Whole New Man
Given Perry's fierce forehand and blistering serve -- honed by daily workouts with a professional coach -- forfeiting might not be such a bad idea. "Sweating, running for shots, this is a world I love to be in," says the 33-year-old star, who proved his on-court skills by returning a 107 mph serve from tennis great Andre Agassi in a recent charity match. "You can talk about walking down red carpets, flying on private planes and stuff like that," says Perry. "But to return Agassi's serve when he's trying to ace you -- and to win the point -- it doesn't get better."
And as Perry knows too well, it can get far worse. "I've been through a very dark time," he says of his four-year struggle with drug and alcohol abuse, including two stints in rehab in 1997 and 2001 and a 2000 hospitalization for alcohol-related pancreatitis. Hooked on the painkiller Vicodin, Perry says early on he was downing an "insane number of pills" -- between 20 and 30 daily -- and later drinking "probably a quart of vodka a day." Combined with his '00 car crash and fluctuating weight, he was clearly a Friend in need. "It was terrifying," says Friends executive producer Marta Kauffman, "watching someone you care about in so much pain."
That was before a "moment of clarity" in February 2001 -- followed by an emotional phone call to his parents asking for help -- finally prompted him to confront his problems head-on. That required resolve, humility and a kind of surrender. There's "no gray area," he says. "I'm an alcoholic." Now, with his first-ever Emmy nomination, a new feature film (Serving Sara) and a $24 million payday for Friends' ninth -- and likely final -- season, Perry says he is clean, sober and able to savor his success. "It all starts from a spiritual connection with something that's bigger than you," he says. "That's where the stuff of life is. As for the rest of it, I'm lucky to have a cool car and plenty of money. But if you don't have happiness inside, and you don't think of others first, you'll be lonely and miserable in a big house."