Luke Perry, whose character Dylan McKay takes his Porsche out for a testosterone drive Thursday nights on Beverly Hills, 90210, has become a touchstone for the American public: he’s Everyteen, a youngster who, growing up quite cognizant of the frightening age in which he lives— AIDS, drugs, family, and now urban, violence—retains not only a cool resolve but also a cooler integrity. He does all the wrong things for all the right reasons.
I had arranged to meet Perry by the pool at the Regent Beverly Wilshire hotel on what turned out to be the first full day of the recent riots in Los Angeles, and the incongruity of the situation was inescapable. Beverly Hills, 90210 has codified a kind of Caucasian chic for the 1990s, and here he was, in a backward baseball cap, lunching under an umbrella, while smoke drifted overhead from the fires that had erupted the night before. Japanese teenagers were frolicking around us in chlorined serenity as Perry squinted up at the darkening sky. “So what are the ground rules here?” he asked.
“There aren’t any. You can trust me.”
“How old are you?”
“A woman from Rolling Stone asked me that once, and I said, ‘I’ll tell you, but then I’ll have to kill you.’ “ A Japanese teenager squealed as her boyfriend threw her in the pool. “I’m twenty-five.”
Though Perry, an Ohio farm boy, convincingly portrays a rather jaded junior Beverly Hills denizen in 90210, in person he seems ill at ease in these surroundings. He wanted to talk about what was going on down in South-Central L.A. and how on some absurd level it connected to the extreme popularity of his show. “I think society has become oppressive in a lot of ways, and we’re a good outlet for all of that. I mean, that shit downtown is a perfect example. There are a lot of pent-up frustrations down there. This ain’t all about one thing: Rodney King. It’s symbolic: we’re living in a society that’s getting out of control. I don’t think it is a race issue—on some level certainly it is, but I saw white people down there screaming last night. I saw Hispanics. I saw Asians. I saw blacks. There were gays. There were straights. If nothing else, I see some beauty in what’s happening. You’ve got people you would ordinarily never see together. It inspired a passion in them.... It’s unfortunate that it had to be something bad like that, but I think there’s a little bit of good in that, too,” he theorized. “Look, we’ve just come out of the justsay-no phase. Say no to everything. It’s too bad that they didn’t limit that to just drugs. They wanted people to say no to everything fun. Well, on Beverly Hills, 90210 we’re saying, Just say maybe.” He gave it all a shrug, and looked right at me. “You know, Just say maybe.”
Fox Inc.’s ex-chairman, Barry Diller, who founded the Fox network and grew up in Beverly Hills himself, had harbored for some time the concept of a television show set in an idealized version of Beverly Hills High School. Diller and the president of the Fox Entertainment Group, Peter Chernin, teamed up then twenty-eight-year-old screenwriter Darren Star and veteran producer Aaron Spelling to create the show’s pilot, about the Walshes, a Minnesota family (accountant father, empathic mother, sexy teenage fraternal twins Brenda and Brandon) that moves to this enclave, where bank accounts are as vulgarly displayed as cleavage. Later, to ensure a politically correct point of view, they brought in Northern Exposure’s supervising producer, writer Charles Rosin. The rest is teen-angst history.
The Museum of Television & Radio chose the show’s “condom distribution” episode to be included in its permanent collection.
The show has become more than a hit series; it is a social phenomenon of worldwide proportions. The cast of characters—which includes Spelling’s daughter, Tori, as Donna, Shannen Doherty as Brenda, Ian Ziering as Steve, Gabrielle Carteris as Andrea, Brian Austin Green as David, Jennie Garth as Kelly, and Jason Priestley as Brandon—has formed into a cluster of fame with the following of a championship sports team. “As an actor on a show that has become successful, you try not to associate the word ‘phenomenon’ with what you’re doing. That’s a label the media has placed on our show,” says Priestley, who is the neo-nice-guy hunk in the cast. “When Cheers went to number one, it wasn’t a phenomenon; it was just a good show. We’ve been attacked with this stigma. As actors, that can be so detrimental to your career.”
