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Phoebe Buffay's Friends Timeline Explained

Every group of friends needs its weird and wacky member — and they don't come any weirder or wackier than Phoebe Buffay, the lovable free spirit of the award-winning sitcom "Friends." Brought to life by the charismatic Lisa Kudrow, Phoebe redefined the word "quirky" as she marched to the beat of her own drum (or guitar) for ten seasons, taking viewers on a whirlwind adventure full of offbeat romances, highly questionable decisions, and an unexpectedly happy ending.

From street urchin to massage therapist to folk singer, Phoebe regularly showed that while other people might need to bow to social norms when building their lives, she would constantly take the road less traveled.

But while Phoebe's life might seem to be full of unicorns and rainbows, the story of her life is actually filled with more than its share of sadness and tragedy as well as laughter. For those of you who would like to learn more about this offbeat bohemian, here are all the highs and lows of Phoebe Buffay's story.

A Tragic Beginning

From the very start, Phoebe's life was unconventional. She was born to (and named after) Phoebe Abbott (Terri Garr), who was in a sexual relationship with two other people, Frank Buffay Sr. (Bob Balaban) and Lily Buffay, a drug dealer. Her natural mother actually gave birth to both Phoebe and her twin sister Ursula, but when Phoebe Abbott decided she didn't want to be a mother, she left Frank and Lily to raise the girls on their own.

Sadly, Frank soon abandoned Lily, who was ill-suited to give Phoebe and Ursula anything resembling a normal childhood. In the Season 2 episode "The One Where Old Yeller Dies," Phoebe admitted her step-mother never let her see the end of sad movies like "Old Yeller" in order to shield her from pain. Oddly enough, this didn't seem to extend to her actual life, since Lily married a man who went to prison and later killed herself by sticking her head in an oven and getting carbon monoxide poisoning.

As if this wasn't bad enough, while Ursula was sent into foster care, Phoebe wound up living on the streets at the tender age of fourteen. With the twins on such divergent life paths, it's no wonder that they ended up becoming two very different people.

An Unusual Sibling

"Evil twins" are a common trope in television, but Ursula Buffay (also played by Lisa Kudrow) has an even stranger origin than most. Originally, Ursula was created as a character for the sitcom "Mad About You," where she was introduced as an incompetent and ditzy waitress who eventually became Governor of New York in a possible future. However, when Kudrow was cast as Phoebe in "Friends," the producers decided to reimagine Ursula as her twin sister, making Phoebe the reason why the two sitcoms exist in a shared universe.

As the polar opposite of the (usually) sweet-tempered Phoebe, Ursula is a selfish, mean-spirited woman who grew up in luxury while her sister was living on the streets. Feeling superior to other people, Ursula regularly takes advantage of other people, including her twin sister.

At one point, in the Season 6 episode "The One Where Chandler Can't Cry," Ursula became a porn star — and performed under the stage name "Phoebe Buffay." Although Phoebe was initially horrified by what Ursula had done in her name, she actually got the last laugh after arranging for Ursula's "Phoebe Buffay" paychecks to be sent to her.

Phoebe and the School of Hard Knocks

Although her early life was difficult and full of hardship, Phoebe's time as a street urchin did give her one of television's most colorful backstories. At various points in her life, Phoebe lived in a broken-down Buick LeSabre as well as with an albino window washer who eventually killed himself (is anyone else sensing a disturbing pattern here?). In the Season 10 episode "The One With The Home Study," Phoebe recalled that on her sweet sixteenth birthday, an escaped mental patient who wanted to kill her chased her around a tire yard.

While Phoebe never attended high school or college, she did receive an unconventional education. In the Season 10 episode "The One Where Joey Speaks French," Phoebe revealed she's fluent in French and learned the language behind a dumpster with a small group of friends during her formative years. Other episodes show she also knows Italian, making her (at least) trilingual. Street life also took Phoebe outside the United States, all the way to Prague in fact, where she lived for a time before moving back to New York.

Being homeless on the streets of New York is dangerous, and Phoebe picked up some impressive boxing skills while she was living at the YMCA (because "some of the young men weren't acting Christian enough.") She might not be an Ivy League graduate, but nobody can say this self-educated woman didn't develop some useful talents.

Phoebe the Ex-Con

Of course, living on the streets does make it hard to secure gainful employment, so Phoebe had to develop another unique set of skills — thieving. At multiple points in the "Friends" series, Phoebe shared stories about her early life, revealing that "Street Phoebe" was a very different person from the kind-hearted woman her friends know and love.

