Goodbye, Friend

Pop Goes The World Joann Ware

In the early 1990s, my college friend, Julie Hanssen, enlisted in the U.S. A r m y . While she was in basic training, she asked me to tape her favorite show, “Friends.” This was years before DVRs and streaming services. All we had then were VCRs and VHS tapes. I agreed, even though I wasn’t a fan of the show. Just judging by the title, it seemed so generic.

It didn’t take me long to fall in love with the show. After watching the first episode, I was hooked. I certainly understood why Julie wanted me to tape the show for her. It was funny and the six leads were attractive and their characters were relatable.

There was Ross Gellar, played by David Schwimmer, a successful paleontologist who harbored a longtime crush on his sister’s best friend, Rachel. Ross’s sister, Monica, played by Courteney Cox, aspired to be a chef and kept a tidy, rent controlled apartment in New York’s Greenwich Village. Her bestie, Rachel, played by Jennifer Aniston, is introduced as a runaway bride who has been spoiled all of her life by her wealthy parents. Phoebe Buffay, played by Lisa Kudrow, was a once homeless woman who made a living as a massage therapist and has a regular gig singing and playing guitar at the gang’s hangout, Central Perk. Joey Tribbiani, played by Matthew LeBlanc, was the clueless chick magnet trying hard to make it as an actor.

Then there was Chandler Bing, played by the recently deceased Matthew Perry.

Perry’s Chandler Bing is now being heralded as the sarcastic heart of “Friends.” He did deliver his share of wicked zingers. He could have easily been the son of Dorothy Zbornak from “The Golden Girls.” They seemed cut from the same caustic cloth.

“Friends” was a winner from the starting gate, finding itself on NBC’s Thursday night lineup of “Must-See TV” that had begun a decade before with “The Cosby Show” and “Cheers.” The actors became overnight sensations. Jennifer Aniston’s “Rachel” hairdo became a requested cut at salons everywhere. The six young actors began appearing on covers of magazines and their private lives became tabloid fodder.

Though Perry had been actively pursuing a career in acting since he was a teenager, finding himself on a popular show did not lead to instant happiness and fulfillment. Perry had been experimenting with alcohol and other substances since he was a teenager. His new-found success with the show accelerated his addictions. He once admitted there were times when he didn’t remember filming entire episodes.

Perry was also very jealous that his costars did not feel the undertow of substance abuse as they rode the wave of fame. He revealed this tidbit in his 2022 book “Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing: A Memoir.”

Of all the friends on “Friends,” I related to Chandler the most. And not just because he wore a lot of sweater vests. He always had a quick rejoinder at the ready. I related to his use of humor as a defense mechanism. Though he found himself a successful “transponster,” the job title Rachel thought was his (he actually worked in statistical analysis and data reconfiguration, though he was rarely seen at work), he was often unlucky in love. Chandler’s parents split early on and he had a complicated relationship with both of them. I appreciated Chandler’s dysfunctional upbringing and his ability to succeed in spite of it. He and Monica eventually became more than friends. They slept with each other after Ross’s marriage to Emily and began a secret affair. Their relationship was eventually accepted by their fellow friends and Chandler and Monica married.

In the series finale of “Friends,” Perry reportedly asked to have the last line. The six pals were spending their final moments together in Monica’s emptied-out apartment. Rachel asked, “Should we get some coffee?” And Chandler responded, “Sure! Where?” The in-joke was that the Central Perk set had already been struck.

Though Perry’s death has been a strike against the hearts of many of my fellow Gen-Xer’s, it must be especially hard for those who knew him, who loved him, and were there for him.

Because he was there for them, too.

The News-Gazette

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