Despite The Laughs, Phoebe’s Backstory On ‘Friends’ Is Pretty Dark
Photo: NBC

Despite The Laughs, Phoebe’s Backstory On ‘Friends’ Is Pretty Dark

Underneath all the blond ditz and the hippie attitude, Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow) is by far the most street-wise and hardened character on Friends. Phoebe's backstory includes everything from her mother taking her own life to her father abandoning her to contracting hepatitis in the most unusual of ways.

Unlike the rest of the crew, Phoebe did not have a stable childhood. She was living on the streets of New York City by the age of 14 and never even had the opportunity to attend high school. And because she doesn’t possess a filter, Phoebe will often casually blurt out disturbing details about her upbringing.

Though Phoebe eventually found a group of friends who became a makeshift family, these messed up details of the years beforehand paint a much darker picture.

  • Phoebe's Real Mom And Dad Abandoned Her  
    Photo: NBC

    Phoebe's Real Mom And Dad Abandoned Her  

    We find out various pieces of Phoebe's disturbing backstory over the course of Friends' 10 seasons. Phoebe originally believes her parents are Frank and Lily Buffay. However, she discovers in the Season 3 finale, "The One at the Beach," that her real mother is actually Phoebe Abbott (Teri Garr).

    Frank, Lily, and Phoebe were all involved in some sort of relationship together. When Phoebe gave birth to her twin daughters (Ursula and Phoebe), she left because she was not ready to be a mother. If that wasn't bad enough, Phoebe's father Frank also abandoned the family when the girls were still little.

    Unfortunately, Phoebe's relationship with her real mother never fully blossoms. However, she does seek her advice in the Season 4 episode "The One With Phoebe's Uterus." After her brother Frank Jr. (Giovanni Ribisi) gets married, he tells Phoebe that he and his wife cannot conceive.

    Frank Jr. asks her to be a surrogate mother. Perhaps because Phoebe's own mother abandoned her, she goes to her for advice on what to do. Phoebe's mom lets her know just how hard it is going to be for her to give up a child that she carries. Phoebe takes her advice and agrees to do Frank Jr. this great favor, even as she understands how painful the experience will be.

  • She Got Hepatitis From A Pimp Who Spit In Her Mouth
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    She Got Hepatitis From A Pimp Who Spit In Her Mouth

    In the Season 9 episode "The One with Ross' Inappropriate Song," Phoebe prepares to meet Mike's (Paul Rudd) parents, Theodore and Bitsy Hannigan (Gregory Itzin and Cristine Rose), for the first time. Mike's parents - rich, uppity, judgmental - are the complete opposite of Phoebe.

    Phoebe originally planned to act reserved and attempt to show the Hannigans a fake persona more in tune with the upper class. But Mike tells Phoebe she should just be herself.

    During dinner, Phoebe is clearly uncomfortable. She wants to get to know Mike's parents and be a part of their life. But she never learned how to make polite dinner conversation. She basically chokes and, instead of sharing simple small talk, she reveals a dark personal anecdote. 

    Phoebe winds up blurting out several unsolicited details about her past, one of which is how she contracted an inflammatory disease. "I got hepatitis, you know, 'cause this pimp spit in my mouth," she confesses, before adding: "I got over it..."

  • Her Adoptive Mother Took Her Own Life By Putting Her Head In An Oven
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    Her Adoptive Mother Took Her Own Life By Putting Her Head In An Oven

    After Lily's husband Frank abandoned her and the twins, she remarried. The man who would become Phoebe's stepfather was sent to prison. We find out during the Season 9 episode "The One with the Mugging" that Phoebe's mother took her own life. 

    Phoebe says, "Okay, I wasn't rich like you guys, okay? I didn't eat gold and have a flying pony. I had a hard life! My mother was killed by a drug dealer."

    Monica (Courteney Cox) exclaims, "Your mother killed herself!"

    "She was a drug dealer!" Phoebe replies.

    Phoebe was 14 when Lily took her own life by carbon monoxide poisoning, having stuck her head in an oven. Though the act itself is certainly disturbing, Phoebe has no problem using the information to get something she wants, like a blueberry muffin. She even put the event into one of her signature coffee shop songs.

  • Her Green Card Marriage Had A Heart-Wrenching Twist
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    Her Green Card Marriage Had A Heart-Wrenching Twist

    We find out in the Season 2 episode "The One With Phoebe's Husband" that Phoebe married a gay Canadian ice dancer named Duncan (Steve Zahn) in order to help him procure a green card. However, Monica reveals to the crew that Phoebe actually had feelings for Duncan and that she got so depressed that - despite being a vegetarian - she resorted to eating a cheeseburger when he left.

    Duncan gets in touch with Phoebe and asks her for a divorce. It turns out he's not actually gay and needs a divorce so he can get married to a woman he's in love with. It's a shocking and painful pill for Phoebe to swallow.

  • When She Turned 16, An Escaped Psychiatric Patient Tried To Off Her
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    When She Turned 16, An Escaped Psychiatric Patient Tried To Off Her

    Phoebe and Mike decide to donate the money they would have spent on a big wedding to a local New York Children's Fund in the Season 10 episode "The One With The Home Study." However, when Phoebe tries on Monica's veil, she changes her mind and wants to have a big wedding celebration. 

    Phoebe and Mike return to the charity organization and request their money back. She tries to explain why she had the sudden change of heart, citing the hardships of her childhood.

    Phoebe never had the opportunity to experience so many of the traditional rites of passage that most kids get to have. She spent most of her adult life thinking such things didn't matter to her. But after really allowing herself to imagine her wedding day, she realizes she does want the fairy-tale ending. 

    A person's wedding is important. And especially to me. Okay, I didn't have a graduation party. And I didn't go to prom. And I spent my sweet 16 being chased around a tire yard by an escaped mental patient who, in his own words, wanted to: '[Slay] me, or whatever.' So I deserve a real celebration. And I'm not gonna let some sweaty little man make me feel badly about it.

  • She Rarely Speaks To Her Twin Sister, An Adult Entertainer
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    She Rarely Speaks To Her Twin Sister, An Adult Entertainer

    Phoebe is almost totally estranged from her identical twin sister, Ursula Buffay. The ditzy, selfish, self-absorbed Ursula seems to forget she even has a twin sister sometimes.

    In the Season 6 episode "The One Where Chandler Can't Cry," it's revealed that Ursula not only works in the adult entertainment industry - creating titles like "Buffay the Vampire Layer" and "Inspect Her Gadget" - but that she uses Phoebe's name as her official alias. 

    Phoebe gets back at her twin by cashing all of her checks, which are written out to "Phoebe Buffay." Though she's able to make a few bucks off Ursula, the twins' estrangement is painful to consider, as neither has any other family.