Long before he rose to fame as Chandler Bing on Friends, Matthew Perry had carved out a career as a character actor who played bit roles on popular prime time shows like Charles in Charge, Silver Spoons, and Who’s the Boss?
But many Gen-Xers still remember him best for his heartbreaking turn on Growing Pains in 1987, where he guest starred in three episodes as Sandy, an honor roll college student who was tragically killed after he hit a tree while driving drunk.
The episode, which was an after-school special, was dubbed “Second Chance.” In it, the then 20-year-old Perry took his girlfriend Carol Seaver (Tracey Gold) out to dinner, where they had a few beers. Later, Carol learns that after their date, Sandy hit a tree and was hospitalized.
As Carol visits Sandy in the hospital, she finds him bruised and bandaged‚ but alive and able to crack jokes with Carol. He confesses that he’s going to be charged with drunk driving, and though all of their parents are angry that this happened, everyone is glad Sandy was going to be able to get a second chance at life. (And that both he and Carol would learn a very important lesson.)
Matthew Perry Once Said He’d Give Up Fame and Fortune to Avoid Facing Addiction: ‘I Would Trade It All’Tracey Gold and Matthew Perry in ‘Growing Pains’.
The episode then takes an emotional turn when Carol gets home from her hospital visit with Sandy, only to be told by her brother Mike (Kirk Cameron) that the hospital called. He tells her that Sandy died from an internal hemorrhage. Carol doesn’t believe him at first, and then has a breakdown. She can’t understand why this happened — and why Sandy didn’t get his second chance after all.
The episode ended with a statement declaring that 30 people in the U.S. had died of alcohol-related car crashes during the airing of the episode. Many older Perry fans remember being shown the episode at school, as a warning to take drunk driving seriously. Many still have posted about it since learning of Perry’s tragic death on Saturday at 54.
Matthew Perry’s Family Speaks Out After the Star’s ‘Tragic’ Death: ‘We Are Heartbroken’ (Exclusive)
Joanna Kerns, who played Maggie Seaver in the series, remembers Perry’s star turn on the show extremely well.
“We had many young actors come through Growing Pains over the years but Matthew stood out. I remember him well. He was funny, handsome, quick witted and fiercely intelligent… a natural comedian,” Kerns tells PEOPLE. “I always say, you can’t teach comedy, you either have or you don’t and Matthew had it in spades.”
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She continues, “But even with all that talent, success and recognition he struggled to stay sober. I lost my younger brother to drugs and alcohol eleven years ago. Like Matthew, he tried desperately to live a sober life. I am grateful for his book and the personal story he shared. He will be missed by so many. RIP Matthew.”
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Perry died Saturday at his Los Angeles home of an apparent drowning, TMZ first reported. Law enforcement sources told the outlet there were no drugs found at the scene.
The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed to PEOPLE on Sunday that an autopsy was completed, with the results pending a toxicology report. The LAPD Robbery-Homicide Division is handling Perry’s ongoing death investigation, and “foul play is not suspected at this time.”
Matthew Perry at The Playhouse Theatre on Feb. 8, 2016 in London, England.
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Remembering Matthew Perry’s Life and Career in Photos
On Sunday, Perry’s family said in a statement to PEOPLE that they are “heartbroken” by his “tragic” death.
“We are heartbroken by the tragic loss of our beloved son and brother. Matthew brought so much joy to the world, both as an actor and a friend,” they said. “You all meant so much to him and we appreciate the tremendous outpouring of love.”