“He was part of a family, and he was the first one to not be part of that family anymore,” Burrows revealed this week on the Today show. “I had texted the girls [Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox and Lisa Kudrow] the day we found out. They were destroyed. It’s a brother dying.”
Burrows, who co-created Cheers, helmed the first four episodes of the beloved NBC comedy that ran for 10 seasons from 1994 to 2004.
Having worked in television for six decades, and known best for his work on Taxi, Cheers, Will & Grace, Frasier and Mike and Molly, Burrows praised Perry’s work as Chandler Bing on the show, calling him “inventive.”
“He was incredibly inventive,” Burrows said. “He was inventive with how he did a line.”
Burrows went on to praise Perry for being “really funny.”
“He was a little awkward, too. Chandler was awkward. And Matthew was awkward. It was a perfect, perfect meld,” he said.
By the time he was hired to direct Friends, Burrows had already sat behind the camera of some of television’s biggest shows, including an 11-season run on Cheers. But he knew the cast — which included Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, and David Schwimmer — was destined to create something special.
“I took them to dinner at Spago, and this is a true story,” he recalled. “I said to the six of them, ‘Put your seatbelt on, because this is your last shot at anonymity.’”
Perry’s struggles with addiction weren’t a secret from his castmates, but Burrows said he was happy that the Emmy nominee had turned a page in recent years.
“We were so proud of him these last couple of years that he was making this remarkable recovery,” he said.
In an interview with the Sun last month, Burrows said he isn’t surprised by the series’ enduring popularity as a new generation of viewers have discovered it in the streaming era.
“It appeals to teenage girls and there are always going to be teenage girls,” Burrows quipped in a video call from Los Angeles. “It deserved to win an Emmy before year nine, as Ted [Danson] did for Cheers. Friends was an incredibly crafted, well-written show with characters that are so easy to identify with. [Friends creators] David Crane and Marta Kauffman were geniuses writing that show. So it’s no surprise to me that that show has kept on going. A certain segment of the population keeps discovering it as they get older. That’s a tribute to the quality of the show.”
Burrows’ interview came days after Perry’s castmates issued a joint statement saying they were “utterly devastated” by Perry’s death.
“We are all so utterly devastated by the loss of Matthew. We were more than just castmates. We are a family,” they shared in a message. “There is so much to say, but right now we’re going to take a moment to grieve and process this unfathomable loss. In time we will say more, as and when we are able. For now, our thoughts and our love are with Matty’s family, his friends and everyone who loved him around the world.”
Burrows’ sentiment about Perry’s renewed outlook had been echoed by Kauffman and Crane when they recalled a conversation with Perry shortly before his death. Kauffman told the Today show that Perry was sober and happy during their last chat. “He didn’t seem weighed down by anything,” she said. “He was in a really good place, which is why this seems so unfair.”
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