Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Remembering Luke Perry: How The 90s Heartthrob’s Final Television Role Epitomized Who He Was [Contributor: Araceli Aviles]

The world is mourning the loss of one of the most recognizable faces of the 1990s. Actor Luke Perry died yesterday in Burbank, California after suffering a massive stroke last week. He was just 52. To say that his death has been a shock to the world is an understatement. The loss of an idol isn’t something one is ever prepared for, but the loss of a man so many people in Hollywood could call a friend...well, let’s just say shock is the only word I could come up with.

Luke Perry will always be known for his iconic role as Dylan McKay on Beverly Hills, 90210. His James Dean-esque swagger coupled with his heart of gold catapulted him to stardom almost overnight in the early 90s. Fans of Perry and his bad boy alter ego still yearned to see what would have become of his character more than 30 years after he inhabited the role. (Note that three decades later, the Brenda vs. Kelly debate is still raging.)

And as grateful as Perry was to have had that experience, you’ll find over 90 onscreen credits to his repertoire. That level of stardom tempered down a bit as Perry found numerous other projects to spread his wings on. No doubt his fans are consuming as much of his work as they can in the hours since his death.

One of his last roles was as Fred Andrews on the hit CW series Riverdale. If you’ve been to Comic-Con recently, you’ll know that Riverdale has reached a level of cult-fandom all its own — success which Perry was very familiar with. This time however, he got to play a role which most closely resembled who he truly was: a dad. And not just any dad, but the most humble, down-to-earth parent.

I was lucky enough to meet Perry at a Wondercon roundtable two years ago. Here’s the thing about working your way through Hollywood — whether it’s on camera or behind-the-scenes in whatever capacity — you start at the bottom, work your way up for years building connections, and fully prepare for your experiences with big stars to pass quickly and without too much impact. You get in, do your job, and five minutes later, the experience is over. But occasionally you will meet someone who leaves a lasting impression, someone who doesn’t give generic answers to your questions. Someone who is honest and humble and takes the time to shake hands with everyone at the table, even when you’re on a time crunch.

That was Luke Perry.

My immediate impression upon meeting Perry was that this was a guy who had quickly built bonds with the younger generation on Riverdale. In my joint interview with him and his on-screen son KJ Apa (who plays Archie Andrews of the original Archie Comics), you could see the relationship they’d built as friends. At that time, Perry had this to say about his relationship with his "son":

“A lot of times when we’re playing the scenes, we’re not necessarily father and son. We’re just a couple of guys. Depending on what the issues are, I have to step in and be the father. But I also think, I learn from my son. He teaches me stuff along the way. As a father, you look back and it makes you proud to realize that your son is someone you can lean on. I feel like he’s got my back.”

That was Luke Perry talking about playing Fred Andrews, but also about being himself. And so when it comes to this role, was Luke really playing anything? Or was he just being who he was? A father figure to these young kids thrust into stardom, an experience he was quite familiar with. A friend to co-stars young and experienced, sharing stories and talking about their day-to-day lives. How much of Fred was Luke, and how much of Luke was Fred?

When you realize that Perry’s final teen show role was more close to who he really was, it makes the heartbreak that much more raw. Because we’re not mourning a teen icon or a superstar or a fabled legend. We’re mourning a man who was as humble and kind as you’ve heard.

So to Luke Perry, from a working writer who met you for six minutes one March afternoon, thank you for your courtesy, your honesty, and your generosity in sharing a laugh or two.

Gone but never forgotten.


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