—“Hi, my name is Matthew, although you may know me by another name — my friends call me Matty. And I should be dead.”
These are the first lines of Matthew Perry’s 2022 memoir titled “Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing: A Memoir,” released just one year before his untimely death on Oct. 28.
How are we, as “Friends” fans and consumers of mass media, supposed to commemorate celebrities’ passings — especially someone as loved as Perry?
For me, the sitcom played an integral part in my adolescence. I found comfort in Chandler’s one-liners, Phoebe and Ross’ eccentricity, and Monica’s Type-A tendencies. As a middle-schooler navigating the loneliness of growing up, I felt solace when I, amongst other viewers, could laugh with these characters on TV.
I think that’s what made “Friends” so popular: the timeless and real relationships. It made me feel like they were my own.
I know death is imminent, but that doesn’t make the feelings of loss any less difficult. I didn’t know Perry personally, nor will I ever be able to relate to his off-screen struggles. Though he was fighting his own battles, Perry helped me through my growing pains, and he shouldn’t have been criticized for dealing with these struggles in the spotlight.
Because of this harsh light imposed on celebrities, many expect to know everything about those in the spotlight — even what they would like to remain in the dark.
Perry was adamant about how he wanted to be remembered. Most famously, he struggled with addiction throughout his life, and it was clear that he helped others struggling with addiction. In one example, co-star Hank Azaria revealed Perry was the one to bring him into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
Despite his fame in his role as Chandler Bing in the hit sitcom series for 10 seasons, he was first a person. Without the pedestal, all he ever wanted was to help people, whether it be through a quip in a sitcom or helping someone get sober.
When we grieve the loss of a loved one, regardless of whether it’s a family member or a celebrity, it’s integral to keep in mind how they would have wanted to be remembered. This goes for the media as well.
An obituary should just be an obituary.
The passing of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, another renowned American actor, served as a reminder to reporters that we must be hypervigilant in our approach to memorialization. There is a line to be crossed, and in Hoffman’s case, his depiction was utterly inappropriate.
Hoffman died of a drug overdose in 2014. A PBS NewsHour article released around his death reported, “Law enforcement told the Associated Press that Hoffman was found with a syringe in his arm.”
This detail, the needle in the arm, kept emerging in the stories. As such, this is further proof that people were uncomfortable with this fact.
But, like all things, the approach to celebrity death reporting is not black and white. Yet, as I see pictures, videos and comments about Perry circulating throughout social media, I have to ask myself: if Perry were my loved one, would I be satisfied with the way he’s being remembered?
The act of reporting to the masses is a public service, and remembering Phillip Seymour Hoffman as just an actor who died with a syringe in his arm or Matthew Perry as an addict is not only an injustice to them and their families but to the masses as well.
We are not our struggles. We are not the way we die. We shouldn’t be remembered as such.
As Perry so eloquently put it in his memoir, “I am enough. And that should be enough, it has always been enough.”