If you were a teenage girl anywhere near the ’90s, chances are Dylan McKay was your first real crush.
From the moment the resident bad boy of Beverly Hills 90210 drove onto the lot of West Beverly High in his black Porsche 356 Speedster with his coiffured hair, distinctive eyebrow scar and broody expression, actor Luke Perry was a bona fide young heart-throb.
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The teen series premiered in October 1990 when Perry was 24 and quickly became the number one show for teenagers.
And everywhere he went, it was mania.
Even iconic ’90s teen movie Clueless hailed Perry as the ultimate dreamboat.
(When Tai questions why Cher is still a virgin, her best friend Dionne jumps in: “Cher’s saving herself for Luke Perry.”)
It was an incredible transition for Perry — born Coy Luther Perry III — who grew up in rural Ohio and was still shovelling asphalt for a road crew in Los Angeles when he was called in to a 90210 audition.
As he told ET just a few months after the show premiered: “I was shovelling asphalt a year ago, and in a year I could be doing it again.”
Before he was cast, Perry had been trying out for the role of Steve Sanders (which eventually went to Ian Ziering) but landed Dylan instead, a character who — alongside Shannon Doherty’s Brenda Walsh — would go on to become central in the series. Perry starred on the show in two stints over its decade-long run — between 1990-95 and again in 1998-2000.
Before 90210, Perry had been trying to crack Hollywood for years. In an interview with Whoopi Goldberg in the ’90s, he admitted he’d auditioned for 215 parts before even landing a TV commercial. From there, he worked on a couple of soaps — Loving, Another World — and then picked up odd jobs as he waited for his big break.
It’s a dream most starry-eyed wannabe actors never realise, but Perry had a hunch he was destined for big things.
“I always felt like something of an outsider,” he told Geocities in 1993. “But I identified with people up on the screen. That made me feel like I wanted to be up on the screen too. I felt like eventually I would get there.”
But once he became a target for screaming fans, Perry struggled to adjust.
“I always thought I would succeed somehow, but, well, you don’t think it’s going to be like this. I certainly didn’t think it would be like this,” he told NBC in 1992.
In 1991, People magazine asked how he felt about being a “teen idol”: “Man, I hate those two f***ing words!”
The young actor was also troubled by the comparisons to original rebel heart-throb James Dean that followed him from early in his career.
“I think that in a way, if they make the association strong enough, I’ll have to pay the price for the fact that he checked out — and I don’t want to,” Perry explained to TV host Maria Shriver.
“I think when I can no longer fulfil that James Dean fantasy for (fans) they’ll look and get it from someone else, and I’ll be gone.
“I’m not James Dean. And no one else is either. There’s always someone being called the next James Dean. But there was only one. And he’s dead.”
While his fame certainly hit a peak in the ’90s, Perry still managed to carve out a long career on our screens.
He appeared in The Fifth Element in 1997 and prison drama Oz and also guest-starred on everything from Will & Grace to Law & Order: SVU to The Simpsons.
Perry finally landed a stable job on Riverdale in 2017, playing the conservative and old-fashioned dad to the show’s lead, Archie Andrews.
Like so many others who became ingrained in pop culture thanks to one major role, Perry found it hard to ever shrug off Dylan McKay — but he also recognised he was one of the lucky ones.
As he once told Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet: “I’m going to be linked with (Dylan) until I die, but that’s actually just fine. I created Dylan McKay. He’s mine.”