Outside the famous Friends apartment in New York City’s West Village, one fan left a heartbreaking message in black Sharpie on a cardboard cutout, still legible despite the rain. “Friends was the answer and solution for my anxiety before I even had a word for that feeling,” they wrote.
Crowds of people have flocked to the corner of Grove Street and Bedford Street to pay their respects to Matthew Perry, whose death on Saturday shocked the world. At the bottom of the intersection’s stop sign, outside the well-known apartment building exterior used as an establishing shot throughout the show’s 10 seasons, lay a beautiful collection of bouquets and several handwritten notes.
“All I knew is that whenever I had big feelings, I could pop in a VHS boxset of a given season in the VCR and not just feel okay, but even laugh,” reads one note. “As reliable as a true friend, 20 years later, Friends is still my comfort show. Thank you, Matty, for making me feel peace and joy, from middle school to my mid-thirties.”
One fan who was visiting from Los Angeles, Aimee Sanchez, 31, said: “We saw that there was all these people bringing flowers, and we wanted to visit before going home.” Her plane touched down in New York just hours before the news of Perry’s death broke, she said. “It was really sad. I cried. Whenever I’m nervous, or I just feel stressed, I always go back to the show, and that’s why I’ve watched it so many times. It’s my comfort show.”
Despite ending nearly 20 years ago in 2004, the show about six young friends in Manhattan – Chandler (Perry), Rachel (Jennifer Aniston), Joey (Matt LeBlanc), Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), Monica (Courteney Cox) and Ross (David Schwimmer) – has transcended generations.
“It’s like a roast dinner. It makes you feel warm,” said Kirsty Matthews, a 52-year-old cycling instructor visiting from England with her 15-year-old daughter. “You can watch it as a family, you can laugh as a family. It was lovely growing up for me in my early 20s watching it and then my daughter getting the same feelings watching it.”
Thitikamol Kaeokhieo, a 23-year-old visiting from Chicago, wasn’t even born when the show first aired. She watched her first episode last year. “It kind of saved my life,” she explained, apologising for getting teary-eyed. “I’m here, far away from my family and friends in Thailand, so sometimes it’s really lonely,” Kaeokhieo said.
She would put on Friends to watch during a meal so she didn’t feel so alone. “It was like just like having someone eat with me – all through the winter,” Kaeokhieo said.
Friends has been broadcast in more than 100 countries and dubbed into numerous languages.
Gab Billones, who recently moved to the US to attend Columbia University, said he’s been a fan of the show since it was picked up in the Philippines. “You know, the Philippines has a huge fanbase for Friends,” he said. “Every single year, like during Christmas, you know, I always rewatch Friends. I will never be able to watch it the same way."
Khimmy Pobrarp, 24, who lives in New York, remembers watching Friends throughout childhood. “I feel like I grew up with them,” Pobrarp tells me. She likens Perry’s death to that of an old friend and says his death will impact how she views the show now.
“Before we were just laughing at it, and now it’s all going to be different after this,” she said.