Appreciation: As Chandler Bing, Matthew Perry was a friend when I needed him most

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On the day that Matthew Perry died, it was inevitable that I, like so many others, would turn to him to help process the heartache. I reached for the remote to turn on my TV, and quickly tapped on “Friends” in the “Continue Watching” tab.

As the cause of Perry’s death became a focal point for news outlets in the minutes and hours after news of his passing spread, I only wanted to be reminded of how he’ll live on: as Chandler Bing, the sarcastic but lovable friend who made me laugh when I needed it the most, when I was growing up and now as I'm trying to process his passing.

The One With the Blackout,” the seventh episode from the first season and the first to open my eyes to Perry’s brilliance as Chandler, was the obvious first choice in the soothing mission. When a city-wide power outage hits and the rest of the gang gathers at Monica’s apartment, Chandler is superbly on his own, trapped in an ATM vestibule with Jill Goodacre, who at the time was a high-profile Victoria's Secret model. His sarcastic and witty neurosis, much of it swirling as an inner monologue, shines brightly against the episode’s dim lighting.

“Oh my God, I am trapped in an ATM vestibule with Jill Goodacre. … Is it a vestibule? Maybe it’s an atrium. Oh yeah, that is the part to focus on, you idiot.”

When Jill offers Chandler her cellphone to make a call, Chandler’s attempt to boast about his perfect blackout scenario allows Perry to display so much restrained greatness in what would become his signature on the show: well-timed and incredible use of physical comedy. The way he stretches back his jaw muscles, his lips yanked down and nearly meeting his neck, so he can discreetly relay his news in a muffled voice — getting frustratingly nowhere with Monica but successful once his hare-brained bestie Joey is on the phone — is a master class in getting a big laugh out of a controlled and understated comedic performance.

I can never be offered a piece of gum without first saying, “Gum would be perfection.” Only Matthew Perry as Chandler Bing could make a line like that so indelible.

Perry, 54, was found dead Saturday at his Los Angeles home, but he will live on for me in that ATM vestibule. Or lying in the big wood box at Thanksgiving, in a bid to earn Joey’s forgiveness after kissing Kathy, a woman they both date. Or crouched in the apartment hallway, scooping up globs of spilled cheesecake with Rachel. Perry's death feels deeply personal for so many of us, not because we’ve lost an actor from our favorite show but because we’ve lost someone who made difficult times easier and helped us forget our problems for a bit by making us laugh. He did it all while battling demons that tormented him.

Read more: 'Friends' star Matthew Perry dead at 54, found in hot tub at L.A. home

I’ve rewatched the sitcom every year since the streaming era made it an effortless and flexible routine — first when all 236 episodes were made available on Netflix and, now, on Max, where it's been available since 2020. The impact “Friends” had on me, and my generation, after it debuted in 1994 has been well documented. I was in fourth grade when it premiered and wasted little time eagerly flipping through TV Guide, yanking out the black-and-white page with the promo photo advertising its launch and taping it to my bubble-gum-pink wall, where it would eventually be joined by other magazine tearouts of the cast and official “Friends” posters.

Whether Chandler was your favorite character or not, it was hard not to see how Perry stole the show and made an ordinary dude, whose supply of sardonic wit was matched by his stockpile of sweater vests and khaki pants, into such a special and endearing character. No other character on the show came close to offering the complexities of Chandler Bing. Perry managed to perfectly portray Chandler’s anxiety and insecurities, leaving us with a character who was relatable and hilarious, and oh so comforting,

And he came into my living room and became my funny friend just as my father’s alcoholism was showing the power of its unrelenting grip. The details of my childhood are less important here than what I keep coming back to when I think about Perry: how he made me feel. More than anything, as Chandler, he made me happy. For 30 minutes each Thursday, any sadness and worry that I bottled up as a young girl didn’t stand a chance against Chandler Bing and his one-liners.

Read more: Appreciation: Matthew Perry was easy to love. And it went deeper than his acting

During its run, it was hard to find a magazine without one of the stars on its cover or a newsmagazine show that didn’t feature some segment about their personal lives, good or bad. I don’t remember how I first learned of Perry’s addiction troubles as a kid, but I do remember feeling stunned by the news and I struggled to grasp how addiction is a devastating disease that can affect people from all walks of life, no matter how rich and famous. And I would follow his story, and his shifting appearance onscreen, in the years that followed.

His passing affects me so deeply because he felt so familiar to me — and so did his struggles. Though the cause of his death remains unknown, he spent half his life trying to get sober. I've spent more than half of my life loving others who struggled with addiction and feeling powerless to its devastation. I'll never fully comprehend how hard he was fighting to win the same battle I knew only from afar, but I know intimately how desperately his close friends and family must have wished they could help him, this struggling human who brought so much joy to people, escape the cycle of abuse.

Read more: Matthew Perry starred in a hit show. But for those fighting addiction, his greatest legacy is his memoir

And it's bittersweet to know that now, as I watch “The One Where No One’s Ready,” a classic episode from Season 3 that remains one of my all-time favorites, Perry's not here because he remains so alive onscreen. The episode takes place almost entirely in Monica and Rachel’s apartment as an impatient Ross attempts to wrangle the gang to get ready on time to attend an event for his museum. It sets up a perfect scenario for Chandler’s distinctive brand of humor to thrive. With the clock ticking, Chandler and Joey get into a tiff over who has dibs on the living room’s loveseat, which results in a petty and childlike battle of control between the two that includes removing the cushions (“The cushions are the essence of the chair!” Chandler says), stealing underwear and holding a hand in front of the other’s face. At one point, Chandler mounts Joey as he sits in the chair: “All right, fine. You know what? We’ll both sit in the chair.” But it’s Chandler’s reaction to Joey wearing all his clothes but not wearing any underwear that stands the test of time, and the dialogue is forever committed to memory.

“OK, buddy boy, here it is. You hide my clothes, I’m wearing everything you own,” Joey says.

“Oh my God! That is so not the opposite of taking somebody’s underwear!”

"Look at me I'm Chandler! Could I BE wearing any more clothes??" Joey says, before announcing he’s going commando. 

The horrified groan Chandler lets out is among the most hilarious moments in the whole series. Even Chandler’s aside to Phoebe, earlier in the episode, about his confusion over the fact that Donald Duck never wore pants but always puts a towel around his waist whenever he’s getting out of the shower, speaks to how, even with a stellar ensemble cast, without Perry, the series would not have been as fun as it was.

Perry knew he’d be best remembered for “Friends." But I hope he also knew he’d be remembered as our friend.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.