Luke Perry was many things — a onetime teen heartthrob, the captain of the Riverdale hot dads, and a consummate professional and working actor.
When he died after suffering a massive stroke on March 4, he left behind an impressive body of television and film work, most notably on the show that launched him to success, Beverly Hills, 90210, and the CW’s Riverdale, which endeared him to a new generation.
Today, EW honors Perry with a special online tribute and a look back at his previous EW covers.
As he grew his career over the past three decades, Perry opened up to EW about everything from sparking mass hysteria among fans — he was once famously evacuated from a 90210 fan event by police in a laundry hamper — to his own crisis of confidence as an actor. In recent years, he made multiple appearances at Comic-Con with his Riverdale kids, whose own explosion into sudden stardom he tried to help guide.
At the peak of his 90210 fame, he graced the cover of EW twice, first in 1991 alongside costars Jason Priestley and Shannen Doherty, and then again in 1994 in a solo cover that explored 90210’s wane and his new feature film 8 Seconds.
In these interviews, he offered up the best of himself: self-aware and smart, goofy and generous. “You gotta know how good you are at something, and you have to be realistic with yourself,” he mused in 1994. “I know I’ve got a lot to learn. But I’m better than I thought I was.”
As former EW editor Mark Harris noted on Twitter Monday morning, “Luke Perry pretty much could have had the cover every week. The world made it very possible for him to be terrible. Instead he was modest and gracious.”
In recent years, he’d returned to EW’s pop culture-obsessed orbit as Fred Andrews, the steadfast father to Riverdale’s leading redhead, Archie Andrews. Perry lent Fred a genial, good-hearted demeanor that made him a pillar of sanity in the midst of a bonkers small town, especially against his onscreen son, played by KJ Apa with an earnest insouciance that sometimes seems to echo Perry’s portrayal of Dylan McKay.
Offscreen, he continued to be equally as kind, as warm, and as playful as Fred. Last summer, he joined EW at our Comic-Con studios in San Diego to talk about the show’s third season. There, he kicked off his shoes and sat comfortably cross-legged and sock-footed with his young colleagues, joking about writing a parenting advice book from Fred Andrews’ point of view.
On Riverdale, which has both a passionate fandom and creators who love suspenseful surprises, Perry had the distinction of the first season’s most dramatic cliffhanger when Fred was gunned down at Pop’s Diner in the finale. Viewers waited with bated breath over the summer to learn his fate, and when it was finally revealed he would pull through, Perry opened up to EW about the lengths they went to keep the storyline under wraps.
Initially, Perry himself didn’t even know whether his character would live to return for season 2, but he told EW that he didn’t push creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa too hard for answers. “I was like, ‘Hey, I know how this works: I saw Game of Thrones and people get their heads cut off on TV! You can’t scare me! I’m not afraid of that s—, Roberto!’ That’s what I said,” he joked, before turning more serious.
“I didn’t want him to tell me. I wanted him to leave the door open for what he creatively thought was best and if that means one thing, then that’s what it means. And if it means something else then that’s what it means. I like to take the creative chance, and I don’t like to operate from a place of fear.”
Affable as always, Perry joked that they had been keeping his return a secret by sneaking him on to set in the character Cheryl Blossom’s long red wig. And while he said he wasn’t sure if Fred’s dreams in the hospital were a nod to 90210 episode “The Dreams of Dylan McKay,” given Aguirre-Sacasa’s encyclopedic knowledge of television, it could very well be possible.
Perry often surprised his interviewers and audiences with his playful responses. In one video, Perry told EW he would have liked Riverdale to do a crossover episode with Game of Thrones. “All these people now are talking about ‘Hot Dads of Riverdale,’ well when the guy was going ‘Hodor, Hodor,’ that’s what that stood for! So we started laying this way back on Game of Thrones,” he joked, “and it’s just now coming around and paying off. That’s how smart Roberto is.”
In the same breath, he turned around and earnestly professed his love for Project Runway and Tim Gunn. “People would be surprised that I like Project Runway,” he said. “My daughter and I got into watching it, and it’s time with my daughter, so I’ve come to equate it with that.”
But to those who’d been following Perry since the peak of his 90210 fame in the early 1990s, this congenial frankness was nothing new. In both of his EW covers, the same traits were evident.
First, in September 1991, he appeared alongside 90210 costars Jason Priestley and Shannen Doherty in a story that took fans onto the set of the Aaron Spelling teen drama at the height of its success.
