That Time My Heart Broke in Half When Luke Perry Died . . .
Life is weird. Around Thanksgiving, I wrote this pithy post about how interviewing my teen idols as an adult turned entertainment journalist did not go quite as planned. How my inner tweenager never would have believed I had full conversations with the likes of Jordan Knight and Donnie Wahlberg and of course, Luke Perry.
There are a few pop culture “tent poles” in my life, the things that defined specific times and in some cases helped me survive them. New Kids on the Block, Aerosmith and Beverly Hills, 90210 (with an emphasis on Luke Perry) are the main ones that I’m “known” for . . . so it was surreal to be on a plane today when the news of Luke Perry’s untimely death broke. My husband spotted the news first, delicately showing me the report while tears slid down my face. Upon landing, my phone was flooded with messages as if my own family member was gone. But truthfully, I feel like a piece of my family, my heart and my inner teen has been ripped away.
Dramatic? Maybe. But, beneath my self deprecating retelling of encountering Luke Perry and the rest of my teen idols is sincerity, deep pride and true love—those teen obsessions were not frivolous to me then and are still things that I take seriously today. Even as a 41-year-old adult with a husband and daughter, an NKOTB song or episode of 90210 instantly transports me back in time . . . a time where I was finding myself while trying to escape the things that my budding adolescent mind didn’t, and often couldn’t, understand.
Being a “superfan” all my life shaped me, helped me and molded me into the person I am today. It’s no coincidence I began my career at CosmoGIRL! magazine—I wanted to create entertainment content for the type of fans that found something in the music/movies/TV that connected them on a deeper level.
Beverly Hills, 90210 premiered when I was in the 8th grade and in the midst of middle school hell. I was “popular” for a hot minute in the 7th grade but mis-stepped with the queen bee so I lost my place with that “in” crowd. I spent the rest of 7th grade being bullied while trying to rebuild my social circle—and failing miserably. Things smoothed over and I found a new place in the 8th grade–but puberty wasn’t kind and I never was comfortable with myself or body. My baby fat stayed stuck on my hips, I never quite found my personal style and I was definitely NOT the guy magnet that the other girls in my grade were blossoming into. The New Kids on the Block got me through the bullying but then came along Beverly Hills, 90210 to get me through the early teen angst. The show was my first real escape from reality and brought me my first real crush. In all honesty, I’d go as far to say that Dylan McKay was my first “boyfriend.” He was “mad, bad and dangerous to know.” He read poetry and Kerouac. He drove a Porsche and a motorcycle AND lived in a hotel—alone. He waited until Brenda was ready to have sex at the spring dance and have you ever seen a more supportive TEENAGE boyfriend upon discovering their girlfriend might be pregnant? He was crushed when they broke up in a way that my teenage heart and soul was transfixed by. I couldn’t wait to find a boyfriend who could possibly love me that much. And truthfully? I never got over Dylan a) cheating on Brenda with Kelly while Brenda was in Paris and b) eventually choosing Kelly over Brenda. I still get mad about it today but I think it affected me because it spoke to my insecurities and fears that even if I found my own Dylan McKay, he’d leave me for “Kelly Taylor” in an instant.
I watched Beverly Hills, 90210 between ages 13-23. It was on all through high school and college and even my first year working/living in New York City. While Luke wasn’t in every season, the presence of Dylan McKay never left . . .
The first time I met Luke Perry was at a “Home Show” in Miami during season one. I was 13 and in awe—it was the first celebrity I ever met. He signed autographs (which I have ZERO idea where mine went) and looked truly shocked that anyone came to specifically meet him and not look at sinks and light fixtures. About a year later, the stakes were raised—he was now appearing at a MALL. The Fashion Mall in Plantation, Florida that sadly no longer exists. I basically risked my life to meet him as a riot of other girls who dared to feel the same way I did about Luke (and Dylan) rushed the stage—and therefore, Luke was rushed out before one autograph could be signed. All I wanted was to give him a scrapbook I lovingly made to prove that I was his biggest fan and that he not only meant the most to me, but also had done the most for me too.
While the lines between Luke and Dylan were always blurred, he played a character that meant so much to my inner teen and teen. He was a safe first boyfriend. He broke my heart when he broke Brenda’s. As an adult and pop culture writer, interviewing Luke was a career high. He was kind, he was amused (in a good way) that I was such a fan. He looked me in the eyes. And when I told him I was at the Fashion Mall on that dreaded day, yes, he told me it was the “worst day” but I do believe that’s because he didn’t want anyone to get hurt . . . and that he was genuinely disappointed to not meet his fans that day.
I really never in a million years thought I’d be eulogizing Luke Perry . . . and definitely not before any of the boys of my beloved Aerosmith. But here we are . . .my heart, then and now, is broken. For all of us who have a heartthrob or piece of pop culture to credit with opening our hearts, helping us to bare our souls and come into our own . . . . then you know how deeply the loss of Luke Perry hurts right now.