During her early years, Phoebe sometimes mugged people to survive. In fact, in the Season 9 episode "The One With The Mugging," Phoebe revealed she still has some underworld friends — like her buddy "Lowell" (Kyle Gass), who mugged Ross (David Schwimmer) at gunpoint before happily reuniting with Phoebe. In an ironic twist, Phoebe realized she once robbed Ross when she was fourteen-years-old, taking his self-published comic book "Science Boy" from him. Luckily, she kept the comic from her larcenous days, and was able to return it to Ross.

To be honest though ... Ross is probably lucky that Phoebe only robbed him. In the Season 5 episode "The One with Ross's Sandwich," Phoebe confesses that she once stabbed a cop after he stabbed her. We all have a few skeletons in our closet, but Phoebe's are likely a bit darker than most.

A Change of Heart

We all have to grow up sometimes, and that includes the mugger once known as "Street Phoebe." By the time we met Phoebe in the pilot episode of "Friends," she was a professional masseuse and played guitar at the friends' usual coffee house hangout Central Perk. While she still lived a bohemian lifestyle, at this point she was far from the street urchin she once was (although she was clearly the strangest member of her group).

Over the next several seasons, Phoebe revealed more about her past, admitting that "Street Phoebe" probably wouldn't have hung out with Ross, Rachel, Chandler, and Joey, showing how far she had come since then. Indeed, while she claimed to still be an independent massage therapist who hated large corporations, she ended up working for a corporate spa in Season 9's "The One With The Fertility Test" for better money and benefits. She might be an free thinker, but even independent souls need to pay taxes.

Phoebe the Folk Singer

Phoebe has an eclectic set of skills — but the one she's best known for is folk singing. A self-taught guitarist (who still doesn't know the conventional names of the chords), Phoebe writes her own music and lyrics and regularly performs at Central Perk. Yet while her voice might be sweet and gentle (albeit off key), the subject matter of her songs is anything but.

Just a brief look at Phoebe's song titles — which include such classics like "Sue, Sue, Suicide" and "Pervert Parade," should give you an idea of what you'll be hearing if you stop to listen to one of her music sets. Then there's "The Grandma Song," which tells the truth behind grandparent's deaths and "The Cow in the Meadow Goes Moo," which delves into the meat production business.

However, it was Phoebe's notable song "Smelly Cat" that became her number one hit. First performed in Season 2's "The One with the Baby on the Bus," the song was an ode to an odiferous feline whose neglectful family had been feeding it a questionable diet. While most of Phoebe's songs achieved only cult-following status, "Smelly Cat" actually broke into mainstream music, becoming the jingle for a cat litter commercial and later featured in a Taylor Swift concert.

Behind the scenes, the lyrics for "Smelly Cat" were written by writers Adam Chase and Betsy Borns, although Kudrow came up with the music with help from Chrissie Hynde.

Reconnecting with Family

Sometimes the best way to move forward is to make peace with your past — and Phoebe has had multiple opportunities to do this over the 10 seasons of "Friends." Although all of her immediate family members appear to have either died or abandoned her, in Season 2, Phoebe learns her biological dad fathered another child, Frank Buffay Jr. (Giovanni Ribisi) whom she manages to bond with (partly out of shared trauma, since their father abandoned them both).

In Season 3, Phoebe also learned that her birth mother Phoebe Abbott was still alive, reconnecting with her as well. A couple of seasons later, Phoebe even managed to find her birth father (while posing as a lawyer) in "The One With Joey's Bag." Although Frank Buffay Sr. apologized for the way he treated his daughters, and Phoebe forgives him, their later relationship was never explored. 

Even so, it's nice that someone with Phoebe's troubled history got a chance to gain some closure — which probably helped her form her own family as she moved forward with her life.

An Unconventional Love Life

One of the things that kept fans returning to "Friends" season after season was the characters' love lives. While many people were hooked on Ross and Rachel's on-again, off-again romance, it was Phoebe who gave the show its strangest relationships.

Even before the show began, Phoebe was married — to Duncan, a gay Canadian ice dancer (Steve Zahn) who needed the marriage to get a green card. Duncan later returned to reveal that he was never gay and wanted a divorce so he could marry another woman in Season 2's "The One with Phoebe's Husband." Phoebe subsequently stole a policeman's badge and impersonated a cop in Season 5's "The One With The Cop," until the police officer located her and decided to ... ask her out.

Phoebe even dated the ex-boyfriend of her "evil twin" in Season 8 — but broke up with him when he couldn't get over the fact that he kept seeing Ursula's face in Phoebe. Heck, she even shared some steamy kisses with Rachel Greene (Jennifer Aniston), although she later admitted: "I've had better."

