Remembering Matthew Perry: How late actor struck a chord with UAE NRIs long before ‘Friends’


Years before he became universally renowned for his role as funnyman Chandler Bing on the ubiquitous sitcom Friends, late actor Matthew Perry was making waves, albeit subtly, in Hollywood. As fans from around the world continue to mourn the charming Canadian-American star who passed away on October 28 aged just 54, long-time expats in the UAE may recall that the globally adored Perry was a fixture on American television shows and films ahead of starring in the show that became his ‘big break’.

As I tried to process the heartbreaking news of Perry’s passing, I remembered passages from his recent autobiography, ‘Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing’, where he speaks at length about moving to Los Angeles from Canada and details his early days in Hollywood. Perry had achieved, in a career cut sadly short, much more than his ‘Friends’ legacy.

And as someone who grew up in the UAE avidly watching the local English television station, ‘Channel 33’, which aired a great mix of British and American shows and films often around the same time they were telecast or released in the UK or US, I realized Perry was no stranger to long-time expats, having graced the small screen in several popular shows, and been featured in films we probably rented on VHS here in the UAE.

As I jogged my memory and fired up Google and YouTube to get a hint of Perry’s pre-‘Friends’ repertoire, I recalled David Schwimmer (Ross on ‘Friends’) being on an episode of ‘The Wonder Years’ (a popular coming-of-age show that aired in the UAE back in the late 80s and early 90s). An image of a young Courteney Cox (Monica) running up on stage in Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancin’ In The Dark’ music video sprung to mind, which was probably the first time I saw her on TV. A young Matt LeBlanc (Joey) showed up in a teen magazine I had begged my mother to let me buy from Spinneys. And Perry, it turned out, would have been a familiar face in the UAE even in the pre-‘Friends’ era.

Here are five early shows and films he caught our eye in:


BEVERLY HILLS, 90210 (1991)
Perry portrayed a troubled school tennis star, Roger Azarian, on an episode of Beverly Hills, 90210, a teen show that became a huge hit in the UAE, triggering such a craze that even exam fever couldn’t dilute our ‘90210 fever’. Interestingly, Perry was a champion tennis player in real life as well.


If you grew up in the UAE in the 80s you probably owe a lot of laughs to the hilarious sitcom Charles in Charge, which revolved around a college student (Scott Baio) who works as a live-in caretaker of three children, one of whom is teenager Lila (April Lerman). Perry turns up in episode 20 of Season 1 as Ed, a well-bred and polite young man who impresses Lila’s parents.


Hey, that’s Roger and Patrice! Did Perry predict he would reunite with his Dance ’til Dawn co-star Christina Applegate, years later, on ’Friends’ (she played Rachel’s sister Amy)? In this fun film (rented from Al Mansoor video in Karama) about teenagers on prom night, the quiet Roger won our respect when he rebels in the end against the dominating Patrice, announcing that he doesn’t want the high-profile career she’s selected for him, and would rather be a fireman.


A fresh coming-of-age sitcom that aired in the 80s on Channel 33 saw Perry feature in a three-episode arc as teenager Carol Seaver’s (Tracey Gold) boyfriend Sandy, who tragically passes away after a drunk-driving accident. Co-star Joanna Kerns recalled in an interview with People after Perry’s death that he was “funny, handsome, quick-witted and fiercely intelligent… a natural comedian.”


As slick young casanova Timothy who initially charms the protagonist Katie (Ami Dolenz) as well as her father Doug (Tony Danza), but turns out to be a jerk, Perry’s character here is absolutely nothing like the immensely likeable Chandler Bing from ‘Friends’. I remember renting this from Al Mansoor Video years ago, and revisiting a clip of the film online reminded me of the great range Perry had, even back then as a 20-year-old. – Enid Parker is a freelance writer based in Dubai.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.