At one point during the interview, Perry was bare-chested and bouncing a basketball. Though like most of the 90210 crew at the time he coyly declined to state his real age, then-EW reporter Lisa Schwarzbaum wrote that he still pulled off being “cool — charmingly, full-of-it cool.”
And he wasn’t shy about taking some credit for the series’ explosive rating success and its role in helping Fox’s relative new status as a network. “We’re the show that almost was on the network that isn’t yet, and here we are, kickin’ a little ass, if I do say so myself.”
The story gives a glimpse of the entire buzzy cast, relating stories of their intense and sudden fame, including Perry’s own experiences being mobbed. He plays it off, inviting Schwarzbaum to feel his pulse before retorting, “Pretty normal, huh?”
Three years later, in March 1994, Perry got the cover of EW all to himself. He’s more introspective and less concerned about living up to that cool guy image. “Luke Who’s Talking,” the cover boasts. Perry is extremely frank throughout the interview, especially about 90210‘s downward swing and his foray into feature films.
“The teenage days are gone!” he crows when he first sits down in a suburban Los Angeles diner, again with Schwarzbaum. “Coming-of-age movies are gone for me. I mean, come on, the hairline just won’t have it!”
Perry was also eager to forge a new path — one away from his 90210 heartthrob status. “The best-case scenario for me is to get back to ground zero as an actor,” he explained, “where people aren’t completely married to this concept of the television show, yet they haven’t seen me do anything terribly horrendous on celluloid yet, either.”
The story was timed to the release of Perry’s new film 8 Seconds, in which he starred as late real-life rodeo star Lane Frost, who died after being gored in the ring at the age of 25. Perry, who grew up in Ohio, immediately felt drawn to the project, saying, “The second it was brought to my attention, it was like Excalibur. It was the sword that was stuck in the stone. I couldn’t believe they were just letting it sit there.
“Not to be vulgar, but I felt it in my nuts,” he added of his sense that the project was the perfect fit for him. Perry notably did his own riding for key scenes in the film and was injured on set. While director John Avildsen made much of his injury, Perry played it off, saying, “Aww, I got thrown on my shoulder. But it was the very last shot, so the timing couldn’t have been better.”
The film allowed him to achieve something he’d been craving — broadening his horizons as an actor. “Now I feel like I got a monkey off my back, and I can make decisions appropriately,” he told EW. He was drawn to 8 Seconds because “it wasn’t about this superhero-like character — it was about a human being.”
Perry also spoke frankly to the future of 90210, which he would ultimately leave in 1995 before returning to close out its run from 1998-2000. “It’s in trouble,” he told EW in 1994. “I know that the show is not great now. I believe it was a great show at one time. Then it went to being a good show. And now it’s just another show. And for me to sit here and say that I’m unaware of that would be a big line of bulls—, and I don’t do that.”
It’s rare to see the star of a network show speak that candidly while still leading the series, but Perry was firm about his loyalty to producers. “It would be easy to pack it in and let the show taper off. But that’s not the commitment I made to Aaron Spelling,” he said. “Originally, nobody wanted me but him. And I said, ‘Look, you put me on that show, I will kick its ass, man.’ Now, in the last season, I’m not gonna become lethargic. I think we got problems and we need to fix ’em.”
Perry was optimistic about doing his best for the remainder of his contract. “I’ve still got a year left on the show,” he said, “and I’m gonna try and change it and make it as good as I can. And if that means taking creative liberties or creative control, I’ll do that. I have a good relationship with production. If people are a little more apt to listen to what I say, it’s because I speak with conviction.”
“I know where I’m going now,” he added. “It’s not all about the career anymore.”
As tributes from Riverdale cast and crew poured in for Perry after his death, it was clear he served as a mentor to the new group of twentysomethings finding themselves suddenly thrown into stardom, fan obsession, invasion of privacy, and more. After all, Perry survived both leaving and returning to 90210, nurturing a lengthy career with frequent film and TV roles — only to end up back among this new crop of heartthrobs and girls-next-door.
Even as Fred Andrews’ fate on Riverdale is still to be determined, those lessons remain.
“All the (90210) madness made me doubt myself as an actor,” he told EW in 1994. “I don’t anymore, and now I’m pissed at myself that I ever did. I feel better than I ever have about where I’m going. The frenzy dying away forces people to look at the clearer picture. What’s this all about? Get the s— out of the way and let’s see what this is about! I’ve always been fairly confident of my abilities — I just didn’t know how much s— could get in the way.”