Remembering Luke Perry: Photos from the Actor’s Career Before ‘90210’

Luke Perry shot to fame playing the beloved bad boy Dylan McKay on Fox’s hit show Beverly Hills, 90210. The actor portrayed the character from 1990 to 1995, and again from 1998 to 2000. But the teen drama wasn’t his first foray into television. The actor, who died March 4 at age 52 following a massive stroke, got his start on daytime TV in the late 1980s.

Luke Perry got his start on daytime soaps   

Luke Perry
Luke Perry in 1987 | ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images

Perry, grew up in the small town of Fredericktown, Ohio, where his mom was a homemaker and his dad was a steelworker. He knew he wanted to be an actor at a young age, and after graduating from high school in 1984 (where he was the high school mascot and voted biggest flirt), Perry moved to Los Angeles to pursue his career.

Perry struggled at first to get work. He notched 216 rejections and took jobs laying asphalt and working in a doorknob factory to make rent before his big break, he told People in 1991. But perseverance paid off. He appeared in the 1985 video for Twisted Sister’s song “Be Chrool to Your Scuel.” And within a few years, he’d landed parts on a couple of daytime soap operas.

In a 1991 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Perry called working on soap operas “the best training in the world.”

He played Ned Bates on Loving

Luke Perry on Loving
Luke Perry with Alexandra Wilson on Loving in 1987. | ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images

Perry’s first major acting job was on the soap opera Loving, which ran on ABC from 1983 to 1995. Starting in 1987, Perry played Ned Bates on the show. The actor relocated to New York City to play the part of the character he described as a “country bumpkin with a heart of gold.”

“Ned was a dirt-poor mechanic from Tennessee who always got taken advantage of,” Perry told the Tribune. “He was nothing like Dylan. Dylan’s nobody’s fool.”

He also appeared on Another World

After wrapping up his stint on Loving, Perry moved on to another daytime soap, Another World, in 1988. On that show, he played a character named Kenny. (You can see him in the above video starting just before the 1-minute mark.) He also appeared in commercials, including one for Levi’s 501 jeans, before he decided to return to California. Shortly after, he landed his breakout role on 90210.

Playing James Dean-esque bad boy Dylan turned Perry into a teen idol in the early 1990s, though he wasn’t entirely comfortable with his role as a heartthrob.

“Man, I hate those two [bleep]ing words!” he told People at the time.

“This [fan] s—- makes you crazy once in a while,” he added. “But all of that is just fantasy.”

After 90210

Perry may be best known for his work on 90210 and later on Riverdale, but he appeared in dozens of other TV shows and movies over the years. He starred in the 1992 film Buffy the Vampire Slayer and played a bull rider in the 1994 movie 8 Seconds. He provided the voice of Rick Jones in the animated series The Incredible Hulk in the mid-1990s and played Reverend Jeremiah Cloutier on HBO’s Oz.

Perry also had recurring roles on TV shows like Jeremiah, Windfall, John from Cincinnati, and Body of Proof before landing the part of Fred Andrews on Riverdale. He will make a final return to the big screen in Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The movie also stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt and centers on an aging star of a Western TV series and his stuntman and is set around the time of the Manson family murders, which will figure in the movie’s plot. It’s due out this summer.

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