Entertainment

Actor Luke Perry set the template for a generation of teenage TV dramas

The actor and former heartthrob has died aged 52.

Luke Perry’s portrayal of rebellious heartthrob Dylan McKay in Beverly Hills, 90210 captured a nation of hearts in both his native America and across the Atlantic.

So ubiquitous was his performance in the 90s teen drama that at times the public found it difficult to separate him from his character.

Often compared to James Dean, Perry, who has died aged 52 after suffering a stroke, found himself typecast in the years following his departure from that show.

Luke Perry with US actress Alicia Witt at the Laurence Olivier Awards in 2004
Luke Perry with US actress Alicia Witt at the Laurence Olivier Awards in 2004 (Andy Butterton/PA)

He was born Coy Luther Perry III on October 11 1966 in Mansfield, Ohio, to a steelworker father and housewife mother.

Perry’s relationship with his father remained strained until his death in 1980 following a heart attack.

Indeed, it was his stepfather, a construction worker, who he looked to as a role model.

In an interview with People magazine he described him as “the one who taught me the important things I needed to know about being a man”.

After finishing school and realising there was little chance of him breaking into the film industry from Ohio, he spent time in both Los Angeles and New York.

It took until 1990 for his breakthrough role, and in the intervening years he worked as a paver, living in cities including Huntington Beach and Long Beach.

In an interview with American television host Whoopi Goldberg, Perry said he auditioned for 215 acting jobs in New York before finally securing a single TV commercial.

He scored a part in the video for the Alice Cooper-featuring song Be Chrool To Your Scuel by heavy metal band Twisted Sister. Later he appeared in daytime soaps such as ABC’s Loving.

Luke Perry
Luke Perry’s big break came in 1990 (Anthony Harvey/PA)

But at the cusp of the 90s he was cast in Aaron Spelling’s Fox TV series Beverly Hills, 90210 and his career accelerated.

Playing the brooding son of a millionaire, Perry became a household name.

He had originally auditioned for the role of jock Steve Sanders but was thought more suited to the morally ambiguous and often conflicted McKay.

Alongside Justin Timberlake, Perry’s image was found plastered across the bedroom walls of teenage girls in the US and UK.

Beverly Hills, 90210 set a template for teen drama that would be reused and repurposed by programmes including The OC and later Gossip Girl.

It followed a group of friends living in the exclusive and star-studded community of Beverly Hills as they start at college and face the adult world.

Two years later Perry won a supporting role in the film version of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, starring in the movie Terminal Bliss the same year.

The US network Fox saw its ratings soar and the media regularly compared Perry to the actor James Dean, who died aged 24 following a car accident.

Feeling he had outgrown the show, Perry quit in 1995 and began looking for more mature roles.

Luke Perry and Alyson Hannigan launch the stage adaptation of When Harry Met Sally
Luke Perry and Alyson Hannigan launch the stage adaptation of When Harry Met Sally (Andy Butterton/PA)

The next three years saw him star in an independent film and a clutch of science fiction features.

But he did not find the career breakthrough he longed for and returned to his role as McKay in 1998 for financial reasons.

The late 90s and noughties saw Perry find consistent work on television including on HBO prison drama Oz from 2001 and 2002 and Windfall, a series following friends who win the lottery, in 2006.

Yet all the while he was unable to escape the character he created on the by then ubiquitous Beverly Hills, 90210.

A 2009 revival did not include Perry, with him telling fans at the time that a new series which did not feature longtime producer Aaron Spelling was simply a pale imitation.

He said: “The difference between CW bringing something back and Aaron Spelling doing something back is significant, and I cannot do it without Aaron.”

Perry cameoed in programmes including The Simpsons and took to the stage in a Broadway revival of The Rocky Horror Show in 2004 as well as a London production of When Harry Met Sally as Harry.

Ironically, he would eventually find the steady television work he craved in a programme that knowingly, often overtly, referenced the teen dramas he helped pioneer.

Riverdale – available in the UK on Netflix and based on a series of Archie Comics – nodded towards the intrigue of Twin Peaks with the hormone-fuelled drama of Beverly Hills, 90210.

Perry played Fred Andrews – father to the series’ main character Archie Andrews – and found renewed interest in the show’s transatlantic fan base.

His first brush with serious illness came in 2015 when a colonoscopy revealed precancerous growths.

Perry married the actress Rachel Sharp in 1993 and they had two children, Jack and Sophie, before splitting in 2003. Jack continues to work as a professional wrestler, performing under the name Jungle Boy Nat Coy.

On February 27 2019 Perry suffered an unexpected and serious stroke at his home in Sherman Oaks in California. He was hospitalised and died four days later, aged just 52.

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