From his debut in Beverly Hills 90210, through his role in Riverdale HFPA journalists met Luke Perry several times during his career, in press conferences as well as when he attended the Golden Globes. In its mid-90s heyday, Beverly Hills 90210 collected four Golden Globe nominations. Phil Berk recalls one of our encounters.
There was something disarmingly charming about Luke Perry, who tragically died at age 52. He was 24 when he was cast as 17-year-old Dylan McKay in Beverly Hills 90210, and he never lost that perpetually youthful look which was perhaps his greatest liability even as it endeared him to millions of fans.
That role haunted him all his life, and even though he attempted to break away into other endeavors, success eluded him. He was quoted as saying "I'm going to be linked with him until I die, but that's actually just fine. I created Dylan McKay. He's mine."
Other TV series, London and Broadway stage roles, and feature movies followed, but nothing equaled the success he had in 90120, the show which made him a teenage idol. Here are excerpts from the interview he gave us at his press conference in 1994 for his first feature 8 Seconds, which sadly failed to excite audiences. At the time he had just married his ex-wife Minnie, who happened to be the 24-year-old daughter of Alan Sharp, the British-born cult writer, best remembered for Ulzana’s Raid and Night Moves.
How was married life treating him? we asked him. “It’s good. It’s making me calm. It keeps me home and allows me to concentrate on my work more.”
Any plans to start a family? “Not at the moment. I’m not looking forward to it. Eventually, sometime, I suppose I’d like to have a child, but not anytime in the near future.” They later had two children, a son who is a professional wrestler and a daughter, still in high school. Recalling what he had said at an earlier interview when he talked about being in touch with his “feminine side,” we asked him how his feminine side was adjusting to marriage?
“It wasn’t something I thought about too much before I said it, but it proved beneficial because it allowed me to get away with being the sexist pig which I truly am. But believe it or not, some people come up to me and ask if I’m threatened because I made such a statement. And my answer is absolutely not. I was raised mostly by my mother. Women have been a strong influence in my life. I work with them all day. Women are a big part of my life. Any man who says he’s not influenced by (women) and who doesn’t realize that part of who he is comes from a woman, is lying to himself and to everybody else. Women are a big part of who everybody is.
“I took a lot of shit for saying that! But it’s helping me in marriage because it makes me a little less macho. Instead of saying ‘Goddammit, it doesn’t take three hours to get dressed,’ I try to be more patient and say, ‘Okay, darling. I’ll be in here watching TV. You just let me know when you’re ready to go.”
Animal Rights’ groups attacked the bull riding sequences in 8 Seconds. Was he surprised? “I sure was. It was an opportunity for them to get a lot of publicity out of it. No one is a more staunch believer in the ethical treatment of animals than me. I love animals, everyone knows that. They should use their time and financial resources a little better, going after somebody who is really endangering animals.”
What about violence in the media, did he feel a personal responsibility?
“Not at all. People don’t watch violence on TV and then go out and commit a crime. We live in a violent world. Neither side should assign blame, not that I think television should glorify violence. But the way I see it, I have a responsibility to myself, to my director. And my responsibility ends there.”
Suddenly becoming testy, he added, “You know, when I did the Vanity Fair cover I took a lot of flak for having a gun in my hand, yet when Wesley Snipes held a big gun in the advertisements for his movie, nobody said a word. People pick and choose who they want to blame for things, and that’s why I don’t think assigning blame is the thing to do. What bothered me most about that Vanity Fair cover was that I had my shirt off. I’d rather be seen with a gun in my hand than with my shirt off. Later on, there was a letter expressing all the things wrong with that picture, accusing me of having the gun cocked and acting in a very relaxed manner. What the writer didn’t know was that right outside the frame, there was a weapons expert. The gun was loaded with blanks, and besides, it was a fake gun. It was not going to hurt anybody. I was not advocating gun use, neither was I saying you shouldn’t have a gun.”
Perry grew up on a farm in Fredericktown, Ohio, where he once worked as an asphalt paver. Always wanting to be an actor, he came to Los Angeles to study the craft, then moved to New York where he began his professional career as a regular on Loving. He followed that with a recurring role in another daytime soap, Another World.
His appearance on Beverly Hills 90210 catapulted him to instant fame. Unfortunately, his subsequent TV shows and movies were never as successful. Prophetically he told us, “The only way you’re going to have staying power in this business is by doing good work and doing it consistently. It would be easy for me to make two or three movies quickly and never be seen again, but I don’t want to do that. I’m not going to worry about, ‘Am I rich enough? Am I famous enough?’ I didn’t get into this business to be rich and famous. I’ll do it for as long as it serves me, and then I’ll sell second-hand cars.”
Did he mourn his loss of privacy? “It’s not something I’m completely comfortable with, but to be a successful actor you have to give up some of your privacy. It goes along with the job, even though you’re never fully prepared for it. You walk into a restaurant, and the whole restaurant stops and everybody looks. There is pressure there. It’s like, ‘Oh God, I hope I don’t screw up’.”
Was he still as excited about acting as he was when he started? “I won't say my desire to work is less,” he told us. “But my desire to work every day is less. I still want to act and to do great parts, but day in day out all the time 60 hours a week…it’s a little taxing right now. I think I need a rest.”
May he rest in peace.