”Beverly Hills, 90210 is a tribute to clear skin. You get the feeling that if one of those girls got a pimple she’d go into a tailspin,” says Vanity Fair’s media critic James Wolcott. “The show is the last outpost of American privilege. It is an ad for consumerism and status. Even the extras are great-looking.”
The series is now seen in almost twenty countries, and is nearly as popular in Great Britain and Australia as it is here. The first fan letters from Russia— sixty-four of them—recently arrived, asking 90210’s creators, “How did you know us so well?” In Spain a few months ago, two of the lesser-known characters made front-page news upon their arrival at the Madrid airport; reporters compared the hysteria that resulted to the Beatles’ first visit three decades ago. Yet it is in America that the 90210 onslaught continues to percolate most strongly. The Museum of Television & Radio recently chose the show’s “condom distribution” episode to be included in the museum’s permanent collection, and even hosted a screening for Hollywood’s movers and shakers at the L.A. County Museum of Art. Moreover, the show’s fans span everyone from hip-hype author Bret Easton Ellis, who admitted to Darren Star at dinner one night that he was a secret Thursday-night addict, to the hopeful young Long Island girl who sent an elaborately large Bas Mitzvah invitation to the cast, begging in a handwritten note for at least one of them to show up for the occasion—as if they were all actually her friends.
Audiences have traveled quite a distance from Wilder’s Our Town to this even wilder address. Or have they?
Diller: “I always thought a serial-like series about Beverly Hills High was a great idea, because I thought it was a small town in both its sensibilities and borders—very small-town—while at the same time it was, after all, Beverly Hills. In terms of what that meant growing up there, it was a very interesting thing in that you were both inside a small town and at the same time enormously sophisticated. So I thought that every issue was always going on at multiple levels.... I thought, What an interesting arena for storytelling—on one hand very accessible, because all of these teenage problems are, of course, the same, and on the other hand very much an interesting world, because of its Beverly Hills-ness. What I did not realize was just how much those forces, when allowed to cook, would end up being so much about family as they ended up being, because, after all, that is the nature of a small town. It has nothing to do with show business or promoting the thing. That’s just the carny barker outside the tent getting you into the tent. Once you’re in the tent, you go, ‘Oh my God! You mean this is really about families?’ This is about family values, but from all different aspect ratios. Seven or eight weeks into the show, just watching the episodes, it became clear that this was what these shows were about. They dealt with these issues, but they did it without condescension to the children. The thing that you got out of it, that you valued, was this: this is a family groping with contemporary life. That’s why it’s absolutely caught on. That’s completely why. It honorably and honestly grew.”
Luke Perry grew up fiercely independent. His family moved from one small Ohio farm town to another, finally settling in Fredericktown, population 2,300, about an hour’s drive from Columbus. It was an existence as alien from Dylan McKay’s on Beverly Hills, 90210 as one could have, and explains the “outsider” quality that is as important to McKay’s appeal as is the freedom inherent in the character’s immense wealth. McKay is a recovering alcoholic, an emancipated seventeen-year-old worth $100 million. (This is the amount left after his father was hauled off to jail for insider trading; his mother, played by British actress Stephanie Beacham, lives in Hawaii.) Dylan was originally supposed to reside in the Beverly Wilshire, “like Warren Beatty,” according to Star, who is credited with creating the characters for the show. “I thought there was something kind of sad and exciting at the same time,” Star says, “about this world-weary guy who lives in this hotel and goes to high school, but we didn’t really play the hotel bit that much.”
