A Road Less Traveled

~ notes from an uncommon journey ~

Remembering Matthew Perry How He Wanted to be Remembered

Before he left this earth, Matthew Perry told us how he wanted to be remembered.

In a live interview on the CBC podcast Q with Tom Power, he said:

The best thing about me, bar none, is if somebody comes up to me and says, "I can't stop drinking; can you help me?" I can say yes and follow up and do it. That's the best thing. And I've said this for a long time: 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.

In another already-widely-shared quote, he put it this way:

...but when I die, as far as my so-called accomplishments go, it would be nice if Friends were listed far behind the things I did to try to help other people.

I know it won't happen, but it would be nice.

And on that last point—sadly, he was right. 

I'm sure I haven't seen nearly all the news articles announcing his death (indeed, doubtless there are way too many to find, much less wade through, them all). But I've seen many. And not a single one of them has done anything but name Friends either quickly after his name or in some cases even before his name. Here's a sampling:

  • ABC
    headline: Matthew Perry, star of 'Friends,' dies at 54: Sources
    first sentence of voiceover: Actor Matthew Perry, best known for his portrayal of Chandler Bing on the ‘90s sitcom Friends, was found dead at his Pacific Palisades home in Los Angeles on Saturday.

  • BBC
    headline: Friends star Matthew Perry dies at 54
    first sentence of article: US actor Matthew Perry, best known for playing wisecracking Chandler Bing in the hit '90s TV sitcom Friends, has died at the age of 54.

  • CBC
    headline: Friends actor Matthew Perry dead at 54
    subhead: Ottawa-raised actor portrayed Chandler Bing in hit sitcom
    first sentence of article: Friends star Matthew Perry, the Emmy-nominated actor whose sarcastic, but lovable Chandler Bing was among television's most famous and most quotable characters, has died at 54.

  • Deadline
    headline: Matthew Perry Dies: ‘Friends’ Actor Was 54
    first sentence of article: Matthew Perry, best known for his role as Chandler Bing on Friends, has died. 

I can't help but wonder why (seemingly) none of the many outlets who reported his tragic, way-too-soon death could bring themselves to fulfill his stated desire. The CBC, at least, knew about it. As mentioned above, he uttered that very desire on one of their podcasts, an episode that's also available on YouTube. And he mentioned that he'd been saying it for a long time. So—it was known.

And it's not like any of us need to be told that Matthew Perry played Chandler Bing on Friends. In the annals of global, monster-hit, always-on-somewhere TV shows, Friends is near or at the very top. So that, too, was known.

To be clear, there have been articles written about this stated desire of his, but they've only come after the straight news pieces that announced his death. 

I just wonder what would be wrong, exactly, with writing a first-report news story in a way that fulfilled that desire, that put his accomplishments as a human being and a helper of fellow addicts first and his Friends (and other acting) work "far behind" that. If it's a journalism thing: are the rules of news-article writing so sacrosanct that we can't bend or even break them in a case where we all know who he was and the highlights of his acting work? 

And what does it say about our culture that we put noting his acting career or journalistic tradition ahead of how he said he wanted to be remembered?

None of this is to take anything away from his acting career. Clearly, he was a star for a reason. He was a comedic genius who made millions of people laugh. Consistently, over the entire course of a long-running show (and while he was battling addiction, no less). As Matt LeBlanc said of him, "Matthew Perry is so razor sharp and smart and inventive and knows right where the funny is." Matthew also had dramatic chops, though they were less renowned.

But—he told us how he wanted to be remembered. 

* * *

Dear Matthew: Never did I dream that I would ever feel compelled to write an article reporting your death. But here we are. And while clearly, I write occasionally, I am not a journalist. 
Sothis is me, doing my best:

Dateline October 28. 2023
Matthew Perry, sober living sponsor and advocate, died today. He was found unresponsive in a hot tub at his Pacific Palisades, CA, home. As of this writing, autopsy results are inconclusive; toxicology work continues. The LAPD do not suspect foul play. Perry was 54.

Throughout the majority of his life, Perry suffered from alcoholism and addiction to various drugs, a struggle he detailed with remarkable candor in his memoir Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, published just last year.

As a result of his experiences, Perry developed a passion for helping others who struggled as he did. The actions Perry took toward that end include co-founding a sober living house in his former Malibu mansion, called Perry House. (He later sold the facility when continuing to run it became too expensive, but remained committed to the idea.)

Perry also testified before Congress on behalf of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals to support funding for drug courts, which focus on treatment as opposed to punishment for addicts. The NADCP is part of an nonprofit called All Rise, which called Perry "an ardent champion for treatment courts who gave freely of his time and energy to support treatment court funding on Capitol Hill and express his gratitude to treatment court professionals...."

In 2013 the Obama administration's Office of National Drug Control Policy honored Perry with its Champion of Recovery award for his advocacy as well as for his openness about his addiction and recovery.

In an interview with CBC's Tom Power, Perry stated that he received the same amount of gratification, which he called "the same juice," from speaking to large crowds about sobriety as he did from helping people one-on-one. One of the people Perry helped to get sober was his good friend Hank Azaria. In a video posted to Instagram, Azaria said of Perry, "As a sober person, he was so caring and giving and wise, and he totally helped me get sober. And I really wish he could've found it in himself to stay with the sober life more consistently." 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Perry spoke out in favor of the vaccine, and he launched a limited-edition apparel line, the proceeds of which went to the World Health Organization's COVID-19 relief fund.

