Today is a sad day.
Luke Perry, star of “Beverly Hills: 90210”, “Riverdale”, and my dreams throughout my teenage years into early adulthood, is dead at 52 after suffering a massive stroke.
To say the loss is big for me is an understatement. I am a huge 90210 fan. HUGE.
I rewatch it constantly, listen to an episode-by-episode podcast about the series, seriously considered purchasing the recently released 90210-themed eyeshadow palette, and made Mitch take me to see the shooting location of Donna and Kelly’s beach apartment when we went to LA.
When Hulu picked up the series I started watching it for the hundredth time but was saddened to see that the show had been seriously changed. The classic music moments that are rooted in my memory, like Brenda breaking up with Dylan and listening to “Losing My Religion” nonstop or Brandon skating with that Olympic skater girl to “Time Of My Life”, were gone. So were memorable performances at the gang’s diner-turned-nightclub hangout, the Peach Pit After Dark. Turns out the producers didn’t buy out the music rights in perpetuity, so much of the music in the show had to be changed or cut when the show went digital. For a show that is so rooted in pop culture and one whose main location (at least in the later seasons) is a nightclub, this is a pretty huge loss.
I remember being devastated when I saw full episodes were cut from the Hulu lineup and that many of those that were streaming had big sections missing. Some DVDs are no different unless you’re able to find a super early release of the show that had not yet been chopped to bits.
Losing pieces of the show was so hard for me, because, like so many other TV fanatics out there can attest to, the characters, the storylines, and the music of the series were my companions during times when I didn’t have anything else. From being home alone as a kid to moving to Austin as a 20-something and feeling more alone than I ever had before, the sound of the 90210 theme song was a familiar security blanket.
So if I thought to lose the music and sections of the series was bad, the news of Luke Perry’s passing is something I can’t really comprehend right now.
I know I’m not alone in being sad over the death of a famous person who I never even met. For many, the loss of a pop culture icon can be as devastating as losing someone in our real life.
So, why do we grieve celebrities?
Probably for the same reason we grieve characters when they die — because we feel like we know them. And more than that, we feel like they represent a part of who we are, who we were, or who we want to be.
For me, “Beverly Hills: 90210” and Luke Perry represent comfort, security, and home.
I love to have the sound of a familiar show on in the background. I always have. When I was home alone, I would turn the TV on downstairs to feel like someone else was home and leave the TV on in my room to fall asleep to the sounds of familiar reruns on Nick At Nite.
So when I moved to Austin, I loved that I could watch 90210 and feel safe and at home when my real life felt anything but. I liked that I could know exactly what to expect, a characteristic that was often missing from my life.
Every shocking moment was no longer surprising but rather wrapped in a comfortable familiarity that eased my mind.
I like that I can’t remember the first time I saw the episode where David’s friend Scott accidentally shoots himself or the one where Brenda loses her virginity to Dylan. I like that I don’t remember ever being shocked when Emily Valentine tried to torch the float in the Walshes’ backyard, when Brenda dropped out of college, or when Andrea found out she was pregnant. I like being able to tell you exactly which episode Dylan’s wife dies in or when Kelly gets trapped in the fire.
And I know these storylines are hilarious, unrealistic, and downright ridiculous. But that’s almost what makes the show so reassuring for me. No matter how crazy and unbelievable it gets for these characters, I know exactly what to expect and when it’s finished I get to start it all over again.
TV shows, music, books, and movies are immortal — a welcome respite from the harsh reality of life where things end and we can’t do anything to stop it.
In life, we spend our days trying to avoid the pain of loss. And through art we’re able to capture moments and keep them forever, never having to say goodbye.
It’s not until we lose the person behind the art that we realize the forever-ness of it all is just an illusion. It’s not until we are forced to say goodbye that we realize nothing is forever and loss is inevitable.
So, that is the pain I feel today. A true sadness for the loss of someone who represented something so permanent for me.
There is one good thing to come from this, though. And that’s the realization that if we want to be remembered forever then all we have to do is create something. As a writer and an actor, that’s the thing I wish for the most — to be remembered for what I created.
Luke Perry was a wonderful actor — far more talented than anyone who thinks of soap operas as bullshit would ever give him credit for. He was an advocate. He was good person, a father, a partner, and a friend.
In an interview in 1992, a young and up-and-coming Luke Perry said, “When my time here is up I don’t want to look back and see that I didn’t do anything. And by that I mean I didn’t have any effect on anything else. I see a lot of people that let their life happen to them and I want to happen to my life. I don’t want my life to happen to me.”
Well, Luke, you had an effect on me. And as evident by the thousands of tweets that are trending right now, so many others feel the same way. You will be missed.
I’m going to binge-watch 90210 and cry now.
Oh, if anyone out there happens to have original airings of the show with its original music on tape, I’d happily pay a good chunk of money for them.