Perry’s mother divorced his late father when Perry was six. “He was violent,” Perry admits. “He was a drunk. He treated my mother very poorly. Had I been big enough at the time, I would have beat his ass. But I wasn’t. So I always felt that I should have been able to protect her better, but I was a six-year-old kid. That’s where my frustration stems from. I saw very clearly as a six-year-old kid what the problems were. Looking back at it all now, it was pretty frightening. I try to reiterate to these people writing the show that these kids ain’t stupid. They see. They know. ‘Don’t be afraid to talk to them about real issues on a real level, because they are fucking way ahead of you.’ I was way ahead of them. I saw what was going on. I knew what was happening as much as they tried to shelter me from it. I was aware.”
Perry’s mother is amazed by the celebrity her son has attained. Last Christmas, local police had to be called to clear away the dozens of fans and photographers collecting on her front lawn, hoping Luke was there. (He had already been and gone.) “Mom’s tough,” Perry says. “She’s a fighter. Her life ain’t been easy, but she don’t walk around with her heart on her sleeve. She stuck it out. She never bailed.” She remarried when Perry was twelve, and he is close to his stepfather, as well as to his older brother, a navy recruiter in Illinois, and his sister, a secretary in her early twenties.
Perry never made it to college, didn’t even do well in high school. (His only honor was being voted “Biggest Flirt.”) He admits he wasn’t a great student, spending much of his time in search of outlets for his creative spirit. He once played the “Freddie Bird” mascot for the football team, and had his stepfather’s construction company provide a helicopter so that he could land unannounced on the high-school playing field and emerge to the sound of the crowd’s roar in his yellow tights, webbed feet, and bright-red plumage. Another time, he sprang one of his friends from detention by donning a ski mask and pulling a fake gun on the elderly secretary in charge.
“I felt like another,” Perry says of his time growing up in Ohio, which he left when he was only seventeen. “It was never about escape. It was aoout wanting to feel like I belonged. I felt like I belonged on a screen. I don’t know why. I guess because I related to the people up on that screen much more than the people around me. I always felt like I was one of them and in a matter of time I’d get there.”
Perry’s first stop was Los Angeles, where he had no luck. He then headed for New York and shared an apartment in Harlem ten minutes from Yankee Stadium with Rocky Carroll, now one of the stars of another Fox show, Roc. He finally landed a recurring role on the ABC daytime soap Loving, and then a second on the NBC soap Another World.
One of the people who befriended him early on in his career was Alexa Fogel, now the director of prime-time casting for ABC. After Perry appeared on Loving, he realized he still had a lot to learn about his craft as well as about show business itself, and between his many construction jobs he enrolled in Fogel’s audition-workshop class. “The one thing that has always been true about Luke, ever since I first met him, when he was around twenty years old, is that he’s always wanted to get better and better,” says Fogel. “Considering the fact that he’d already been on a soap and gotten a certain amount of attention for that, I think that’s quite commendable. ... He walks towards that: his commitment to always better himself. There’s nothing confrontational about him. He wants to hear how he can get better. He wants to see it. He doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder. He never has.”
With a bit of money in his pocket, Perry moved back to L.A., but again he couldn’t find work, so he laid asphalt for a living. He had met another young actor, Alexis Arquette, on a forgettable movie they made in South Carolina, and he moved in with the Arquette acting clan— Alexis, David, Rosanna, Richmond, Mardi, Lewis, and Patricia, whom he fell for immediately. “When I couldn’t keep my head above water, they helped me,” he says.
Perry admits that he feels truly at home only “any place that I’m alone.” He is never really alone, for he has frequently shared his mattress with girlfriends. His regular bedmate is his pet Vietnamese potbellied pig, named Jerry Lee. “When I was little,” he remembers, “my uncle had a litter of pigs, and the little one, the runt. . .well, the mother rolled over on it and broke its back legs. We had to keep it in the house. And, you know, you just hold it,” he says, and in the reflection from the Beverly Wilshire’s pool mimes cuddling the tiny thing. “It was beautiful. Pigs are very sweet. There is intelligence in their eyes. Jerry Lee’s great. He’s been a calming influence on me. I just got a baby. She’s a little girl. He still thinks she’s lunch—he tries to eat her. Violet is her name. She’s a movie star.”
