Many years ago there was one of those early internet meme things doing the rounds. You picked three TV characters you thought best represented you, mine were;
- Toby from West Wing – intelligent, with a heart in the right place covered by many layers of grump and snark.
- Chandler from Friends – smart, sarcastic, but a good friend with a true heart.
- Gordon the Gopher – the last pick and more than a little tongue in cheek.
(If I’d put more thought into this, I’d swap out Gordon the Gopher for Lorelai Gilmore because ‘attitude and coffee’).
It was, as ever with such things, a little more than just a quick/silly thing to do and my first two choices were near instant such was the strength of my identification with the characters. I’d enjoyed watching Toby interact in the world of the West Wing, his passion and virtues and single minded determination sometimes making him unpopular but always garnering respect. And Chandler, for me at least, went through the widest character arc on Friends, from the anxious, wise-cracking guy (humour as a defense mechanism, hello!) to a mature, kind, but still a bit silly and flawed adult.
It’s probably a little hard for anyone who didn’t grow up with Friends when it was first being broadcast, who doesn’t remember when the 4th channel was added to UK TV and who now has an enormous selection of media to consume, to fully grasp the impact Friends had at the time. It was what we talked about in the pub, it was what we looked forward to when a new episode was due, it was a huge part of our lives. EVERYONE watched it.
Chandler was, instantly, the character I was drawn to. Overshadowed in popularity by Joey, not as accomplished as Ross, he was an obvious comparison to how I viewed myself and his sarcasm was the icing on the cake. It’s probably telling that his lines are the ones I remember, the ones I mimic, the ones I subconsciously try and re-use.
Like Robin Williams before him, it feels particularly wrong that Matthew Perry is gone. His addictions were well documented of course and despite his fame, particularly with Friends, he wrote about hoping that his legacy was the good he tried to do for others, even if he knew it would mostly about his once-in-a-lifetime role as Chandler Bing.
I’ll admit I’m finding it a little odd just how hard his death as hit me. Like Bowie, and Kobe, their deaths struck me hard (oddly despite being a huge fan, when Prince passed I didn’t feel the same depth of sorrow, I wonder why). Like Bowie, and Kobe, Matthew will always be remembered by one name, Chandler.
His was the only character in Friends to make me cry. Particularly a recent rewatch just before our baby was born, when Chandler confesses his own insecurities about becoming a Dad, mirroring my own thoughts at the time. I didn’t doubt that I’d be a good Dad, flawed and always learning, but a good father to our child, and then Chandler said this…
“My wife’s an incredible woman. She’s loving and devoted and caring… and don’t tell her I said this, but the woman’s always right. I love my wife more than anything in this world. … And when that day finally comes, I’ll learn how to be a good dad, but my wife, she’s already there. She’s a mother without a baby.”Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry), The One with the Birth Mother.
I do wish that Becca wasn’t always right but she is, and she is a natural mother to our son.
Of course, as Chandler, I laughed more with him than any other character and I think that’s key, a lot of the jokes are against the other characters, but with Chandler (through my eyes at least) it always seemed like we were in on the joke with him. It takes a special skill to deliver performances like that, week after week, doubly so given he was fighting his addictions for several of those years on the show.
I, and no doubt many others, will go and read his memoirs and find out all the things we didn’t know and I hope that I can at least honour his memory that way, by starting to remember him more for all the other good things he did.
But I won’t ever lose sight of the goodness and joy that he brought into my life as Chanandler Bong.
R.I.P. Matthew Perry