November 15, 2023 // Perspective

Matthew Perry Reminds Us to Pray, Even for the Famous

“God, please help me,” Matthew Perry whispered.

“Show me that you are here. God, please help me.” In his memoir, the late actor described an encounter where he unmistakably knew God’s presence. He had been struggling with addiction. He even thought he was dying. But the peace that he received when he cried out to God “with the desperation of a drowning man” – which was tragically how he died at 54 years old on Saturday, October 28 – was something he would go back to, to stay sober, and to remember the truth of God, the truth of more.

I have no reason to believe Perry was schooled in St. Ignatius of Loyola, but like a good Ignatian student, he would return to that moment to remember the certainty of God. He had gone from hating himself to feeling “safe” and “taken care of.” He wrote, “Decades of struggling with God, and wrestling with life, and sadness, all was being washed away, like a river of pain gone into oblivion.” In years past, he had prayed for fame. For better or for worse, that prayer was answered. But now he had prayed “for the right thing: help.”

He wrote that “everything was different now. I could see color differently, angles were of a different magnitude, the walls were stronger, the ceiling higher, the trees tapping on the windows more perfect than ever, their roots connected via soul to the planet and back into me.” He described “one great connection created by an ever-loving God – and beyond, a sky, which had been before theoretically infinite was now unknowably endless. I was connected to the universe in a way I had never been.” He experienced wonderment. “Even the plants in my house, which I had never even noticed before, seemed in sharp focus, more lovely than it was possible to be, more perfect, more alive.”

Obviously, this isn’t John of the Cross. And his “Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing: A Memoir” used the f-word a fair amount, which I do not remember from “The Dark Night of the Soul.” And yet, our lives are meant to be a journey to union with God. And in his struggles, Perry seemed to have sought this. He told an interviewer, “I would like to be remembered as somebody who lived well, loved well, was a seeker,” Perry said. “And his paramount thing is that he wants to help people. That’s what I want.”

He continued in a 2022 podcast with Tom Power promoting his book: “The best thing about me, bar none, is that if somebody comes to me and says, ‘I can’t stop drinking, can you help me?’ I can say ‘yes’ and follow up and do it,” Perry said. “When I die, I don’t want ‘Friends’ to be the first thing that’s mentioned. I want that to be the first thing that’s mentioned. And I’m going to live the rest of my life proving that.” And in the days since his death, people have testified to being helped by Perry. Actor Hank Azaria, who appeared on “Friends,” posted on Instagram about how Perry accompanied him to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. “As a sober person, he was so caring and giving and wise, and he totally helped me get sober.”

As it happens, I’ve always associated Matthew Perry with heaven. I suspect he’d be pleased to know that. My introduction to the actor was not “Friends” but a somewhat silly, short-lived sitcom, “Second Chance,” where he played a teenager who was visited by his older self. St. Peter had sent him back to put his younger self on the straight and narrow. I went back and watched a half-episode after the news of Perry’s death. It wasn’t high art. But it got me praying. Back then and now.

Perry’s is not the first celebrity death that prompted an examination of conscience for me. When I was a teen, he had me thinking of God. Later, though I was not a religious watcher of “Friends,” he made me laugh on occasion. Did I ever pray for him? I don’t remember. We should never encounter anyone and not pray for them. Even on our screens. Maybe especially on our screens — we live enough of our lives on them, after all.

I’ve known enough public figures in my life to know that it can be a lonely, desperate experience, even if you’re not living the Hollywood life. Pray for the repose of the soul of Matthew Perry and the consolation of his family and friends. And remember that there is not even one of us who could not use a prayer. Desperation creeps into even the lives of those of us who have a more schooled understanding of God. It is because we are sinners that we need a savior. Savor the gifts of God more this hour and day. We’re not guaranteed another. Keep your eyes on heaven. Our second chance is now, in confession and the sacramental life.

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