“He instantly became the handyman,” Alexis Arquette says, remembering Perry’s time in his family’s home. “He knew about all this menial shit. Now he’s doing his own backyard at his new house. He’s not paying some contractor. He goes and gets his own bulldozer and drives it around himself. He’s very the jack-of-alltrades. . . . I’m not surprised by his celebrity at all. I knew he was bound for it. The moment he stumbled into our wayward little home, he was putting on a show the whole time. He’s always entertaining. Even when he’s in a bad mood, he’s entertaining. It’s always fun to hang out with him. Even when we didn’t have any money, we’d just do fun stuff. We’d go camping with his pig or go do these big jumps in a four-wheel-drive truck out in the desert. We’d jump off these huge dunes, bottoming out the truck. When the pig was a little baby, it would ride in the front seat with us on these jumping expeditions. That pig would be, like, airborne. It looked like we were on the space shuttle for a second, because the pig was just floating counterclockwise. It was beautiful. Luke loves doing mad, crazy shit like that.”
“Luke is very campy,” says Howard Rosenman, co-producer of Perry’s new film, Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, a comedy with a feminist twist, which opens at the end of this month. Co-starring Donald Sutherland, Rutger Hauer, Paul Reubens (a.k.a. Pee-wee Herman), and Perry’s good friend Kristy Swanson, as Buffy, the film was directed by Tokyo Pop’s, director and onetime Keith Haring protegee, Fran Kuzui. “He’s got a great sense of humor,” Rosenman continues. “He has the humor of his generation, really. This project has been very interesting for me, because around him there is this whole bunch of people that are like satellites. It’s true stardom. There are all these acolyte best friends. It reminds me of Sean Penn and the Brat Pack. But this is the next generation. On the set every single night, all these young, happening kids—Balthazar Getty and guys like that—would show up.”
One night during the filming, Robert Downey Jr. was introduced to Perry. Downey had recently returned from England, where he was playing Charlie Chaplin in Sir Richard Attenborough’s film Charlie. “So you’re The Guy now,” Downey told him. Perry was confused, and asked him what he meant. “You’re The Guy,” he reiterated. “You know, the one that everyone is talking about—all the directors, all the producers, all the girls.”
“Get over it,” Downey wisely suggested, and they both laughed at the fickleness of it all.
Anybody who hangs out with drag queens is a friend of mine!” Madonna says of her new pal Perry, one of whose best friends is a renowned L.A. female impersonator, Eva Destruction. (In fact, Perry was up for the part of Georgette, the flamboyant homosexual in Last Exit to Brooklyn, and says he went to several auditions in full drag.)
Eva whoops with delight when I tell “her” what Madonna said. “Oh my God, Madonna just read me! Madonna read me in Vanity Fair. Let’s just say anybody who can go on a date with Madonna and not end up in bed with her, I have respect for,” Eva says, certifying close friend Perry as the roughneck gentleman he is.
Madonna met Perry a few months ago, at the Beverly Wilshire hotel. She was to receive an award from the American Foundation for AIDS Research in the hotel’s ballroom, and Elizabeth Taylor was scheduled to present it. Taylor, however, came down with the flu, and the day before the event AmFAR asked Madonna whom she wished to be Taylor’s replacement. Madonna took the opportunity to meet the nation’s newest heartthrob. She picked up the phone herself and called Perry on the set of 90210 to ask if he’d fill in. Perry at first thought it was a friend playing a practical joke on him, but was finally convinced that it was not a crank call. (“I know the food chain in Hollywood,” says Perry, “and let’s just say I don’t come directly under Elizabeth Taylor.”) Like almost everyone else, Perry was unable to say no to Madonna; he agreed to show up at the benefit after he opened that same night in the play Love Letters with Amanda Donohoe from L.A. Law. Madonna greeted him onstage with a full lip lock, and there have been romantic rumors about the two ever since.
