Luke Perry Just Died—and So Did My Teenage Self

I was sitting with two colleagues under the age of 25 when one of them delivered the news: Dylan McKay Luke Perry died following a massive stroke last week. It hit me like a gut punch. “I think I’m going to cry,” I said genuinely, but also embarrassingly dramatic. “We’re so sorry,” they offered, simultaneously Googling to pull up pics for reference.

He was 52, remember? My coworkers—God love them—were actual toddlers when we first saw Dylan pull up in his Porsche and breeze through the doors of West Beverly High. Le sigh.

But that’s the thing: When I first met Luke Perry (via my TV set, of course), he was a heartthrob. He was a modern day James Dean circa Rebel Without a Cause. He was the guy courting Brenda, then Kelly, then Brenda again. (OK, they didn’t get back together, but remember that epic afternoon fishing on the pier?) 

Dylan—via Luke—represented a high school experience, unfolding before my eyes.

Me? I was in middle school when the show (and Luke) hit its stride. I caught on to its popularity a few years past its original air date while over at a friend’s house after school. 

I fell in love with Luke almost immediately. In eighth grade, I even befriended a girl just to borrow—and make collages from—her extensive collection of Tiger Beat and Teen Beat magazines featuring the Beverly Hills, 90210 cast. (I’m not proud of myself.) 

Yep, I entered my freshman year of high school with a fresh pair of Doc Martens and pics of Luke Perry plastered to my bedroom walls.

The crush swelled as I went from lower-classman to upper: I cried when he broke it off with Brenda (yep, #teambrenda—sorry not sorry) and invited my pals over to watch the finale episode when he left the show—temporarily for seasons seven and eight—IRL. 

And when I graduated high school, the same year the show went off the air permanently, the timing felt right. 

But that’s what makes all of this so sad: With the news about Luke Perry, I’m not just saying goodbye to Dylan McKay. I’m saying goodbye to my youth.

What I didn’t realize is that, circa 2000, I wasn’t the adult I thought I was when I headed off to college. Instead, I had a false—although welcome—sense of confidence, a hunger for the real world, responsibility and—gasp—the dating scene.

Fast-forward to 2019 and I’ve got the responsibility I longed for (in the form of a marriage, full-time job and a baby) and count myself a true adult who, on the day of his death, can’t help but grimace at how young and naive I was the first time I parted ways (fictionally speaking) with Luke.

Now, he feels like a guy I went to high school with and lost touch with—someone I once pined for while awkwardly roaming the halls. His super cool friend group (Brandon, Kelly and Donna all included) was what I measured my own against. 

Hell, his high school experience was 1,000 percent intertwined with my own…and now I have to officially say goodbye. 

Am I ready? No. Do I have to? With the news of Luke’s death—and the fact that I’m now close to 20 years out of high school raising a child of my own—yes.

But before I do, I’d just like to say thank you, Luke Perry. You shaped my childhood and my questionable (albeit prepubescent) dating choices. But also a time in my life when I was figuring out how to be me.

The fact that I kissed you goodnight night after night via the collages on my walls as I went through it? Well, that had to be done.

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