Luke Perry, the actor famous for playing brooding outsiders in indelible pop-culture hits like Beverly Hills, 90210, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and more recently the CW’s Riverdale, died on Monday at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Burbank, California, after suffering a stroke last week. He was 52.
Born Coy Luther Perry III in Mansfield, Ohio, to a steelworker and a homemaker, Perry grew up in Fredericktown, about an hour outside Columbus. He auditioned for several roles before landing 90210 and told an interviewer that his day job at the time was laying asphalt as part of a construction crew. (His lack of success with acting roles at the time notably didn’t affect his appeal: “If Fredericktown ever had a ladies’ man, it was Luke,” his mother told People magazine for a 1991 cover story. “It broke our hearts when he had to go off and pursue acting. But it left the phone free.”) Perry was a reluctant teen idol, telling People, “Man, I hate those two [bleep]ing words!” He had his reasons: The magazine went on to detail “the 2,000 fan letters he receives each week,” “the time he had to escape a mob of 4,000 screaming girls by hiding in a laundry hamper,” and “the stacks of unauthorized biographies with titles like Luke-Mania! and Loving Luke.”
For most of his career, Perry appeared to remain relatively unimpressed with the trappings of fame. “I love where I come from,” Perry told an interviewer in 1991. “The people there are good people. When they say thank you, they mean it. A lot of people say nice things to me out here because they’re getting paid to.” In the early years, the actor famously preferred his used Chevy Blazer to the fancy, foreign cars preferred by his costars. “Porsches are glorified Volkswagens, man,” he told People, before feeding his pet Vietnamese potbellied pig, Jerry Lee, an apple with his mouth. “Some people would say that I’m not an actor, simply because I don’t own a Harley-Davidson and I’ve never been to a poetry reading,” he says.
Perry remained on 90210 for five seasons, after which he left to try his hand at Hollywood, taking roles in the original film version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the rodeo drama 8 Seconds, Luc Besson’s sci-fi epic The Fifth Element, and work as a voice actor. He returned to 90210 for its last two years, from 1998 to 2000, and appeared in the 2003 reunion special. In the early 2000s, he played the Reverend Jeremiah Cloutier on Oz and the titular character on Jeremiah. He took roles on Broadway in a revival of The Rocky Horror Show and starred opposite Alyson Hannigan in a London production of When Harry Met Sally. At the time of his death, he was attached to Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and had an ongoing character arc as Archie’s father in Riverdale.
According to his rep, Perry died surrounded by his children, Jack and Sophie, his fiancée Wendy Madison Bauer, ex-wife Minnie Sharp, mother Ann Bennett, stepfather Steve Bennett, brother Tom Perry, sister Amy Coder, and other close family and friends.
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