What Chandler Bing Taught Me About Friendship

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It was Saturday night at 8 p.m. My grad school—and forever—friend Shannon texted me. Rachel. Then a link to the news about Matthew Perry, who starred as Chandler Bing on Friends and passed away this weekend at the age of 54. We were both gutted.

Shannon and I actually met thanks to Friends. We were in one of our very first journalism masters degree classes in Boston and going around the room introducing ourselves when we discovered we had a few things in common. She jokingly piped up, “Could I BE any more excited?” (A reference to Chandler Bing’s iconic turn-of-phrase.)

Our mutual adoration for the hit show, which ran from 1994 to 2004, became the anchor of what’s turned into a nearly two-decade friendship. To this day, she jokingly calls me Rachel Green and I call her Shannandeler Bong (a variation on the name Chandler chose to snail mail his TV guide to, as revealed during The One with All the Trivia—a classic).

Our texting continued: We both felt so sad—and in the midst of an already horrific news cycle this month—again quoted Friends: “It’s like there’s rock bottom, 50 feet of crap, then [this].”

Neither of us were strangers to the complicated life that Perry endured. His long-standing battle with substance abuse was well-documented including via his memoir, Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing, penned by Perry himself that published last year at this exact same time. As Friends soared to the top of the ratings charts in the 1990s, we watched in real time—and without knowing the full picture back then—as Perry’s weight fluctuated and he disappeared from the main storyline for chunks of time. (Remember when Chandler accidentally took a job in Tulsa in season 9?)

chandler bing monica proposal

Still, we rooted for him. As Chandler, Perry made his off-screen battles hard to believe. He made us laugh. Like in the One Where No One’s Ready when he and Joey squabble over dibs on a chair, resulting in Chandler hiding Joey’s underwear and Joey wearing all his clothes. He also made us cry. The raw emotion of that proposal scene between him and Monica felt like watching the culmination of our own best friends unwittingly fall in love, then get engaged. Reruns of it still make me teary-eyed to this day.

As Perry later revealed in great detail, behind-the-scenes was a different story. He shared that after filming the episode where he marries Monica, he was immediately driven back to a treatment center at the height of his highest point on Friends. As his star status soared, Perry was going through his darkest days.

chandler bing friends cast central perk

In hindsight, what always surprised me is how the other friends—his five castmates including Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, Courteney Cox, Matt LeBlanc and David Schwimmer—banded together to support him and protect him from the media glare. Uniquely, you never saw any of them publicly splinter or give up on him during this time. As real-life celebrity friends, their loyalty to Perry was fierce. A lesson in friendship indeed.

Far from the Warner Brothers sound stage where Friends was filmed, my own efforts to develop lifelong friendships were underway. Friends was appointment TV for me through high school, then college. I regularly recorded episodes on VHS to watch on repeat later and gathered friends—old and new—to watch the show, especially the series finale, together. For better or worse, the series—and Perry—shaped my path to young adulthood.

The part that always felt aspirational to me? The deep-rooted loyalty that played between the friends on- and off-screen. I envisioned the coffee shop—Central Perk—but also the spontaneous gathering of true blue friends who would show up for me, no matter what. As a busy married working mom, it’s why I continue to prioritize my friendships wholeheartedly to this day. (I’ll be there for you, as the theme song goes.)

Perry himself recently noted how his co-stars, in particular Aniston, had kept up with him and continued to check in far beyond the series finale.

As I texted with Shannon—and several other friends from college, grad school, even work, on Saturday night—about Perry, I thought emotionally and gratefully about how Friends, Chandler included, had brought us together. It’s silly to credit pop culture, but with a show as mainstream as Friends was back in the day, it’s the truth.

The news about Perry is unbelievably sad. It’s hard to process and hard to let go of someone who pushed his demons aside and gave us so much. As Chandler, he taught me the rules of friendship—how to laugh, cry, occasionally (and with split-second timing) mock, yet unfailingly show up for your friends. I’ll always remember him for that.

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Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...