I was in high school when Beverly Hills, 90210 premiered, and I was hooked from the get-go. Every Wednesday night, I would hole up in my bedroom, call my friends on three-way on my hot pink phone, and we would watch what would go down at Beverly Hills High.
The show was a coming-of-age drama for teenagers in the nineties who loved the way it confronted issues such as sex, drugs, drinking, racism, and assault.
But mostly, we watched it for Dylan McKay, the gorgeous bad boy with the good heart played by Luke Perry.
Dylan was the rebel that made young girls swoon and who made parents want to lock their daughters in their bedrooms. The son of a white-collar criminal and a hippie mother, he was the perfect combination of free-spirited vigor and James Dean angst. He was constantly fighting his inner demons, including addiction and trust issues because of his parents, and he faced one heartbreak after another.
And even with all that, you couldn’t help rooting for him week after week. When he was bad, he was very bad. He used heroin. He drove fast cars and played with guns. He said some pretty awful things to Kelly and to Brenda (but let’s be honest, Brenda totally deserved it after cheating on him in Paris, even if he was with Kelly. What was she thinking?).
But when he was good, he was great, like when he stood up to a bunch of bullies who were picking on Scott, a nerdy freshman who was about to get his butt kicked. He took in a young girl he believed to be his long-lost sister. He wouldn’t give up on his love with his fiancé, Toni, despite the bribes and threats from her mobster father (and who can forget watching Toni fall to the ground in the rain after being gunned down by her father who thought it was Dylan?).
His life was tortuous, yet he persevered time and time again, even coming back to save the beloved Peach Pit.
In real life, I dated Brandons, but my dreams were filled with Dylan McKay.
Now, the actor who defined a big portion of my teen-hood has passed away from stroke-related complications, and my heart is a little bit broken.
At 52, Perry is only six years older than I am, so his death causes many of us in the 90210 generation to face our own mortality. Generation X has lost one of its own, and it hurts.
After ending his stint as McKay, Perry went on to have a successful career as an actor appearing in movies, on Broadway, and in several television series. Most recently his career came full circle as his former 90210 fans watched him alongside their tweens and teens in the CW drama Riverdale, where he played the dad to Archie Andrews. Along with his estranged wife played by Molly Ringwald, Perry was one of the few actors who truly spanned two generations on television.
Luke Perry launched the 90s and was the epitome of cool. He made teenage girls believe they could get bad boys like Dylan on the straight and narrow, and caused adolescent boys to think that side burns looked good.
And as I watched him in living color transform from a teen idol to a favorite TV dad, he made getting older a bit more palatable, which makes his death a little bit harder for this middle-aged mom to take.
Godspeed Luke Perry. Thank you for bringing light into this world. And may you rest in peace.
RIP Luke Perry. 💔 pic.twitter.com/g6rR5lqLUG
— Mayim Bialik (@missmayim) March 4, 2019