But Phoebe's weirdest relationship had to be with Parker (Alec Baldwin), an overenthusiastic man whom she dumped after his non-stop positivity got on her nerves. Considering how upbeat Phoebe normally is, anyone who's too positive for her has got to be a mental case. Then again, it could be that Phoebe prefers to be the happiest person in the room.

Phoebe the Surrogate Mother

When Phoebe chooses to do something, she goes all out — and no storyline showed this better than the time in Season 4 and 5 when she decided to become a surrogate mother.

Like everything in Phoebe's oddball life, the circumstances behind this decision were hardly typical — she became the surrogate mother for her half-brother's wife Alice (Debra Jo Rupp) who was too old to naturally conceive. After trying all sorts of offbeat methods to make sure Alice's implanted embryos got her pregnant (including sitting upside -down), Phoebe found her methods had worked a bit too well, resulting in triplets.

As if this wasn't weird enough, Phoebe briefly entertained the idea that Frank and Alice might let her keep one of the babies in Season 5's "The One Hundredth." Ultimately, she let them all go, but promised she'd always be their favorite aunt. 

She might be one of the strangest people you'll ever meet, but no one can say that Phoebe Buffay doesn't give generously of herself.

Phoebe the Roommate

For someone who started out as a homeless street urchin, Phoebe actually has one of the most stable living spaces in the show — especially considering how difficult it is to find and keep a place in New York. Prior to the series pilot, Phoebe lived with Monica (Courtney Cox) but couldn't stand her excessive neatness, and so she gradually moved in with her grandmother (Audra Lindley). The two shared the apartment until her grandmother died, leaving the apartment to her.

While Phoebe did move out of her apartment briefly to be with her boyfriend Gary (Michael Rappaport) in Season 5, and again when her apartment burned down in Season 7, these moves proved temporary and she always returned home. She also shared her living space with Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) in Season 6, after her friend was displaced by Chandler (Matthew Perry) when he went to live with Monica. Once the apartment was rebuilt after the fire, however, Phoebe went back to living by herself.

Phoebe's strangest roommate was a woman named Denise, who never appeared on the show. While it's not unheard of for sitcoms to include never-seen characters (Doctor Niles Crane's frequently-mentioned but never seen wife Maris from "Frasier" is a popular example), some fans believe Phoebe simply made up Denise to avoid having to share her apartment with Rachel. Denise did move out abruptly once Phoebe was okay with Rachel moving in, lending credence to the theory.

Phoebe the Secret Keeper

Phoebe might come across as ditzy and naïve — and she kind of is — but she's also remarkably perceptive and regularly finds herself in possession of big secrets few people know about. In Season 6, for instance, Phoebe learned that Ross never got an annulment for a Las Vegas wedding he had with Rachel, leaving Rachel married to Ross without her consent (or knowledge). Likewise, in Season 7, Phoebe found a positive pregnancy test in the trash, discovering that Rachel was pregnant.

Learning these secrets (and being forced not to share them with anyone) upsets Phoebe, so she tries to get people to tell the truth. That said, she admitted that being the only person who knew Rachel was unknowingly married to Ross "does make me feel special." 

Phoebe also covered for Rachel's pregnancy by claiming she was the one who was pregnant. This actually got her a marriage proposal from Joey (Matt LeBlanc) — disappointing Phoebe when the truth came out and Joey immediately proposed to Rachel instead.

Phoebe Getting Married

Everyone deserves a happily ever after, but while Chandler and Monica tied the knot in Season 7 and Ross and Rachel finally reunited in the series finale, Phoebe found love outside her group of friends. 

In Season 9, Joey set Phoebe up with Mike (Paul Rudd), a random guy he met in the coffee house, after he forgot to find her a blind date. While their first double date goes badly, the two inexplicably reconnected and entered a serious relationship.

After the usual "Friends" shenanigans (Phoebe's old boyfriend David returned, forcing her to make a choice between Mike or David), the two were engaged in Season 10 after multiple proposal attempts. Fittingly, their wedding was full of near-disasters — they ended up getting married outside Central Perk during a New York blizzard with Mike's dog serving as a groomsman.

So what kind of man is Phoebe's (third) husband? Actually, the two have quite a bit in common as Mike is someone who places personal happiness over societal expectations. While he comes from an upper-class family, he left his job as an attorney to become a pianist. He shares his wife's impulsivity, as shown in Season 10 when he changes his name to "Crap Bag" after Phoebe decides to change her name to "Princess Consuela Banana-Hammock."

Still, Mike's greatest feature is that he truly appreciates Phoebe, whom he finds, "so wonderfully weird." If the goal of true love is to find genuine compatibility, then Phoebe finally hit the jackpot.