With the recent passing of beloved actor and sobriety activist Matthew Perry on October 28, at the age of 54, we are looking back on his 2017 Off-Broadway play, The End of Longing. The show marked Mr. Perry's playwriting debut and was an especially important project for the late actor.
The premise of The End of Longing sounds a little like the beginning of a old joke: “An alcoholic, an escort, a self-diagnosed neurotic, and a well-intentioned dimwit walk into a bar.” The play was no pure comedy, however: Mr. Perry refused to pull his punches, digging into the dark realities of neurosis and addiction within a group.
The play received its world premiere in the West End, breaking box office records at the Playhouse Theatre, before arriving Off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (produced by MCC Theater). The location was poetic, with the theatre located only one block away from the outer apartment location used on Mr. Perry's hit sitcom Friends. Read the critics' responses here.
Mr. Perry spent many years grappling with the fame foisted upon him due to his role as Chandler Bing. While the role made him a household name, the near ubiquitous attention hoisted upon the Friends cast would have been difficult for anyone to shoulder.
In his memoir, Mr. Perry was open about his lifelong struggles with addiction, having begun smoking at 10 and drinking at 14, after early in life exposure to heavy medication while still an infant. As the Friends cast was shot into the stratosphere, his stress naturally fed into those addictive coping mechanisms, which was compounded in 1997 when a jet-ski accident introduced copious amounts of Vicodin to his routine.
In The End of Longing, Mr. Perry played Jack, an alcoholic at the center of the piece. He was never shy in acknowledging the ways in which his lived experiences with addiction has colored the work. “All of the characters are a little bit of me, or an exaggerated version of me,” Mr. Perry admitted in an interview with Playbill in 2017. “I feel more vulnerable as a playwright... My words are out there, and they’re so close to my heart.”
Mr. Perry stated that he was inspired to write The End of Longing because “people can change”—specifically, that “broken people can turn into better people... I’ve experienced a lot of changes in my life and I see people change every day,” he said. “There’s a common notion that people can’t change. I disagree with that.”
While Mr. Perry had previously written material for television, he never expected to write a play. The story poured out of him organically following several stints in rehab and care centers. “I sat at my computer and started writing. I didn’t know what [was going to come out],” he said. “I realized I was writing a play, and didn’t stop until I was finished.”
For Mr. Perry, writing The End of Longing was a therapeutic process, kickstarting his public acknowledgement of his struggles with addiction. This was after years of private advocacy where he helped countless celebrities find their way to treatment.
“I was solely an actor for the first half of my life. Now writing is something that really interests me,” Mr. Perry said. “It’s about challenging yourself and doing things that are foreign. Work that makes me use my brain.” This was a piece of foreshadowing—years later in 2022, Perry released a memoir, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing.
In the end, it was the work Mr. Perry did as a sobriety activist and writer that he wanted to be remember by, rather than his generation-defining work on Friends. In an excerpt from his memoir, Mr. Perry wrote the following.
"I've had a lot of ups and downs in my life. I'm still working through it personally, but the best thing about me is that if an alcoholic or drug addict comes up to me and says, 'Will you help me?' I will always say, 'Yes, I know how to do that. I will do that for you, even if I can't always do it for myself! So I do that, whenever I can. In groups, or one on one.
"And I created the Perry House in Malibu, a sober-living facility for men. I also wrote my play The End of Longing, which is a personal message to the world, an exaggerated form of me as a drunk. I had something important to say to people like me, and to people who love people like me.
"When I die, I know people will talk about Friends, Friends, Friends. And I'm glad of that, happy l've done some solid work as an actor, as well as given people multiple chances to make fun of my struggles on the world wide web...
"But when I die, as far as my so-called accomplishments go, it would be nice if Friends were listed far behind the things I did to try to help other people.
"I know it won't happen, but it would be nice."