Luke Perry, ‘Beverly Hills, 90210’ star, is dead at 52

  • >> Elizabeth A Harris, The New York Times
    Published: 2019-03-05 12:49:24 BdST

Luke Perry, who burst onto the television scene and countless fan-magazine covers in 1990 as one of the core cast members of the Fox drama “Beverly Hills, 90210,” then went on to a busy career in television and film that included, most recently, the CW series “Riverdale,” died Monday in Los Angeles. He was 52.

His family announced the death. He had been hospitalised after a stroke last Wednesday.

On “Beverly Hills, 90210,” a series about young people in a well-off ZIP code, Perry played Dylan McKay, a bad-boy teenager who struggled with alcoholism. The show, after a sluggish first season, became a hit and a pop-culture phenomenon, and the good-looking Perry was a primary reason.

“Young women are obviously lured by the guys-to-drool-over factor,” Caryn James wrote in The New York Times in August 1991. “Luke Perry and Jason Priestley, the actors who play Dylan and Brandon, are today’s favourite TV heartthrobs, their kissable photographs, clean-cut family backgrounds and list of wholesome hobbies flooding magazines for teenagers.”

At a time when much TV fare aimed at younger audiences was fairly tame, “Beverly Hills, 90210” mixed its romantic intrigues with serious themes, like teenage pregnancy and racism. Perry, who was 24 when the show began (although he played a teenager), stayed for the first six seasons, left for Seasons 7 and 8, then returned for the final two.

The series ended in 2000 after almost 300 episodes and spawned several spinoffs, including “Melrose Place” and the 2008 reboot “90210.” Another reboot was recently announced.

For Perry, whose main credits before “90210” had been a handful of episodes of the soap opera “Another World,” mega-stardom was unexpected.

“I just always felt fortunate to have a job,” he told the Australian TV programme “The Morning Show” in 2013. “I don’t think any of us had any idea what was going to happen with it and how long the impact of it would last.”

Actor Luke Perry arrives as a guest at the premiere of the new Western film

Actor Luke Perry arrives as a guest at the premiere of the new Western film "Open Range" in Hollywood, California, US, Aug 11, 2003. REUTERS

In addition to all those teenage fans, the show’s success brought Perry parts in films like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (1992), “The Fifth Element” (1997) and “Redemption Road” (2010). He also made dozens of television appearances, including regular roles on the prison drama “Oz,” the post-apocalyptic series “Jeremiah,” the crime drama “Body of Proof” and “Riverdale,” the CW series based on the Archie comics, on which he played Archie’s father.

The producers of “Riverdale” said in a statement, “A father figure and mentor to the show’s young cast, Luke was incredibly generous, and he infused the set with love and kindness.”

Coy Luther Perry III was born Oct 11, 1966, in Mansfield, Ohio, to Coy and Ann Perry. His parents divorced when he was 6. He told Vanity Fair in 1992 that his father had been abusive toward his mother, something that he internalised and that led him to urge that “90210” not talk down to its audience.

“Looking back at it all now, it was pretty frightening,” he told Vanity Fair. “I try to reiterate to these people writing the show that these kids ain’t stupid. They see. They know. ‘Don’t be afraid to talk to them about real issues on a real level.'”

When his mother remarried, Perry moved with her to Fredericktown, Ohio. There, he told The Mansfield News Journal in 2010, he played Freddie Bird, the school system’s mascot, for a time.

He credited his Midwest upbringing with helping him to cope with fame. “Growing up in the Midwest, people don’t drive Porsches and Ferraris and Maseratis,” he told The Plain Dealer of Cleveland in 2006. “People drive Ford and Chevy and Dodge. A lot of times people forget what makes sense to them and what got them where they were, and they want to have all this new stuff. And I think they go a little astray there.”

After graduating from high school, Perry went first to Los Angeles and then to New York.

“It was never about escape,” he said. “It was about wanting to feel like I belonged. I felt like I belonged on a screen.”

In New York he worked on “Another World” as well as another soap, “Loving,” then tried Los Angeles again, with little result at first. He was earning money laying asphalt when the “90210” role came along.

Perry, whose looks were often compared to James Dean’s, did most of his work in television and films, but he occasionally tried the stage. He made his only Broadway appearance, as a fill-in in “The Rocky Horror Show,” in 2001. He played the character Brad Majors for a few weeks, which required that he be fitted with a corset.

“You ever worn one of those damn things?,” he said in an interview with People magazine. “Well, it ain’t too comfortable.”

He also starred opposite Alyson Hannigan in a 2004 stage version of the film “When Harry Met Sally” in London.

Perry married Minnie Rachel Sharp in 1993; the marriage ended in divorce. He is survived by two children, Jack and Sophie; his mother, Ann Bennett; a brother, Tom; and a sister, Amy Coder.

“Funny, committed, and always gracious,” writer and director Joss Whedon, who worked with him on the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” film, said on Twitter. “He shouldn’t be gone.”

© 2019 New York Times News Service