Image / Culture

Fame: The most dangerous drug?


By Amanda Cassidy
29th Oct 2022
Fame: The most dangerous drug?

The culture-changing sitcom Friends was the backdrop to my teenage years. But as we laughed along with our favourite characters and drooled over Aniston’s hair, none of us were aware of the demons the seemingly light-hearted character Chandler Bing was suffering.

In fact, nobody knew just how bad things were for the actor, until now.

The opening words of Friends actor Matthew Perry’s tell all memoir about his battle with addiction starts with a harrowing statement.

“Hi, my name is Matthew, although you may know me by another name. My friends call me Matty. And I should be dead.’

Friends, lovers and the Big Terrible Thing is released on Tuesday, but the revelations contained in the book have been doing the interview rounds. And the 53 year old isn’t holding back.

Perry describes taking his first pill after a jet ski incident left him in pain, saying it “was like warm honey entering my veins.” He also admits that his addictions were so severe he would go to open houses just to steal drugs from people’s medicine cabinets. He’s also revealed that Jennifer Aniston was one of his most supportive co-stars and that you can chart his drug-use from how slim he is during filming.

Perry is stoically honest, but you can tell the toll his addictions have had on him over the decades. He’s reported to have spent 9 million dollars on getting clean, been in rehab 15 times and almost lost his life on numerous occasions. He was forced to use a colostomy bad for 9 months after his colon burst from drug-use.

He fell into a coma; His family were told he had a 2 percent chance of survival. He spent five months in the hospital and nine months with a colostomy bag and endured countless surgeries, a harrowing ordeal that is recounted in great detail. On page 11, readers become familiar with the contents of Perry’s gastrointestinal tract.

In all, it’s a harrowing story that Perry himself blames on catapulting to fame. Perry was 24 when he landed the role and described himself as “just a guy desperate for fame, thinking that fame would fix everything. I thought [‘Friends’] was going to fix everything. It didn’t.”

However, the Massachusetts native maintained that he would give up all of his fame and fortune to be free of addiction. “The fact that I would trade it all to not have this disease is true.”

Author Donna Rockwell, wrote about the phenomena of fame in her words Ready for the Close-up: Celebrity Experience and the Phenomenology of Fame. She says that developmentally, the celebrity often goes through a process of first loving, then hating fame; addiction; acceptance; and then adaptation (both positive and negative) to the fame experience.

“Becoming a celebrity alters the person’s being-in-the-world. Once fame hits, with its growing sense of isolation, mistrust, and lack of personal privacy, the person develops a kind of character-splitting between the “celebrity self” and the “authentic self.””

Rockwell describes it as a survival technique in the hyperkinetic and heady atmosphere associated with celebrity life.

Fear

The anxiety that comes with extreme fame can be a guilded cage. You slowly stop relating to others, mainly because you don’t have to. You are special now.

That’s why drugs and alcohol is often used as a shield to dissociate from the crippling and unnatural self-consciousness of always being watched and being wanted.

In fact, some have even described experiencing fame as a form of trauma. It’s the loss of being able to just ‘be,’ not to constantly have something demanded of them – a selfie, an autograph, a favour. It’s unnatural. It’s the loss of the ability to be unselfconscious. That constant awareness of oneself can imaginably be exhausting. Perhaps drugs and alcohol is a way to switch that off. To become slightly oblivious in a world where you are constantly being watched, commented upon.

One can imagine the feeling of always being wanted and the twin fear of someday not being wanted must be a difficult beast to wrestle. To be on a pedestal means you risk a more difficult demise if you fall or are pushed off. That’s the trap of fame, I suppose.

Of course, who is to say that Perry or other with addiction problems may have gone on to experience such issues even if they didn’t become famous. But he himself attributes the feeling of blocking things out as the reason he ended up taking 55 Vicodin a day. It’s an honest, heartbreaking description of life in the spotlight.

The 250-page book is being released early next week.