The recent passing of beloved actor Matthew Perry at the age of 53 came as a shock to many. Perry was best known for his iconic role as Chandler Bing on the hit sitcom Friends, which catapulted him to fame in the 1990s. However, in later years, Perry struggled with health issues and substance abuse. His cause of death was ultimately revealed to be related to the anesthetic medication ketamine.
In this extensive article, we will examine Matthew Perry’s cause of death and provide background on ketamine.
Matthew Perry’s Early Life and Rise to Fame
Matthew Perry was born on August 19, 1969 in Williamstown, Massachusetts. His mother Suzanne Marie Morrison was a Canadian journalist and press secretary to Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. His father John Bennett Perry was an American actor and model. Perry’s parents divorced before his first birthday.
Perry developed a love for tennis and initially set his sights on becoming a professional player. However, after moving to Los Angeles at age 15, he discovered a passion for acting. He took on small roles on shows like Growing Pains while still in his teens.
His big break came in 1994 when he was cast as Chandler Bing on the NBC sitcom Friends. The show, which followed a tight-knit group of six friends living in New York City, became a surprise hit. It turned Perry and his co-stars Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc and David Schwimmer into household names.
Perry’s History with Addiction and Health Issues
While Perry was hugely successful as Chandler on Friends, he suffered from substance abuse issues in his personal life. He developed an addiction to Vicodin initially due to a jet ski accident in 1997. His drug problems caused issues on the Friends set. The other cast members eventually confronted him, and he entered rehab several times over the years.
In addition to substance abuse, Perry struggled with other health problems over the years. He dealt with lingering gastrointestinal issues following surgery in 2015. He also nearly died from pneumonia in 2018 when his heart stopped beating for five minutes. The repeated injuries, surgeries and hospitalizations took a toll.
What is Ketamine?
In order to fully understand Perry’s cause of death, it is important to first examine the drug ketamine itself.
Ketamine is a powerful dissociative anesthetic that was first developed in 1962. It induces a trance-like dissociative state and serves as both a surgical anesthetic or pain reliever. Today, ketamine is most widely used in veterinary medicine to sedate animals. But it still has some applications in human surgery and medicine as well.
The Discovery of Ketamine’s Recreational Use
In addition to its medical applications, ketamine also became popular as a recreational psychedelic club drug thanks to its dissociative and hallucinogenic effects. Recreationally, ketamine may be swallowed, snorted, smoked or injected. Abusers are often seeking its out-of-body dissociative euphoria effects.
However, higher doses of ketamine can also cause potentially dangerous side effects, including:
Increased heart rate and blood pressure
Memory loss or amnesia
Loss of consciousness
Respiratory depression potentially leading to death
Matthew Perry and Ketamine
According to the actor’s official death certificate, Perry died on November 5, 2022 at the age of 53 years old. The causes listed include a "cardiopulmonary arrest secondary to pneumonic consolidation due to hypoxemic respiratory failure."
But a source told PEOPLE magazine that Perry had been "fighting for his life" and was “addicted” to the anesthetic ketamine. This suggests Perry had potentially turned to ketamine therapeutically but it had spiraled into full addiction. His death was ultimately attributed to hypoxemic respiratory failure likely caused by a ketamine overdose.
The Dangers of Long-Term Ketamine Abuse
Although death due to respiratory failure may be rare, long-term ketamine abuse poses many health hazards. Physically, extended ketamine use can negatively impact the bladder, kidneys and urinary tract. Mentally, it can lead to psychosis, memory problems and dissociation from reality. Socially, relationships, jobs and finances often suffer as obtaining more of the drug becomes the addiction’s sole focus.
Matthew Perry’s Ongoing Legacy
While drug abuse claimed Perry too soon, his impact as an actor and addiction recovery advocate continues to inspire many. As Chandler Bing on Friends, Perry left an indelible mark on American television comedy that resonates to this day.
And while Perry’s real-life addiction problems mirrored some of Chandler’s neuroses, he refused to let it define him. Even amidst multiple rehab stints, health scares and relapses, Perry persevered with recovery. Just three months before his death, Perry released an autobiography providing an unprecedentedly candid look inside his struggles.
Matthew Perry’s untimely passing reminds us just how lethal ketamine can be when misused recreationally. While its psychedelic effects have fueled use, it remains an unpredictable and addictive substance. Hopefully greater awareness around cases like Perry's will prevent similar tragedies without discounting ketamine's potential medically when applied cautiously.