Monday marked the first time I cried over a celebrity death.
When I read the news that Luke Perry had passed away at the age of 52, I out-and-out bawled. Other TV bad boys have vied for my attention since Perry’s iconic Dylan McKay. I’ve loved Riggins and Pacey and Sawyer. But I loved none of them the way I loved Luke Perry and Dylan McKay. That eyebrow raise. That smoldering intensity. That effortless coolness. That love triangle with Brenda (Shannen Doherty) and Kelly (Jennie Garth). Beverly Hills, 90210 has been off the air for more than 18 years, and I still remember the giddy feeling of seeing those episodes for the first time.
If you are too young to remember what it was like when Beverly Hills 90210 first premiered, there’s really no way to do the frenzy justice now. Our media is so much more fractured and our attention spans so much shorter. On a personal level, my love for Dylan McKay will never be replicated because he and the show represent such a time and place in my life. I still love teen and young adult dramas, although now they are aimed at viewers much younger than I. But even as I adore Good Trouble and The Bold Type, in many ways I admire them at a bit of a distance, for they are no longer my time, no longer my place.
I knew things were probably not going well since we heard nothing since the news of his massive stroke. Every day, I searched and searched for updates, only to find the same days-old articles. On the day of Perry’s death, I heard from friends I hadn’t heard from in months, years. One former colleague emailed me all the way from Japan. My mother called to ask if I was OK. My sister sent a text that just said, “I can’t believe this.” Everyone said the same thing—that I was the first person they thought of when they heard the news. My love for him was that well documented.
I had just started writing for the now long-defunct Digital City Boston when Perry made his return to 90210 on November 18, 1998. I eagerly awaited his appearance throughout the episode, only to have him show up at the very end of the hour. Waiting for his return seemed interminable, so I chronicled his return and every subsequent episode until the show’s series finale in a featured I dubbed “The Dylan Diaries.” It broke down the viewing of the episode minute by minute. I’m sure all the old “Dylan Diaries” are on a hard drive somewhere (kids, let me tell you about the time before jump drives and clouds). And on Monday, I heard from so many people who remembered those columns. That’s when social media can be a wonderful things. We’ve never met, but we could come together to mourn.
Obviously, I followed Perry’s career after 90210 ended. I watched him defy all expectations as Reverend Jeremiah Cloutier in HBO’s Oz (which also featured full frontal nudity, another TV moment forever seared in my memory). I watched every single episode of Showtime’s Jeremiah (although I could barely tell you what the show was about now). My sister and I saw him on Broadway in in the summer of 2001 in Rocky Horror Picture Show. What I remember most is that he made his entrance right by our seats and I could barely breathe. Even though I was thrilled to see him on Riverdale, I didn’t keep up with the show (although my DVR still records it every week because I really do mean to eventually catch up). Children and life got in the way, and I didn’t have the time to devote to his career that I once did. But I admired how Perry navigated his post-90210 projects with such deftness. Few can survive being on the cover of every magazine, being internationally famous to becoming a successful working actor who people adored.
When the news was announced last week that much of the original cast (sans Doherty and Perry) would be returning for a six-episode summer run, one of my followers on Twitter asked me what it was about the show that I loved so much. I’m not sure I can adequately explain or even put into words why to this day it remains my favorite television show of all time. When the show ended in May of 2000, I wrote that, aside from my family, my relationship with 90210 had been one of the longest of my life. The reunion, which was planned to be a bit meta-, with the cast playing heightened versions of themselves, sounded like it could be wonderful or spectacularly awful. I will watch every single second of it, though now I wonder if the reunion will actually happen. Whatever form it takes, it will be tinged with sadness.
I’ve struggled to write this article, and it has taken me far too long. And even now, as I submit it for publication, I don’t think I’ve done Perry or Dylan justice. Somewhere in my basement, amid the baby stuff I still need to give away and the Christmas decorations, are my 90210 dolls. Oh, yes, they made dolls. The childish things of my youth may have been put aside in favor of carpool and soccer practice. My love for Dylan McKay hearkens back to a time before I was weighed down with family responsibilities. But my love for Perry never changed, never wavered. I hope generations to come watch Beverly Hills 90210 and that his legacy lives on.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .