A Personal Note on the Passing of Luke Perry

Actor Luke Perry died on March 4, 2019, from complications of a stroke. He was 53 years old. I must admit, his death affected me in a special way. Around the time that I was in middle school, one NBC executive decided to take a chance and try to make programming catered toward the teenage demographics of the time. He “struck gold”, so to speak, when he produced a show called Saved by the Bell. Saved by the Bell was a 30 minute sitcom that was shown on Saturday mornings at 10:00. Nothing much was expected at first, but after the first season, the show achieved ratings high enough to overwhelm other hit comedy shows on NBC. At the time, Bill Cosby’s The Cosby Show occupied perhaps the most coveted time slot, 7:00 pm on Thursday evenings. Let me emphasize that the Saturday morning kids’ show, Saved by the Bell, had a bigger viewing audience than Bill Cosby’s family sitcom. Needless to say, other Hollywood executives took notice. One of them, Aaron Spelling, decided to make a show called Beverly Hills 90210, which was an imitation of Saved by the Bell in form and fashion, except he further developed into a provocative, licentious, soap opera. (In fact, both programs featured a group of kids in high school from the graduating class of 1993!)

Luke Perry was one of the stars on Beverly Hills 90210 – the 2nd male lead to be exact. His character on the show, Dylan McKay, is probably the main role for which he will always be known. I did not know until recently that he had also been a voice actor on a Thomas Nelson audio production called the Word of Promise. I do not mean to imply anything about his personal life because I know nothing about it, but I feel his participation in this Biblical based production is worthwhile to note.

Some years ago, I wrote a special tribute to Michael Jackson which was featured in the Maranatha Herald (the magazine of the Maranatha Full Gospel Church of Dallas). Some folks later asked me how I knew so much of the pop star, meaning, it was a total surprise to them that I would know about a subject matter that was obviously not spiritual. They had a point. However, I wasn’t writing the article as a person who had been “spiritually edified” by Michael Jackson in any way shape or for. Instead, it was acknowledgement of the fact that he was part of my growing years, and his music, his dance art form, and not to mention his persona, had a drastic impact on the times that I lived. In some way, I feel the same, though to a much lesser extent, about Luke Perry.

I did not watch much of Luke Perry’s work besides Beverly Hill 90210. It is difficult for anyone in a show geared toward a younger audience to move upward in the entertainment world because they often get type cast into a particular role. Others… well, let’s just say that their skills in acting are insufficient to make it far in this industry. That said, I must say that Luke Perry made an impression on me, probably because it was in the era where television entertainment took a significant turn toward trying to engage our age group. They tapped into our fantasies, all our escapist sensations. In fact, Perry’s character on 90210 was a guy named Dylan McKay, a rebel rich kid who lived by himself in a very nice looking Californian house on a massive trust fund set up by his late father. He drove fast cars and motorcycles, he surfed… at least in materialistic terms, and it was incredible!

Escapism is part of the youth psyche that almost all of media will exploit to the maximum. This is not to say that adults do not have this, they certainly do, but adults are prone to a life of reality checks. Unfortunately, most youth are not. That is why youth tend to live vicariously through characters in media like the aforementioned “Dylan McKay.” The character was a complicated one in that on the one hand he was the classic rebel/antihero with a “rough” exterior, and yet on the other hand, he was a “sensitive soul.” I don’t think that’s a good thing but it was often true in my youth. The reality is that the actor died of a stroke at the age of 53.

Probably what I feel most regarding the passing of Luke Perry is a sense of my younger days leaving me. It reminds me of the song “Hurt,” Johnny Cash’s final hit before he died in 2003:

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only things that’s real

The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything

What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end

And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

I wear this crown of thorns
Upon my liars chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair

Beneath the stains of time
The feelings disappear
You are someone else
I am still right here

What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

If I could start again
A million miles away
I will keep myself
I would find a way

Luke Perry 1966-2019

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