When Luke Perry joined the cast of HBO’s gritty prison drama Oz in 2001, he was coming off a long run as a teen idol and looking to change his image. “He was such an incredible team player,” the show’s creator, Tom Fontana, exclusively recalled to Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “He had to do a shower scene where he walked naked in front of the entire cast, and he didn’t hesitate to do it. He was so willing to work and play and jump into the craziness that was Oz.”
In fact, Luke — who shockingly died after a massive stroke at age 52 on March 5 — was never afraid to expose himself, physically or otherwise, as an actor. He exuded an aching vulnerability in his breakout role as tortured teen Dylan McKay on Beverly Hills, 90210.
Offscreen, he was known as a friendly, open professional who was always willing to help colleagues. After she endured cyberbullying from viewers, “I asked Luke for advice a lot,” Madelaine Petsch, one of his younger costars on the CW’s Archie Comics spinoff Riverdale said. “He told me, ‘They don’t hate you — they hate your character,’ and it really helped.”
The son of a steelworker and a homemaker, Luke was born and raised in Mansfield, Ohio and he never forgot his small-town roots. “I love where I come from,” he previously told People. “The people there are good people. When they say, ‘Thank you,’ they mean it.’”
After he left for Hollywood to pursue acting, Luke worked at an asphalt-paving company and a doorknob factory before finally landing a job on his 257th audition. Gigs on the daytime dramas Loving and Another World led to his casting on 90210. He became so popular that a riot broke out when he appeared in front of 10,000 screaming girls at a mall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1991.
Luke wanted more than just fame, however. “It’s always great when you get an opportunity to step outside the envelope,” he has said, and he did that on Oz and the dark sci-fi drama Jeremiah in the 2000s. “He was a gentleman cowboy,” Fontana said of the versatile actor. “He had a grace and elegance about him, but he also had the physical strength to play a rodeo cowboy,” which he did in 1994’s 8 Seconds.
Offscreen, Luke was a devoted dad to his son Jack (now a professional wrestler), 21, and daughter Sophie, 18. “I never had a conversation with him when he didn’t talk about his kids,” pal Kelly Ripa, whose husband Mark Consuelos costarred with Luke on Riverdale, once said of the actor.
Sophie raced back from a charity trip to Africa to be by her dad’s side after he suffered what turned out to be a fatal stroke. Their mom, Luke’s ex-wife Minnie Sharp, was also in the room, as was his fianceé, Wendy Madison Bauer.
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A lot has happened in this past week for me. Everything is happening so fast. I made it back from Malawi just in time to be here with my family, And in the past 24 hours I have received an overwhelming amount of love and support. I cannot individually respond to the hundreds of beautiful and heartfelt messages, but I see them, and appreciate you all for sending positivity to my family and I. I’m not really sure what to say or do in this situation, it’s something you aren’t ever given a lesson on how to handle, especially when it’s all happening in the public eye. So bear with me and know that I am grateful for all the love. Just, being grateful quietly.
“I’m going to miss him, as will everyone who worked with him,” Fontana, who was developing a new series with Luke at the time of his death, said. “He was one of the good ones.”
For more on your favorite stars, pick up the latest issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now — and be sure to sign up for our newsletter for more exclusive news!