Perry was a beloved son to two sets of parents and beloved brother to five siblings, a beloved fellow castmate to some, a beloved friend to many, and a beloved actor to millions.

Perry had many film and TV roles to his credit, most famously Chandler Bing on Friends.

What Captain Shaw Means to Me

  * * * *

This post contains spoilers for
Star Trek: Picard Season 3.
* * * *

Captain Shaw saying what appears to be his favorite word. (source)

Note: This post was written after watching the available 8 out of the total 10 episodes of the season. As such I don't yet know the resolution to Captain Shaw's storyline in Picard.

When, in Episode 1, "The Next Generation," we first meet Star Trek: Picard's Captain Shaw (played masterfully by Todd Stashwick), he’s…well, he’s a bit of an ass. In one scene alone, he starts dinner before his invited guests—no less than Admiral Picard and Captain Riker—even arrive; he uses a sarcastic tone to compliment the wine Admiral Picard brought (his own, from Chateau Picard) before proceeding to share that he prefers something else; and the ultimate insult: he says a curt “No” to their request to take the ship to a different destination.

And that's just the beginning. For one thing, he keeps deadnaming Seven (Jeri Ryan), across multiple episodes, even after we see her (in Episode 4, "No Win Scenario") subtly—but forcefully—express her preference to be called "Seven." Definitely not cool.

This is not the kind of behavior we generally expect of a Starfleet captain. So what gives?

We don’t find out the origins of Shaw’s assholery for a few episodes, which is also fitting, since the Titan and her crew certainly have bigger issues at hand. But when we do find out (also in Episode 4), we realize that Shaw’s not just being a jerk for the sake of it. He has been through some shit. It seems the man has a serious case of post-traumatic stress disorder. And with good reason: he was not only at the Battle of Wolf 359, where it seemed “like space itself was burning,” he survived it. But…ah, that carries with it its own pain: “Why-why me?” indeed. He only survived that infamous battle because “some lieutenant” pointed at nine other people and then him and ordered them to get on the only remaining, 10-seat life pod.

This is the kind of event that can cause trauma, and this is the kind of trauma that can mark a person for life.

And while I’m on the subject, the writing of his Wolf 359 monologue (by Terry Matalas, also the showrunner, and Sean Tretta) is of note. Partway through relaying the story of that terrible day to Jack Crusher (Ed Speleers), Shaw starts switching back and forth between present tense and past tense. When I first noticed it, I thought, “He meant ‘was.’” But I rewound and saw that no, he was definitely speaking in the present tense in that instance. And that’s when it hit me: He was, at least in part, reliving it through the telling of it. This rings true because one thing that trauma does is keep a part of us “in” the traumatic moment.

So Captain Shaw has seen some hard times, and, as is often true to life, they've stayed with him and have shaped him. And while that certainly doesn't excuse his assholery, we at least know it comes from a real place. 

Fortunately for him, said assholery hasn’t kept him from rising to the rank of Captain, despite Starfleet being aware of his issues (which we're given a hint of when Vadic, the season's villain, mentions his official pscyh. profile). One could reasonably wonder how he kept getting promoted, given his behavior. But we don't know enough of the backstory yet to answer that question.

In any case Captain Shaw is quite high-functioning, regardless of his mental illness. This also rings true because, contrary to what many in our society seem to think, having a mental illness does not necessarily mean one is incapacitated.

And of course I know what rings true about all of this because of the trauma I've experienced (most of which remains unresolved as of this writing). Thankfully I am, like Captain Shaw, able to be a rather high-functioning adult—holding down a challenging job, paying the bills, and trying to be a contributing member of our society.

My point is: I have never related to a Star Trek character more than I do to Captain Shaw. (Having said that, I do try not to be a jerk. :)

Before Captain Shaw, I certainly liked Star Trek; I would've even said I loved it. But having a Trek character I can actually relate to, especially to this degree, feels...new. And it kicks that love into fucking overdrive.

It should be noted that Captain Shaw does have redeeming qualities that we've caught glimpses of. Most notably, in Episode 7, "Dominion," when he realized he was alone in a turbolift with Vadic and another changeling, he called out, "Blow the turbolift!" as a command to those on the bridge. Commander Seven spared Shaw's life by disobeying that order, which Shaw gives her grief for in the next episode (8, "Surrender"). He's willing to sacrifice himself to save his crew. Like any good captain. Also it was stated elsewhere that the whole reason he doesn't worship Picard and Riker like so many others do is that the two of them had made many decisions over the years that put their crews in more danger than was necessary. He cares enough about his crew that he'd never make those same kinds of decisions in the first place. Granted, Picard and Riker doubtless care about their crews as well, but...try telling that to Shaw.

So—he does care. And doubtless a great deal. But for him, being perpetually pissed off gets in the way of showing it.

Another aspect of Captain Shaw that I dearly love (and am certainly not alone in) is his sense of humor: he's got a razor-sharp, acerbic wit, and he's even unafraid to use it on our heroes. 
screen caps source

Heroic characters (and those treated as heroes even when they go rogue) are great—and I'm not here to say otherwise. But to also have characters who are flawed, complicated, traumatized, and perpetually pissed off but deeply caring, hilariously sarcastic, and high functioning? Yes. Please. These are all notes I am more than happy to see Star Trek playing. 

So...thank you to Terry (who originally wrote the character), to Sean and the rest of the writing staff, and to Todd for bringing him to life. 

And I definitely want to see more than one season's worth of Captain Shaw.
© A Road Less Traveled

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