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Luke Perry: 'Riverdale' and 'Beverly Hills, 90210' actor who starred in 'When Harry Met Sally' in the West End

Actor Luke Perry rose to fame as Dylan McKay, the rebellious teen in Nineties TV series Beverly Hills, 90210. In the past few years Perry, who died of a stroke aged 52, played the loving father of a teen heartthrob in Riverdale.

A frequent guest star, his last role was in Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming mystery crime film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as an actor in a TV western, due to be released this summer.

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But it was Beverly Hills, 90210 that defined him for a generation of viewers. Created by Darren Star and produced by Aaron Spelling, the show centred on a pair of Minnesota twins – Brandon and Brenda Walsh – played by Jason Priestley and Shannen Doherty, who move to southern California and adapt to life at glamorous (and fictional) West Beverly Hills High.

The series premiered on Fox in 1990 to dismal ratings and reviews but took off during a special “summer season” the following year. Drawing millions of viewers each week, it ran for 10 seasons, spawned spinoff series Melrose Place and served as a model for teen dramas such as Dawson’s Creek and The OC. As Dylan, Brenda Walsh’s off-and-on love interest, Perry played a moody loner who struggles with alcoholism and a fractured relationship with his wealthy father.

‘I’m going to be linked with Dylan McKay until I die, but that’s actually just fine’ (AFP/Getty)

While the show addressed topics such as Aids, date rape, learning disabilities and teenage pregnancy, the principal draw for many viewers was its handsome male leads. Sporting leather jackets, sideburns and a “rebel without a cause” persona, Perry was featured in a People magazine cover story that dubbed him “TV’s hottest heartbreaker” and was often mobbed in public.

When he visited a mall in Seattle to sign autographs in 1991, he had to be spirited away in a laundry hamper after a crowd of young women rushed the barricades. Later that year, 21 people were injured as a crowd of more than 8,000 fans rushed toward the stage to see him in south Florida.

“I don’t know why it happened,” he told The Washington Post. “I don’t even sing.”

Coy Luther Perry III was born in rural Mansfield, Ohio in 1966 and raised in nearby Fredericktown, where he said his high school “had classes on giving birth to cows and driving tractors”.

His father was a steelworker and his mother was a homemaker; they divorced when Luke was six and he was raised by his mother and construction-worker stepfather.

Among Perry’s earliest acting credits was a gig performing as Freddie Bird, his high school’s web-footed mascot. He moved to LA after graduation and held down odd jobs, selling shoes and working at a doorknob factory, while searching for work as an actor, guided by dreams of becoming the next Paul Newman.

By his account, he was rejected 216 times before landing roles on the soap operas Loving and Another World. Through a failed audition for Ferris Bueller, a short-lived sitcom based on the film starring Matthew Broderick, he met a casting director who suggested him for Beverly Hills, 90210.

Seeking to demonstrate his range as an actor, Perry left the series in 1995. “The show does not challenge me.” A year before he had starred in the film 8 Seconds, as bull-riding champion Lane Frost. He never found a true star-making feature vehicle and went on to supporting parts in The Fifth Element (1997) and Dishdogz (2005).

Perry returned to Beverly Hills, 90210 in 1998 for its final three seasons but did not appear in the show’s revival, 90210, which ran from 2008 to 2013. In 1993 he married Rachel “Minnie” Sharp, variously described as a former model and onetime furniture saleswoman. They had two children, Jack and Sophie, and divorced in 2003. In addition to his children, survivors include his fiancee, Wendy Madison Bauer; his mother and stepfather; a brother; and a sister.

Perry’s acting credits include the 1992 original movie version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer; playing an imprisoned televangelist in the critically acclaimed HBO series Oz; starring in the post-apocalyptic Showtime series Jeremiah from 2002 to 2004; and playing the neurotic male lead in a 2004 West End adaptation of When Harry Met Sally.

But he said he had no illusions about his legacy and defining role on Beverly Hills, 90210. “I’m going to be linked with him until I die, but that’s actually just fine,” he said in 2008. “I created Dylan McKay. He’s mine.”

Luke Perry, American actor, born 11 October 1966, died 4 March 2019

© Washington Post

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