I didn't have the type of parents who policed the television and films I watched when I was younger, so I was four years old when I fell in love for the first time. He wore leather jackets over flannel shirts and ripped jeans. When he turned that sultry smolder to the screen, I felt seen. He was Dylan McKay, and he was my very first crush.
I am not alone in that memory. Millions of women (and men, or anyone that is attracted to men) that categorize themselves in the older millennial demographic have similar stories about obsessing over Luke Perry on Beverly Hills, 90210. It didn't matter if you were Team Kelly (Jennie Garth) or Team Brenda (Shannen Doherty), everyone wanted Dylan, or to be like him. Yes, he was the teen soap bad-boy prototype that you'd be absolutely willing to get grounded sneaking out to see at night. But he also had a heart of gold underneath all that brooding and danger. He was so cool, but with the propensity to love you with every fiber of his being, thus inspiring an entire generation to be willing to kick a puppy just for a ride on the back of his motorcycle.
While Dylan McKay will forever remain in the teen dream boy hall of fame, Perry's deft combination of sensitivity and danger paved the way for many other fixer-upper bad boys who stole our hearts down the line. Without Perry and Dylan there'd be no names like Shawn Hunter (Boy Meets World), Jake Sommers (California Dreams), Pacey Witter (Dawson's Creek) or Ryan Atwood (The O.C.) to fill the margins of our school notebooks with. Perry may not have been the first bad boy of teen soaps, but he broke the mold and set the bar for all of the ones who came after him.
Luke Perry was such an iconic part of my childhood and adolescence that it was surreal to find out he was going to be a series regular on Riverdale as Fred Andrews,a show I have faithfully covered at TV Guide for three years now. Even though his days as a teen heartthrob had faded, Perry was on-hand to shepherd a new generation of young hunks like KJ Apa into the spotlight. Though I'm biased and think Archie could never match the intriguing power of Dylan McKay, it felt appropriate to have Perry in the wings as Apa became this generation's obsession.
I was starstruck at least the first three times I met him (taking a moment here to acknowledge how extremely privileged I was to have met Luke Perry at all, let alone the amount of times I talked to him about this show), but he was so gracious, kind and so cool for every interview I had with him. It is not often that you get to meet on-screen heroes and be reassured that they are also great human beings, but that's what he was.
Perry passed away on Monday morning after suffering a massive stroke last week. He was 52 years old. In his too-short time on this Earth, Luke Perry was a heartthrob, an icon, a mentor and a good man. He was the first boy I ever liked, on TV or otherwise, and for that will always remain special to me — and an entire generation who fell in love with him a few decades ago. Thank you, Luke. You will be dearly missed.