Shelby Says: The one where we lost a friend

I, like many people out there, am mourning the loss of actor Matthew Perry. It’s pretty much all I’ve seen on social media and news websites for a week now.
It is no secret that I’m a fan of the show ‘Friends’. I grew up watching a lot of television, even just passively, and there are many shows I felt had a hand in shaping me into the person I am today. When Bob Saget died in 2022, I spent many days rewatching ‘Full House’ and remembering all the things I learned from the show as a little girl. The same goes for the ‘Golden Girls’, ‘Roseanne’, and many other shows that I watched as a kid and into my teens and adulthood.
I’ve heard interview after interview from Matthew Perry while scrolling through social media this week, and something interesting I heard him say was that he hoped he’d be remembered first for how he helped people, not just for ‘Friends’. I think him, and many others, underestimate how much a laugh in hard times helps people.
The book ‘I’ll Be There for You: The One about Friends’ by Kelsey Miller is a favorite of mine, and in it she discusses not only the behind-the-scenes aspects of the show and how it came to be, but also why it has stood the test of time and continued to be popular today. One of the more profound points she brought up was that after the tragedy of September 11, 2001, people were glued to television news. People watched it daily for updates and news about those lives lost and those responsible, until they were too tired of news and needed something else.
Even being in a news industry, I’m no stranger to this feeling. Hearing bad news of destruction and devastation is hard on a person’s mental health, so many people at that time turned off the news and turned on something funny. In the book, she says that many people turned on ‘Friends’ as a way to make themselves feel better and laugh.
I do that still to this day. Even if it’s just for background noise, I frequently just leave ‘Friends’ running on the television.
Miller also says in the book that the reason a lot of people still watch the show and love it is because it gives them nostalgia twice. It reminds them of where they were in their lives when the show was first airing for ten years, and it also reminds them of the time in their life when their friends were their family, their 20s and 30s. I see this a lot, now that I’m in the age range of the characters for the run of the show. Through family challenges, career changes, and relationship roller coasters, being able to sit with your friends and just chat and catch up and be there for each other is something really special that people might not realize while it’s happening.
People watch ‘Friends’ and see similarities to their own friend groups, and they laugh with the show just like they laugh with their own friends. I know I do, and the show reminds me every time how grateful I am to have friends like that.
I think it’s okay for people to mourn the loss of Perry, or any celebrity they felt a connection to. He helped a lot of people, such as those who struggled with addiction through his advocacy work and rehab center that he opened. But he also helped people struggling with sadness, with loss, and with every other problem small and large in between just by providing a laugh or a joke through his work as an actor.
Just being there for someone, whether you know if they’re struggling or not, is what being a friend is all about.
And if you or someone you know if struggling, the substance abuse and mental health services national helpline is free and confidential 24/7, 1-800-662-4357.

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