Breaking News Emails
Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
By Elizabeth Chuck
Luke Perry once had to be smuggled out of a Seattle mall hidden under clothes inside a laundry hamper to escape throngs of teenage girls who had mobbed him during an autograph-signing.
Another time, in Denver, the mere sight of him prompted a fan to pass out.
“She fainted right in front of me. And I was going, ‘Hey, hey, breathe, hey, hey,’” Perry told Rolling Stone magazine in 1992.
“I don’t like that. I mean, I could understand if I was the King,” he added, referring to Elvis Presley. “But I ain’t.”
As the actor who played brooding bad boy Dylan McKay on the 1990s hit show “Beverly Hills, 90210,” Perry vaulted to fame, becoming the heartthrob of a generation. It was a position he never quite seemed comfortable in.
The actor, who died Monday at age 52 from a stroke, came from modest roots. Raised in rural Fredericktown, Ohio, he didn’t start acting until after high school, and told NBC’s “Today” Show in 1992 that stardom felt foreign to him.
“I felt weird the first time my mother ever saw me step out of a limousine. I felt a little guilty, maybe I felt a little strange,” he said.
“There’s a little bit of uncomfortability that goes with having people who’ve known you all your life, certainly before any of this ever happened,” he added. “I’m afraid they’ll look at me say, ‘Well, that’s not him.’ And it is me, because I don’t change who I am for what I’m doing.”
His ability to stay true to himself helped him land his role in “90210.” Often compared in looks and attitude to 1950s icon James Dean — a comparison that Perry flatly rejected (“At one point or another, everybody gets called ‘the new James Dean,'” he once said) — he didn’t come on the show until after the first episode.
“After the pilot, we felt there should be someone who is a little dangerous, a little on the edge, and we came up with the Dylan character,” show executive producer Aaron Spelling told Rolling Stone in 1992. “When Luke walked into the audition, it was like ‘Wow, that’s the person.’ He seems exactly like James Dean to me, but it isn’t a conscious imitation — he’s really being himself.”
Perry’s success came from more than his looks. Television and pop culture experts said his ability to play such a complex character, on a show that offered more realism to teens than any other program at the time, made him relatable.