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How the ‘Friends’ Cast Will Mark ‘Bittersweet’ 20th Anniversary of Finale Without Matthew Perry (Exclusive)

In April 2021, all six Friends cast members arrived at the Warner Bros. Studio lot in L.A. to film the long-awaited reunion special, which would debut to great fanfare the following month. Over the course of two days, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, David Schwimmer and Matthew Perry reminisced about their time on the hit sitcom, both in front of and behind the camera.

Though it had been nearly two decades since they’d all worked together, it was as if no time had passed at all. Their chemistry crackled, with Aniston, 55, Cox, 59, and Kudrow, 60, trading fashion and beauty tips while LeBlanc, 56, Schwimmer, 57, and Perry cracked jokes.

Even after hours of seemingly endless interviews, echoes of raucous laughter could be heard throughout the soundstage, the very one where the original series had filmed from its second season.

They were the rare cast from a smash hit sitcom who meant it when they said they were just as close off-screen as they were on. Last October, their tight-knit crew was shattered when Perry was found dead at his Pacific Palisades home at the age of 54. The beloved actor was found unconscious in his hot tub, and an autopsy later revealed he died due to the acute effects of ketamine. Drowning, coronary artery disease and buprenorphine effects — a medication used to treat opioid use disorder — were also listed as contributing factors.

Friends Where Are They Now Jennifer Aniston Courteney Cox Lisa Kudrow

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Perry had famously battled drug and alcohol addiction for years, and in his 2022 memoir, he revealed he was taking 55 Vicodin pills a day during the show’s heyday.

Since his sudden death, Aniston, Cox, Kudrow, LeBlanc and Schwimmer have come together, helping one another through their grief. According to a source, the former costars are figuring out how to appropriately mark the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Friends finale (52.5 million viewers tuned in for the May 6, 2004 event).

Friends 2419 Us Weekly Cover No Chip
NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

“The prospect of having a reunion or a formal get-together without Matthew is bittersweet. There will be a huge void,” says the source in the latest issue of Us Weekly. “[But] they know Matthew would’ve wanted them to carry on and celebrate the show. So that’s very much on their minds as they move forward.”

The actors all posted touching tributes on Instagram in the days after Perry’s passing. “Oh boy, this one has cut deep. [Perry] was such a part of our DNA. We were always the 6 of us,” wrote Aniston, whom the source says was hit the hardest by the loss. “She was in pieces for months,” notes the source. “Even now it’s something she finds difficult to reconcile.”

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Cox said she missed Perry “every day,” Kudrow and Schwimmer thanked him for years of laughter, and LeBlanc said it was an “honor” to call Perry his friend. “I will always smile when I think of you and I’ll never forget you. Never,” he added. “Spread your wings and fly brother, you’re finally free.”

Together, they found some solace. “Matthew’s death reminded them how precious life is and the importance of catching up with each other more frequently,” says the source. “It underlined the unbreakable bond they share and the need to look out for each other.”

Friends 2419 Us Weekly Season 1 Cast
Reisig & Taylor/NBC

They check in with one another frequently. “They talk via group chats as well as one-on-ones,” says the source. “Jen and Courteney are in constant contact, and they’re both close with Lisa too.”

In February, Aniston and Schwimmer costarred in an Uber Eats commercial that aired during the Super Bowl, and that same month, Cox shared a selfie with Kudrow on social media.

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The actors are “all aware” of birthdays and anniversaries that are coming up, says the source, explaining that the cast has had “ongoing discussions” about how to celebrate the finale’s milestone.

“They will most certainly be commemorating it somehow,” continues the source, noting that Aniston, Cox, Kudrow, LeBlanc and Schwimmer will likely post something on social media and get together privately. (The 30th anniversary of the show’s 1994 debut will take place in September.)

Friends 2419 Us Weekly Season 10 Cast

The insider adds, “For all their individual successes after Friends, nothing else comes even close to that experience. They continue to look back on it with a huge amount of love, and of course, they’ll be giving Matthew credit for everything he contributed.”

They want to keep Matthew’s memory alive. In November, the Matthew Perry Foundation was launched with a mission to further his enduring commitment to helping others struggling with the disease of addiction.

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In a 2022 interview that resurfaced after his death, Perry — who in 2013 turned his Malibu home into a sober living facility for men — said he’d ultimately like to be remembered for “the things I did to try and help other people.”

Perry’s castmates are proud of the legacy he left behind on screen and off. “They’re committed to upholding Matthew’s values and spreading his message,” says the source. “So while they miss him terribly, they take comfort in knowing they got to share so much of their lives with such a special human being.”

For more on the cast of Friends, watch the exclusive video above — and pick up the latest issue of Us Weekly, on newsstands now.

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