Matthew Perry's Little-Known Play Gave Insight Into His Private Struggles

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The following article includes mentions of substance abuse and addiction.

The death of Matthew Perry is one of those celebrity losses that feels especially hard to take. Apart from his unforgettable performance as Chandler Bing in "Friends," Perry was dedicated to helping individuals struggling with substance abuse issues. He was brutally candid about his own addiction to alcohol and drugs, which had almost taken his life once before.

Writing was one way in which Perry hoped to help fellow addicts find hope. His bestselling 2022 autobiography, "Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing," chronicled both his stardom and his demons. But some years earlier, the actor wrote and starred in a play that also explored the subject of addiction. "The End of Longing" follows two men and two women whose relationships develop and become more complicated over time. Perry played the character of Jack, a photographer with an alcohol and drug issue who gets involved with a wealthy escort. His goal, as he described to Playbill, was to show the audience "broken people can turn into better people. ...There's a common notion that people can't change. I disagree with that."

Creating a show so closely based on his own experiences — Perry admitted all the characters were "exaggerated version[s]" of himself — was a big risk, but one he was willing to take. The cathartic project was a part of his healing.

Matthew Perry put a lot of himself into his play

"The End of Longing" is a comedy, but it features serious topics and characters very close to Matthew Perry's heart. Jack is an unrepentant alcoholic who only seeks help when it becomes clear his life is falling apart, much as Perry did when his addiction made him seriously ill, per Us Weekly. In the most vulnerable moment of the play, Perry's Jack appears alone, giving an emotional confession to an unseen meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. It's a pretty safe bet that his speech was similar to ones Perry made to his recovery groups during his numerous stints in rehab. 

The play's other three characters have Perry-esque elements, as well. Jack's good buddy, Jeffrey, is a lovable goof who unexpectedly discovers he's having a baby with his girlfriend, Stevie. Jeffrey's bliss at becoming a dad echoes Perry's own openness about having children one day — a dream he regrettably never achieved. Stevie is the neurotic one of the group — perhaps a combo of Perry and his famous alter ego, Chandler  — and she relies on anxiety meds to get through the day. She, too, is worried she might never become a parent, but in her case, she sees her dream come true.

Jack's love interest, Stephanie, is a "high-end escort," as she bluntly describes herself (via Variety). While Perry may not literally have been a sex worker, actors often say their career makes them feel like one because of the demands made on them for the sake of their roles.

Matthew Perry's legacy will live on

After a triumphant 2016 debut in London, Matthew Perry edited his script for "The End of Longing" and moved it to New York the following year for a limited Off-Broadway run. (The theater where it was performed was just one block from the apartment building used in exterior shots of "Friends.") Sadly, it fared less well across the pond. Critics were harsh: Time Out called it "horrid," TheaterMania pronounced it "cringe-inducing," The Hollywood Reporter slammed its "lack of credible plotting," and NBC New York said it could have been a "Friends" episode called "The One That Needed Another Draft." 

But becoming a famous playwright was never the point. Matthew Perry's biggest wish was to help other substance abuse addicts turn around their lives in any way he could, and putting his experiences onstage was one way he hoped to achieve that. The actor, who ran a sober-living facility for two years, was also in the beginning process of establishing a foundation dedicated to addiction support. Per TMZ, some of his closest friends are now picking up where he left off by helping the Matthew Perry Foundation get off the ground. The organization is currently accepting donations which will go toward services for individuals affected by drug and alcohol use. This surely would have meant more to Perry than a whole shelf full of Tony Awards. 

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).