“If they want John Wayne, I can give them John Wayne. But most women want a little more.”
Like the decadently talented diva, Perry offers no apologies for his choice of companions. “In any collaborative effort, you have to look past what people represent and what they look like, because you need them for what they do and what they can bring to whatever it is you’re doing artistically,” he says. “I don’t care if they’re gay. I don’t care if they’re black. I don’t care if they’re black and gay and a drag queen.... If they inspire me, those are the people I want around. It took me a while to make that adjustment.”
What he has never had to adjust to is his ability to get along with women. Perry has always had a respect and an abiding love for them. Though he’s “not fucking around these days, because I got a girl” (one he keeps a secret because she has nothing to do with show business), he does theorize on why he’s so successful sexually. “What I’ve found is that I’m very in touch with my feminine side,” he says in his distinctively soft, corduroy cadences. “I ain’t got no problem saying that. Any good actor is. And any good lover is. Meaning that women don’t always want to be manhandled. A lot of times they want to be made love to by a man who can do it softly, like a woman. I’ve found this to be very true. Freud said that everyone has latent homosexual tendencies. I believe they are not so deep with women. Women by nature are more affectionate. They are more physical. They are more motherly. I’m kinda like that, too. ... They can talk to me about a lot of different things. I think that that is one of the things that they find appealing about me.... If they want John Wayne, I can give them John Wayne. But most women want a little more—someone who has some sensitivity, who’ll take some time.” Perry pauses. “There are a lot of times that people will misconceive me as being gay when they first meet me.”
Has he ever experimented sexually with another guy?
“Flat out on the record? I never have. I’ve been singularly heterosexual my whole life. So big deal. Most people have. But to not recognize that there is some homosexual element out there is ridiculous. And don’t recognize them as some scourge. But see them for what they have to give as people before you define them by their sexuality. Especially in show business: it’s a fag-o-rama! The gay people who bother me are the ones who are offended that you take notice that they are gay. To me, it should be as open to conversation as anything else. But because I’m the handsome leading man, everybody wants to get in my closet and find out I’ve been a fag. ... I can understand why Tom Selleck sued the Globe. Because that’s business. People think Tom Selleck’s gay, then they’re not going to be showing up to see his movies. They just took a lot of money out of his pocket. They have no right to do that simply on conjecture. If they have facts, if they have pictures of me fucking some guy, fine— then they can say whatever they want.”
“I am product! Hear me roar!” Perry exclaims facetiously at one point, carrying his Selleck argument to its logical conclusion. He is so much a product, in fact, that he has become betting material. Over a meal, Madonna and Barry Diller wagered a cool million that Perry was only five feet nine inches tall. Their dinner partners, David Geffen and Sandy Gallin, bet them he was taller. Perry claims to be five feet ten. ‘‘I thought he was small and powerful,” Madonna says. “I guess he’s medium and powerful.” She fully intends to pay up her share of the wager. ‘‘Well, I don’t,” says Diller. “I profoundly don’t. Talk about coals to Newcastle.”
Perry can joke about his role as a piece of male merchandise, but he refuses to be used. On the second day of the L.A. riots, he was on his way to Warner Bros, to have a meeting about a film he’s interested in making. Driving to the lot, he got a call informing him that Warner’s, like other studios in town, had closed early because of the possible danger from the riots. But since he was already on his way to Warner’s, one of his agents from CAA asked him if he wouldn’t appear at the “Walls of Justice” press conference, which was scheduled to take place shortly on the lot. He immediately agreed, and arrived to find Wesley Snipes, Anjelica Huston, Sean Penn, Joel Silver, Richard Donner, and an assortment of other concerned inside-Hollywood types gathered to voice their opposition to the Rodney King verdict and plead for calm. Organized by the Hollywood Policy Center, and involving CAA, the Hollywood Women’s Political Committee, and other political and entertainment interests, the event walked a dangerous line between social activism and a photo op. Perry was well aware of this line, and he exited the press conference when he overheard publicists on the telephone telling their clients that they better get down to the Warner’s lot, because the group had turned out to be Alist after all.
