Being a good friend is the greatest legacy we can leave - Christa Ackroyd
It does sound a little pompous I agree. Nevertheless it has played on my mind this week; call it a touch of melancholy amidst the season of mellow fruitfulness.
Call it an age thing, although I have no worries about being any age.
As my granny used to say it’s better to be getting older than the alternative.
But this week I have been thinking of what we leave behind. And that has absolutely nothing to do with how much money or goods and chattels we save for our loved ones.
My thoughts have been sparked by the death of Matthew Perry, you know the quirky one from Friends. But even as I write that I know that’s not what he would want me to say by way of introduction.
I merely mention it for identification. Matthew Perry had the world at his feet for many years.
He made an awful lot of money and brought an enormous amount of joy to millions of people with a television series which seemed to encapsulate the nineties and early noughties. It was the story of the ups and downs of first twenty, then thirty-somethings living together. Friends who shared a chaotic lifestyle and who had each others backs in an apartment block in New York. We all remember it.
And yet Matthew Perry, the funny one, the one who eventually found love with Monica, said he couldn’t remember filming at least three seasons of the ten season run because he was either drunk or drugged up.
What’s more he was often driven to the studios to make the recordings straight from rehab.
Matthew Perry went into rehab many times. He was a serious and serial addict.
As he describes in his book (get it if you can), he used to view houses for sale which he had no intention of buying simply to see if he could steal drugs from someone else’s medicine counter.
That’s how low he sank. At one time he was taking more than 60 prescription tablets every day. He attended 1,000 meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Matthew Perry wrote a play based on being a drunk. When asked by interviewers if it was a difficult part to play or write he simply smiled and said no, it came easy to him. How very honest and open was this man about his battles.
And now he has he died at the age of 54. Sad, alone and probably still fighting his demons as all addicts do for the rest of their lives. He was found unresponsive in a jacuzzi at his house in Malibu. He never found love and I suspect he never found peace.
Outside the New York flat where his iconic television series was based fans travelled in the rain to lay flowers to someone they saw as a ‘friend’ they never knew. Stars and co stars pay tribute to the ‘friend’ they shared good times with, as one does when someone close dies. It hope they shared the bad times too.
But what got me thinking about legacy are the words he wrote not too long ago. Forgive me for sharing them in their entirety but I want us all to read it. It is among the most humbling and through provoking pieces of writing I have ever read. And it stopped me in my tracks. Here is what he said;
“I’ve had lots of ups and downs in my life. I’m still working through it personally, but the best thing about me is that if an alcoholic or drug addict comes up to me and says ‘Will you help me?’ I will always say ‘Yes I know how to do that. I will do that for you, even if I can’t always do it for myself’.
"So I do that whenever I can. In groups or one on one. And I created the Perry House in Malibu, a sober living facility for men. I also wrote a play The End of Longing which is a personal message to the world, an exaggerated form of me as a drunk. It has something important to say to people like me. And to people who love people like me.
"When I die, I know people will talk about Friends, Friends, Friends. And I’m glad of that, happy I’ve done some solid work as an actor as well as given people multiple chances to make fun of my struggles on the world wide web.
"But when I die, as far as my accomplishments go, it would be nice if Friends were listed far behind the things I did to try to help other people. I know it won’t happen. But it would be nice.”
And that dear readers is a legacy. Since I left full time employment I have made a pact with myself that I will only surround myself with those people who shine positivity and purpose. And it has been so far the most joyous of journeys these last few years. And I am as busy, even busier than I have ever been. Because there is so much good work to be done, so many people to get behind.
This last week alone, and please this is not about me seeking a pat on the back, I have witnessed many examples of that in my new found spare time. And trust me each and every person I have met gives me so much more back than I could ever give them.
The Bosom Friends in Bradford celebrating cancer warriors with their annual fashion show which I was honoured to host. To see those who have fought or those who are fighting cancer strutting their stuff, some even wearing swimwear or underwear, in front of 500 people is always a humbling experience.
I was lucky enough to have been invited to the High Sheriff’s dinner, again in my home city of Bradford, as a longtime friend of mine before he reached high office. To be reacquainted with so many working to make a difference to others reminded me again what a wonderful place it is to have been raised.
I have spread the good news that a small group in Thornton have managed to find the funding to secure the birthplace of the Brontë sisters (though still need major financial support) and written our plans to invite thousands of school children to stand by the fireplace besides which they were born and tell of their hopes and dreams regardless of gender, background or ethnicity.
And I have met with talented people (I can’t tell you who they are yet .. it’s a secret) who came together for no payment to make a major fund raising dream come true for my beloved Homeless Street Angels in Leeds and remind others that for many Christmas will not be a happy one.
People in Yorkshire have the biggest of hearts. Those with the least often give the most and that is written large on our DNA. So when you think what can I do to make a difference, there is so much. Above all be kind, be supportive and be there for both friends and strangers alike.
Time is a valuable thing. None of us know how much time we have, as the death of a man in his fifties across the other side of the Atlantic showed us all this week. So spend it wisely. Do not waste it.
Sometimes we can’t always choose what people will see as our legacy after we are gone. But that shouldn’t stop us trying to create one.