Luke Perry Is a Fatherly Figure in New Book: 'Actors Teach Us How to Be in the World'

'A Good Bad Boy' by Margaret Wappler reflects on her own father's illness alongside the '90210' star's death

<p>Simon and Schuster; ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty</p> A Good Bad Boy cover; Luke Perry

Simon and Schuster; ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty

A Good Bad Boy cover; Luke Perry

"In some ways, life becomes easier after her dad died," writes Margaret Wappler of the loss of her father in A Good Bad Boy: Luke Perry and How a Generation Grew Up. "His death is a relief, for him and her. Somewhere else, maybe, he is whole again."

The author, a dedicated fan of Luke Perry's and Beverly Hills 90210, interweaves reflections on her own life with her father with dozens of interviews with those who knew Perry, to get at the outsize impact the actor had on the generation that grew up with bad boy Dylan McKay.

"His daughter is only three years older than Margaret was when she had lost her father," she writes. "This math is involuntary; a hushed equation she arrives at every time she hears of a young person losing a parent."

Best known for his work on 90210, Perry was 52 when he died after suffering a stroke on Feb. 27 at home in Sherman Oaks, California. At the time, a source told PEOPLE he never regained consciousness.

At the apex of his fame, Perry was an idol among teen idols — his face graced the covers of magazines and appeared on merchandise everywhere (yes, there’s even a Barbie doll designed after his TV character, Dylan). He married Rachel ‘Minnie’ Sharp in November 1993 and they had two children — son Jack, 26, and daughter Sophie, 23 — before divorcing in 2003.

Perry also had a relationship with Wendy Madison Bauer, 50. They were engaged at the time of his death, according to Perry’s rep.

<p>Simon and Schuster</p> 'A Good Bad Boy: Luke Perry and How a Generation Grew Up' by Margaret Wappler

Simon and Schuster

'A Good Bad Boy: Luke Perry and How a Generation Grew Up' by Margaret Wappler

Perry's Life Didn't Start Out Happy

By Wappler's accounting, Perry was a down-to-earth man who kept his family life intensely private. His own got off to a rocky start; according to Perry, his father, Coy Luther II, was a violent drunk who abused his mother. “I always felt that I should have been able to protect her better, but I was a 6-year-old kid. That’s where my frustration stems from. I saw very clearly as a 6-year-old kid what the problems were. Looking back at it all now, it was pretty frightening," the book recounts.

His parents divorced when Perry was 6, and his mother's second husband, Steve Bennett, stepped into the role of father figure. "Steve, a construction worker with a daughter named Emily, taught his stepson how to use drills and wrenches, the dignity of manual labor, and that a real man was kind and loving above all else," Wappler writes.

<p>Monica Schipper/WireImage</p> Luke Perry in 2017

Monica Schipper/WireImage

Luke Perry in 2017

He Looked Out for kids on Set — but Not Without Tough Love

Wappler writes that Perry was a consummate professional who could come off as impatient with kids on set, but that he taught them to advocate for themselves and helped out where it counted. On set for the holiday film Scoot and Kassie's Christmas Adventure, he taught young costars Ariana Bagley and Camrey Bagley Fox how to hit their marks (toe the sandbag, don't look down), never to peel a banana from the stem (just picture it) and most importantly, how to stand up for their needs.

“You never want to speak up and make anything harder, but he taught me that it’s important to do that when you need to,” Bagley says in the book. Perry even made sure Bagley Fox could attend her prom by switching the order of scenes on the day in question so she'd make it to the big dance.

<p>Dominik Bindl/Getty</p> Luke Perry in 2018

Dominik Bindl/Getty

Luke Perry in 2018

For Perry, Home and Family Mattered

“You could tell he was a great father,” said Marisol Nichols, one of Perry's Riverdale costars. “He would tell me the tricks he used to do [like playing] Santa coming for Christmas, and I’d tell him the little tricks I was doing.” They bonded over the sacrifices and logistics it took to keep up as a working parent, especially on a popular show with a packed production schedule.

Wappler recounts that when the cameras stopped rolling, all Luke wanted to do was talk about his farm in Tennessee and his young family. “He just beamed talking about these little people who he loved so much,” she writes. It even set his costars at ease: “It’s hard to be starstruck with someone who’s so completely relaxed and unassuming.”

That was true when he wasn't on set too, and came up again and again in Wappler's many anecdotes about who the man was when he wasn't working. He was known for showing up and just hanging out with his friends, donning a ball cap and sunglasses to stay under the radar.

Over and over again, the stories in A Good Bad Boy drive home one message: “[Luke Perry] didn’t want to be remembered as a teen heartthrob...He wanted to be remembered as a good person.” And that might be why Wappler didn't write a traditional biography but instead, what she calls "a duality."

"To see what happened when two histories collided, dovetailed and refracted across nearly 30 years," the author writes.

Longtime fans of 90210, Riverdale or any of Perry's projects might recognize something in that collision.

A Good Bad Boy by Margaret Wappler is available now wherever books are sold.

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