Beverly Hills, 90210 has been an A-list hit for only a little more than a year, but Fox and Aaron Spelling, whose company produces the show, are cashing in. This month brings not only new summer episodes of the Thursday-night drama but also the first episodes of 90210’s spin-off, Melrose Place, on Wednesday nights. If 90210 is teensomething, then Melrose will be twenty something. Down the road, when the 90210 characters go off to Southern California colleges, Spelling tells me, he has plans for yet another spinoff, with a younger cast that will have already been integrated into the series. Viewers can then choose between 90210: The College Years and 90210: The High School Years.
Spelling also owns the merchandising rights to the show—Fox claims it owns none—and he’s been busy this past year lining up one product after another: clothes, school supplies, posters, boxer shorts, books, jewelry, trading cards, even a group of Barbie-like dolls based on the 90210 characters. Manufacturers such as Mattel, Procter & Gamble, and SmithKline Beecham have become involved with the show. Even the Coca-Cola Company has been in discussions about tie-ins. (This is all understandable, since last summer’s new episodes attracted a whopping 69 percent of the female teenage audience.) But if Spelling gets greedy concerning his merchandising arrangements, won’t he risk cutting into the show’s cool factor? ‘‘This is a terrible thing to say,” admits Spelling, ‘‘but the truth is it gets down to financial problems. The licensing fees on Fox aren’t as big as on the other networks, and you either have to make the show cheaper or you do merchandising. By the way, I don’t think young merchandising lasts that long. We’re trying not to do anything vulgar.”
Who would have thought that “the little show that could,” as the series’ executive producer, Charles Rosin, refers to 90210, would become such a sensation? Fox didn’t yank the show initially when it debuted opposite Cheers with dismally low ratings, because the network had nothing with which to replace it. But once the show began to catch on with teens, Fox brilliantly promoted it. In fact, the success of 90210 converged with the success of the network itself. Fox is now the number-one-rated network among teen viewers, and rates as high as NBC and CBS among adults eighteen to thirty-four. These are the most advertiser-friendly of demographics, and from its inception Fox has unabashedly courted them. “The goal of the network was to try to differentiate itself from NBC and CBS,” claims Fox Broadcasting Company’s president and chief operating officer, Jamie Kellner. “The majority of their viewers tend to be fifty-plus. ABC less so than NBC and CBS. Our hope was to provide a service that younger people would look at as their network, the first new network that was designed, in effect, for them. . . . Teenagers have become very important. We are trying to work those areas much harder than the other networks are right now. To do a program that is about teenagers, which really focuses on their lives, is something that the other networks probably couldn’t or shouldn’t do, given their program formula. But for us it’s money in the bank.”
Though Kellner is accused of being the conservative voice in the corporate mix when it comes to pulling 90210 back from the riskier subjects it dramatizes—AIDS, racial tensions, drug abuse, and, of course, the episode on Spring Dance night in which Dylan and Brenda have sex, a plot twist that Kellner now says was a mistake—he does go on the record more strongly than anyone else involved in the show as being in favor of approaching social issues head-on. “Without them, it would be a very unimportant show,’’ he admits. “I think that the kids in some cases look to it to begin a dialogue with their parents about things. If you look at the demographics of who is watching, it’s not just teens. It’s teens going all the way up into the midto late forties. So that says to me that it’s teens probably with their parents. It probably becomes one of the few times during the week where they stimulate a discussion. We know that from the mail we get—this program is something that the family shares together. ... I remember being a teenager, and the last thing I thought that I wanted to do was necessarily talk to my parents too much, because they were just going to get in my way. If anything, the demographics tell us that this show is letting each side get into the other side’s head.”
