A Love Letter to Luke Perry and Dylan McKay
Like Athena bursting fully-formed from Zeus’s forehead, Luke Perry appeared—seemingly from out of nowhere—on our TV screens in 1990. Where was he before? Honestly if you told us he was engineered in a lab by a team of horny teenagers, we would believe you. That’s because his Dylan McKay was the pure embodiment of everything we wanted in a high school boy. The motorcycle, the raked-up hair, the halo of sadness—he was 90210’s James Dean; a bad boy wrapped in caution tape. He was a loner, but he adored his friends and his convict dad. He was a thoughtful boyfriend, and you dreamed that one day you’d find someone who would shorten your name (as he did with “Bren” and “Kel”) and make it sound almost risqué in its intimacy. He was dangerous but sweet, reckless but considerate. He made bad boys seem like the better option (life spoiler: they’re NOT) because his wild side could be unzipped to reveal the vulnerable heart beating only for you. His goodness was hidden from view and therefore so much more satisfying. He was the antidote to Brandon Walsh with his pompadour, good grades and open-book kind of niceness. Brandon was cotton candy on a Ferris wheel; Dylan was straight-up sex on a goddamn roller coaster.
Dylan McKay is the type of role an actor can spend a lifetime trying to run from. Luke Perry did, and then he didn’t, and when he embraced his forever Dylan-ness, we swooned all over again, mostly because it seemed like such a Dylan thing to do. The news of Luke Perry’s death, at such a young age, and on the heels of the latest 90210 reboot announcement, is a particular type of gut punch. It’s the erasure of a piece of adolescence, and it’s hard not to take it personally. It’s hard not to let it make you feel old, and to be reminded that your teen idols were never preserved in amber, as much as we long for them to be.
And so, our hearts are heavy with the loss of the icon we loved, and of the ogling adolescents we once were—the ones who wanted to be whisked away on the back of that motorcycle, and ride up the PCH and into the fog, clutching tightly to the dreamiest boy in the world.