Matthew Perry says he’ll remove Keanu Reeves insult in future editions of his book

Matthew Perry sitting onstage, speaking with his hands outstretched
Actor and author Matthew Perry onstage at the Festival of Books. “I said a stupid thing. It was a mean thing to do,” he said of his memoir’s dig at Keanu Reeves.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Matthew Perry not only regrets insulting Keanu Reeves in his new book — he’s pulling Reeves’ name out of future editions of “Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing,” Perry’s memoir of his long struggle with substance abuse and addiction.

Perry shared news of the revision at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, addressing a capacity crowd at USC’s Bovard Auditorium on Saturday afternoon during a panel moderated by Matt Brennan, The Times’ deputy editor for arts and entertainment.

“I said a stupid thing. It was a mean thing to do,” Perry said, referring to his lament in the book that former co-stars River Phoenix and Chris Farley had died while Reeves “walks among us.”


“I pulled his name because I live on the same street,” Perry said. “I’ve apologized publicly to him. Any future versions of the book will not have his name in it.”

He said he hadn’t apologized in person to Reeves, but added: “If I run into the guy, I’ll apologize. It was just stupid.”

In a blue sportcoat and sneakers, Matthew Perry walks onstage toward a chair across from an interviewer
Matthew Perry waves to a capacity Festival of Books audience gathered at USC on Saturday for his conversation with Times editor Matt Brennan.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

During a candid conversation with Brennan, Perry told stories that made the audience laugh, but he didn’t shrink from relating a harrowing experience with drugs that came very close to killing him. He also offered a reassessment of the show that made him famous.

Although Perry is proud that a new generation of fans has come to appreciate “Friends” almost 20 years after the series ended, he accepts criticism that it lacked diversity.

“It was a different time,” he said. “Nobody talked about diversity.” At the same time, he added, “we were all stupid.” Now, he said, “Diversity is a huge issue. It’s the right thing to do.”


And he told the story of how he came to write a memoir that is uncommonly unflinching by celebrity standards.

“I was on a road trip from Florida to Los Angeles, sitting in the back of a car, and I started writing,” Perry said. “After three days, I thought, ‘I’m done, I’m an author!’” But his manager set him straight: 100 pages of notes was “not a book.”

Writing the memoir helped Perry in his recovery from addiction, he said, easing feelings of angst, anxiety and depression: “It came pouring out of me — the painful stuff, hospitals, rehabs, all of this stuff — it poured out of me. It went really quickly.”

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The most painful part, he revealed, was reading what he had written. “What a horrible life this guy has had,” he remembered thinking.

That life began as the product of an unhappy marriage. His parents separated when he was 1, and he said one of his earliest memories was of flying from his mother’s home in Montreal to his father’s in Los Angeles. He was 5 and flew unaccompanied.

“When I saw the lights of Los Angeles, I felt better after feeling so scared,” he said. “When I went shopping for a house, I had to have a view. I look out at the view and I feel less scared.”


He noted that the family’s doctor had prescribed him phenobarbital for colic, but quickly added, “It’s hard to blame my parents. But when I was detoxing, I thought, why would you give barbiturates to a kid who is crying? But everybody trusted doctors then.”

The Reeves insults notwithstanding, Perry said he did his “best to not go after anybody in the book. That wasn’t the point.”

“I’ve been in therapy since I was 18 years old,” he explained. “I wanted to make sure that this wasn’t the kind of book where I blame people for the things they did wrong. You have to give them credit for the things they did right.”

He described fame as his first drug.

“Nobody wanted to be famous more than me,” Perry said. “I was convinced it was the answer. I was 25, it was the second year of ‘Friends,’ and eight months into it, I realized the American dream is not making me happy, not filling the holes in my life. I couldn’t get enough attention. … Fame does not do what you think it’s going to do. It was all a trick.”

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The hole in his life remained even after he got famous.

“What’s the answer to that? Drink. Take drugs. Fill that hole with something else,” he said. Getting sober involved a process of learning, as a therapist told him, “that ‘reality is an acquired taste.’”

“It’s human to want to feel better all the time. We just want to feel better,” Perry said. “That’s what every addict and alcoholic wants. But that desire kills many. You’re having trouble with the way the world is.”


Perry added that when you’ve gone through so much, you have to believe it means something: “The amount of times I escaped death, there has to be a reason. I don’t know what that is.”

His memoir is part of how he’s trying to answer that question. In sharing his story, he’s hopeful that it will speak to others in a similar place in their lives, and help them.

While the legacy of “Friends” is something Perry is proud of, he said it’s not the first thing he wants to be remembered for.

Pressed to name how he’d like to be remembered, he said: “As a guy who lived life, loved well, lived well, and helped people. That running into me was a good thing, and not something bad.”

A smiling Matthew Perry raises his arms into the air while seated onstage, talking with an interviewer
Perry on Saturday at the Festival of Books. “After three days, I thought, ‘I’m done, I’m an author!’” he said, recounting his first draft of his memoir and the painful work that followed, shaping his most personal story into final form.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)