Luke Perry, star of “90210” and “Riverdale,” passed away at the age of 52 following a massive stroke.
Some teen idols stay with you well into adulthood.
Luke Perry was one of those idols. The actor, who died Monday at age 52 after suffering a stroke, became the subject of teen magazine covers and adolescent obsession playing the moody Dylan McKay on “Beverly Hills, 90210” from 1990 to 1995 and again from 1998 to 2000.
Perry wasn’t the kind of actor you fell in love with at 12 and forgot about when you turned 13. Your relationship with him was a long-term commitment. The long run of “90210” kept his face on screens for nearly a decade, and even when he left Beverly Hills, he carried the smolder and the charm all the way to his last TV role, playing the stern but sweet Fred Andrews on CW’s Archie Comics adaptation “Riverdale.”
Throughout his career, Perry’s face has plastered bedroom walls. His characters’ romantic exploits have caused tears and relief. His smile has lit up rooms.
When a beloved celebrity dies, it’s always hard, but when that celebrity is so attached to his fans’ formative years, and to the emotional explosion of adolescence, it hurts all the worse.
The longevity of the love for Perry could be seen Monday as fans rushed to Twitter to mourn the star and celebrate his influence.
“As a BEVERLY HILLS 90210 obsessed teen, Luke Perry was one of the first heartthrobs to grace the walls of my bedroom on the poster for the show. His James Dean-like brooding handsomeness & vulnerability made him the perfect Dylan McKay & idol for a generation. RIP,” tweeted one.
“Luke Perry was a prince,” tweeted another. “When I met him, this #90210 kid was totally overwhelmed. And he was so cool and warm, and when I asked for a selfie he proposed a prom pic pose. It’s hard to explain how much that meant. It was like a girlhood fantasy come true.”
And lest you think his appeal was only with young women, the Dylan McKay effect was far-reaching.
“How influential was Luke Perry? An ENTIRE NATION grew out their sideburns in an attempt to draft off his coolness. There is no modern day equivalent of this phenomenon,” a male fan tweeted.
There really isn’t a contemporary icon to match Perry. Sure, there are young musical artists from Justin Bieber to Nick Jonas, and Perry’s own young “Riverdale” co-star Cole Sprouse has an army of fans online. But between the blockbuster popularity of “90210” as a pre-social media sensation and Perry’s perfect casting, the Dylan McKay moment was unique.
Dylan stood out as the knowing, bad-boy loner in a group of fresh-faced rich kids attending fictional West Beverly Hills High. And who could possibly forget the roller coaster of emotions from Dylan’s romance with Brenda Walsh (Shannen Doherty), whose family members were naïve newcomers to sordid Beverly Hills? Their relationship helped soften the edges of the leather-jacket-wearing outsider.
Perry showed a more serious side on “90210” as well. He brought an intelligent sensitivity to Dylan’s struggle with alcoholism at a time when other television shows barely touched the topic.
Perry kept up steady but less notable work after “90210,” hard as it was to shake typecasting and the shadow of his most popular performance. But in 2016 the actor found a near-perfect role as the father figure to all those messy kids on “Riverdale,” providing a needed and fitting bookend to his “90210” stardom.
Perry wasn’t the only 1990s name among the “Riverdale” parents, but he was certainly the most important to the show and the easiest to welcome back to the small screen. He put in a performance that seems effortless in its gravitas and exasperation. After all, someone in that loony town had to think logically.
That steadfastness was part of what made Perry a great actor. Even when the series and films he starred in swirled out of control and into campy territory – “Riverdale” and the 1992 “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” film went mad, in addition to “90210” – Perry always remained ineffably cool. He had a grounding presence that made viewers feel safe. He was the hunk you always wanted to settle down with, rather than one you just wanted to have a fling with.
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Perry will live on, not just through his performances probably still to air but through a new generation of young fans who will find “90210” on streaming (all 10 seasons are available on Hulu). They’ll think, maybe for a second, that Dylan McKay might just be the guy for them.
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