Luke Perry, who died Monday after suffering a stroke last week, is known by different generations and audiences for different roles, some certainly more than others. The 52-year-old starred in dozens of projects, but these three TV hits were our favorites.
Beverly Hills, 90210 (1990-2000)
Fox’s soap about two squeaky-clean Minnesota teens who move to California was initially — dare we say it? — a little boring. That is, until Perry’s Dylan McKay swept a moody young woman named Brenda Walsh (Shannen Doherty) off her feet. Perry, who honed his sexy smolder on the daytime dramas Loving and Another World, gave 90210’s resident bad boy a safe-for-primetime sex appeal and a relatable, angsty loneliness. We couldn’t even be mad at Dylan when he betrayed Brenda by dating her best friend, Kelly (Jennie Garth). Perry played every beat of Dylan’s story — from the sublime (that series-ending kiss with Kelly!) to the ridiculous (those past lives, oy!) — with heart, and we were the ones who fell in love. —Kristen Baldwin
Refusing to be imprisoned by his heartthrob status, Perry imprisoned himself. In his first significant role after 90210, he joined HBO’s hardcore prison drama, appearing in 10 episodes as true-believer evangelist Jeremiah Cloutier, the charismatic son of a tent-revival preacher, who was serving hard time for embezzling money from his church. While preaching salvation and non-violence, Rev. Cloutier bravely and brazenly wandered into potent prison politics and pissed off the wrong prisoners. He was sealed behind a kitchen wall and left to die, only to be “rescued” by an explosion that left him horrifically burned, appear as a vision to inmates and wind up entombed behind a different wall. Perry’s time in Oswald State Correctional Facility was literally haunting and a true leap of faith. —Dan Snierson
It was a fitting evolution: former teen idol Perry playing Fred Andrews, the father to one of America’s most iconic high school characters, Archie Andrews (KJ Apa). But Perry’s work on The CW’s noir teen drama was more than just stunt casting. The actor grounded the wild series with a gentle weariness and gave the relationship between Archie and Fred a genuine warmth and sweetness. (Archie surprising Fred with an old jalopy in season 2 is a tear-jerker.) Riverdale — which shut down production in the wake Perry’s death and has yet to reveal how it will handle is absence from the show — might be full of masked killers and greedy mobsters, but the resilience and goodness of the Andrews men always burned bright and was embodied in Perry’s performance. —Tim Stack