Does Kellner think there is a danger that too much merchandising of the franchise will cut into its popularity and hurt its ratings, thereby hurting Fox itself? “I think that if the show isn’t good, then I would say yeah, it does. If the show’s good, I don’t think you have to worry about it. But I know what you’re saying. When young people watch things, they think it’s theirs. And all of a sudden, you know, like ‘the Man’ is starting to put Luke’s picture on things, so it’s not cool anymore.”
There’s no need to worry. Luke Perry’s coolness is not fashionable; it is innate. Like his beloved pigs, the guy was bom with the intelligent eyes of a movie star, though the carnal knowledge embedded there seems quite a bit older than the quarter of a century he admits to having lived. His famously furrowed brow has taught millions of teenage girls to read between the lines in ways they never thought possible. (The scar that divides his right eyebrow, which he actually got in a freak bowling-alley accident as a boy, simply adds to his physical mystique.) Smaller than expected, Perry’s body is scrawny, a quick scrawl of flesh. He’s fashioned a kind of awkward tilt of his pompadoured hairdo while delivering his lines on- and offscreen that conveys an enchanting aw-shucks-I-just-want-to-make-love-to-you nonchalance. Indeed, Perry gives better head cock than old pro Reagan.
Many show-business experts don’t take him seriously, however, and constantly compare him to the teen idols of the past with their pseudosexual poses. But since he possesses the quiet irony of a bantam-weightier gang—Bogart, Cagney, even that other Ohio boy Paul Newman—he could easily surprise his detractors.
Perry longs to portray the late rodeo rider Lane Frost in a dramatic motion picture, so why would he choose a campily hip movie like Buffy for his first film since he’s become so popular? “I don’t take myself that seriously. I don’t always have to be this guy. I thought that was a real good way for me to show that. I’m in no big hurry to have my name above the title of a motion picture just because I’m commercial or marketable.” Fox, on the other hand, was prepared to scrap the picture unless Rosenman signed him for the motorcycle-riding rebel in the film. Perry describes his supporting role by saying, “I’m the damsel in distress,” and he smiles at the thought.
Has such sudden, massive fame been a kind of crisis for him? “I’ve enjoyed the shit out of it. There have been problems, but who am I to bitch about that? The long and short of it is that right now people think I’m a patsy. They think I’ve lucked into this, that I don’t know what’s going on and they can take advantage of me—in business and otherwise.... I’m not in this for my ego, and not out to become the biggest, baddest dude on the block. But I will get what’s coming to me, and I will be treated with respect. It’s just that simple. But I find a lot of people don’t want that. They either want me to be real subservient or they expect me to be cocky. I don’t think I’m either of the two.”
No, he’s a seducer. Coy, after all, is his real first name—Coy Luther Perry III. So, Coy, what is the gestalt of being the lone focus of millions of teenage sexual fantasies? Perry’s grin turns downright evil in the afternoon sun. His voice takes on a shadowy edge. “You think it’s sexual?” he asks. “To quote Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs. ..” He pauses, then, pinching off his words, summons the voice of Hannibal Lecter: “‘Do you think they picture sexual scenarios?’ “
Yeah, they do. Yet adults keep coming back to the same question: Why Luke Perry?
“He’s a wonderful listener, a lot of fun, much brighter than I expected, and needless to say also very attractive,” Maria Shriver tells me. She interviewed the young actor for her NBC show and is an expert on the trials and tribulations of celebrity. “He’s amazingly humble, and he’s handling success much better than most people I’ve met—especially that kind of success.”
“He has a sweet sexuality,” says Rosenman. “I haven’t seen anything like Luke since Tom Cruise. Luke and Tom have the same effect: they are deferential, they are polite, they are well mannered. They are pros. They are very similar in certain ways.”
“A good part of Beverly Hills, 90210 is that it’s got someone for everybody. It could be he’s someone for certain noisier people,” says Diller. “Come on, he’s the hooker with a heart of gold. It’s always been the most appealing character. Now, you may translate it into a man or whatever, but it’s a guy who’s living life somewhat darkly who’s sweet as hell.”