The bad-boy persona; the sensitive soul; the smoldering eyes; and that hair. In 1990, Luke Perry quickly became the definition of heartthrob when he rose to stardom in the wildly popular television series Beverly Hills 90210 as broody teen Dylan McKay. (Little known fact: he originally auditioned for the role of Steve Sanders, which he lost to Ian Ziering.) What set Perry apart from many other rising stars at the time, though, was his innate humbleness.
Born Coy Luther Perry III in 1966 to Ann and Coy Luther Jr. (and eventually raised by stepfather, Steve Bennett, to whom Perry attributes his kindness and respect), Perry’s small-town roots never allowed his idol status to go to his head.
“I don’t change who I am for what I am doing,” he said in a 1992 interview. This sense of self was perhaps the reason for his longevity in the industry. Long after his pinup status faded upon his departure from the show half-way through its 10-year run, Perry still embraced the connection many fans held for the character that made him the envy of every teenage girl.
“You know, it doesn’t bother me,” he said in an interview with NBC News in 2012. “Always seems to me without one, probably wouldn’t have had any of the other, you know? If not for 90210, the rest of the stuff may or may not have happened.”
Known mostly for his roles on television, including guest stints on Criminal Minds, Will & Grace, The Simpsons, and Oz, as well as starring roles in Windfall, Jeremiah and most recently, the hit CW series, Riverdale, Perry also appeared or starred in over 30 films, including cult classics Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Fifth Element. The most important film for Perry, though, had to be John Avildson’s 8 Seconds, which Perry also produced in order to maintain the integrity of the story behind champion bull rider Lane Frost.
Outside of acting, Perry was a devoted father and advocate for colorectal cancer. After a colonoscopy revealed pre-cancerous growths in 2015, he became involved with Fight CRC. Together with Chad Schrank, whose wife is a stage III cancer survivor, Perry produced multiple PSAs, including this special video for One Million Strong.
On February 27, the day FOX announced a revival of 90210, Perry suffered a massive ischemic stroke. He remained in the hospital until suffering a second stroke that would end his life on March 4th. He was surrounded by his family and close friends.
“Luke was everything you would hope he would be: an incredibly caring, consummate professional with a giant heart, and a true friend to all,” said the producers of Riverdale. “A father figure and mentor to the show’s young cast, Luke was incredibly generous, and he infused the set with love and kindness.”