Luke Perry died today, and just like that, an entire generation is thrown into heartbreak.
Beverly Hills 90210 ran for the decade when I was 11 through 21 years old. At 11, I was too young (according to my parents) to watch the teen drama. I eventually wore them down one Thursday evening, only to have my dad revoke my brief victory when Brandon was arrested for drunk driving.
But it was too late; I'd gotten my fix of the sophisticated, sexy, amped-up version of adolescence that looked nothing like my own. That was Season One, Episode 11, and I'm proud to say that I was a regular 90210 viewer by Episode 21. Yes, the episode when Brenda loses her virginity to Dylan. And there is no 90210 without Dylan McKay.
Dylan McKay was my first longterm crush. Week after week, I would watch him navigate the existential angst of being a Gen X hottie. At 21, as the show was winding down, I was a senior in college, and I ditched my film class to watch the series finale. The end of the 90210 era seemed monumental, important, worth missing my Avant Garde Cinema class to honor and relish. After all, when something keeps you company during the formative years of your life, it quite simply gets into your psyche and cells and memory in ways that are ghostly and inextricable.
Luke Perry was an icon in a very specific way—even someone like Jared Leto as Jordan Catalano (another major teen crush of mine) didn't have that same gravitas and pensive smolder. Luke Perry distilled some ineffable sense of "cool" into its very essence. Case in point: Rolling Stone just reminded me that, while the rest of the gang were sophomores in college, Dylan was busy surfing, riding a motorcycle and searching for his stolen fortune with the help of mercenaries. I mean, exactly.
Luke Perry played other roles besides Dylan, even if he could never quite shake him—in Buffy, The Fifth Element and Terminal Bliss (anyone?). And I was beyond happy to see him most recently on Riverdale. But today, I'm thinking of Dylan and the often under-appreciated actor who made him so indelible.