“Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”
— Edmund Gwenn

Last night, a huddle of stand-up comics were standing outside a comedy store somewhere in the rain when they got the sad news.

Matthew Perry — the funniest, saddest, tortured, gifted young actor who played Chandler Bing on the very popular comedy series “Friends” that we were addicted to in the ’90s — was found dead in a hot tub. He was 54.

This column is partly his obit, partly a goodbye letter from one standup to another.

For my age group, it kind of started with Lenny Bruce (Leonard Alfred Schneider), the first counter-culture comic, who died at age 40 of an overdose of morphine. His picture hung in every comic’s kitchen.

There was John Belushi, another gifted comic actor and the star of the early Saturday Night Live, considered to be the best years of that show. John was so much more than just a stand-up personality. He was a gifted actor, but like Perry, a deeply addicted human.


I was walking to get the Sunday Los Angeles Times at a newsstand when I saw a white van on the driveway of the Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard. They were bringing out a stretcher; while loading aboard, one pale arm dropped from under the sheet.

I found out later that it was John, dead of a massive overdose.

Chris Farley of SNL died of a drug overdose at 33. Do you remember what you were doing at 33? Chris was dying.

Phil Hartman, another star of SNL, died at 49 in a murder-suicide by his wife. At age 49.

I tell you firsthand about the gifted Robin Williams, who died of suicide at 63, with an Oscar on his mantel.

Robin often stood next to me, and a group of other comics, waiting to go on at the Comedy Store in Hollywood. Only a few years after, Robin became an overnight star in “Mork and Mindy.”


“Overnight” in Hollywood is the time when bad things happen in the City of Angels.

Success happens, fame happens, and sudden death drops the curtain.

Do you know how hard it is to dream about becoming a star when you are standing in the rain outside of a comedy club waiting for your allotted five minutes?

There are more who died so young, from pills and booze and needles full of poison, hearts full of sadness.

Young men and women, full of talent, given the gift of making it to a bare wooden stage, dozens of stages late at night all over the country.

Can you imagine how you’d feel going on stage in front of strangers to ask for their love, because that’s what you’re doing, after getting a call that your mother had died?


This is what you do. You go on and improvise, make a room full of people laugh, and then go to the men’s room and put your head against the wall.

But this is about Matthew Perry, who told The New York times in a 2002 interview: “I was a guy who wanted to become famous. There was steam coming out of my ears, I wanted to be famous so badly. You want the attention, you want the bucks, and you want the best seat in the restaurant. I didn’t think what the repercussions would be.”

And the repercussions arrived, in a hot tub in the hills of Los Angeles.

God bless you, sweet Matthew. See you on the other side.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 

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