Luke Perry: His life was echoed by Fred Andrews, Archie's dad

The death of Luke Perry -- only 52 and forever a "90210" teen-ager in many minds -- was a jolting surprise. Here's the quick-turnaround story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Luke Perry soared in
opposite TV roles – the rich teen in Beverly Hills and the
hard-working, blue-collar dad in Riverdale.

And in real life? It
was the latter, all the way.

Perry – who died
Monday at 52, a week after a massive stroke – was a steelworker's
son from Ohio. He was born in Mansfield, a city of 48,000, but grew
up about 15 miles south of there in Fredericktown, which has less
than 2,500 people.

That was far from
the “Beverly Hills 90210” that made him famous ... but similar to
his role in the current “Riverdale.” There, Perry was Fred
Andrews, Archie's dad, a deeply decent man amidst chaos.

That reflects real
life, Perry said last summer. “In small-town America are some of
the nicest people you will ever meet. And they do some of the
craziest (stuff) you have ever heard of.”

In big cities, he
said, it might be easy to be rude to a stranger; in small towns,
there are few strangers. “The guy you get in an argument with at
school might be the same one you're throwing a pass to on Friday or
turning a double play with on Saturday.”

Then there's the
crazy stuff, which “Riverdale emphasizes. “You get to see a guy
like Fred Andrews,” Perry said, “who puts his heart and soul into
raising his son and really does everything to live his life
aboveboard. And here are other people in town; they do other stuff.”

After high school –
where he was Freddie Bird, the school mascot, complete with yellow
tights and red feathers – Perry tried acting in Los Angeles and
then New York. He has talked of having 215 unsuccessful auditions,
before landing a commercial.

After about four
years, he landed soap roles, first as Ned Bates in “Loving,” then
as Kenny in “Another World.” Then, he's said, came another
year-and-a-half of unemployment.

Moving back to
California, he got some small TV roles and then the big one. At 24,
Perry was convincing as a “90210” teen, drawing comparisons to
another small-town Midwesterner, James Dean.

He left the show
after five seasons, but came back three years later to do the final
two. Most of the show's stars have signed on for an upcoming
mini-series (playing exaggerated versions of themselves), but Perry
didn't. In many ways, “Riverdale” fit him neatly ... and reminded
him of the “90210” days.

Fan reaction “is
similar,” he said last summer, “in that it's a lot of screaming
teenage girls .... The audience for '90210' was a lot bigger, because
audiences were just bigger then. But if you listen to them both
coming out of a speaker, they would sound very, very similar.”