Luke Perry, A Bad Boy For The Ages Gone Too Soon

Luke Perry was a heartthrob actor in Beverly Hills 90210
Luke Perry at the Emmy Awards 1991 (photo by Alan Light)

He was James Dean incarnate trapped in a world of bad dialogue and thin plot lines. But who was listening anyway? When Dylan McKay cocked an imperfect eyebrow and tilted his head as he slyly smiled, words were superfluous. 

He was just hot. Period, the end.

Every Wednesday night for nearly a decade, my friends and I tuned into Beverly Hills 90210 to follow the ups and downs of fake high school students at fake West Beverly High. And during each episode we divided into two camps. 

Team Brandon and Team Dylan.

But really, there was no competition. Brandon was sensible (well except for that brief gambling addiction) altruistic and honest to a fault.


But Dylan was the anti-Brandon. Rich and mysterious with a gangster dad and a hippie mom, he was prone to spontaneous trips to Baja and battled a penchant for guns and alcohol. He was a rainbow in a sea of vanilla casting and Fox’s very own pot of gold, as his role was expanded after the early episodes due to his popularity. 

Did I mention he was hot?

I assumed all guys in California were like Dylan McKay. Fast cars and dark sunglasses masked a tortured past that even 365 days of LA sunshine couldn’t erase.

We wept as Dylan crumpled to the ground in that marina parking lot after his dad’s car exploded, knowing he had barely escaped that fate himself.  Our hearts collectively broke on a dark, rainy night when Toni, Dylan’s forbidden fiancé, was gunned down by her own father. The fact that Dylan was helping her find her kitten at the time was almost more than we could bear. 

Dylan deserved better. But what did he get?  Grifters pretending to be his family in order to syphon millions from his trust fund. And even when it got weird with some twisted Mexican revenge plot, we still rooted for his hotness out of sheer loyalty.

If Dylan had just stayed with Kelly or maybe newly British Brenda, perhaps the world would not have been as cruel. But the very things that we loved about Dylan made him a pretty bad boyfriend. He didn’t dance, he basically hated the confines of college and just wanted to indulge his moodiness cresting a wave. He was unpredictable, dark and an old soul. 


After years of Jim Walsh (who looked as much like a high-stakes global financial whiz as I do) keeping him down, Dylan took his money and ran. He drifted in and out of episodes after that but we faithfully kept watch for his return. We forgave him his absences when he showed true heart and invested in the trusty Peach Pit, ensuring Beverly Hills would never run out of karaoke and pie. 

Luke Perry didn’t care for the James Dean comparisons but he was a bad boy for the ages nonetheless. Many of the show’s controversial plot lines revolved around Dylan’s addiction issues, Brenda’s pregnancy scare and lack of a cohesive family.  

He once remarked, “There’s always someone being called the next James Dean. But there was only one. And he’s dead.”

And now that comparison is all too real for there was only one Luke Perry and now he is gone as well. 

About Maureen Stiles

Maureen Stiles is a Washington DC based freelance journalist, columnist and editor. With over a decade of published work in the parenting and humor sector, Maureen has reached audiences around the globe. In addition to published works, she has been quoted in the Washington Post and The New York Times on topics surrounding parenting and family life. Maureen is the author of The Driving Book for Teens and a contributor to the book Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults as well as regularly featured on Today's Parenting Community and Grown and Flown.

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