Inside Luke Perry’s Death And The Mysterious Stroke That Caused It

Published May 6, 2024

Best known for starring in Beverly Hills, 90210 and Riverdale, Luke Perry was just 52 years old when he died of a sudden stroke on March 4, 2019.

Luke Perry Death

Erik Pendzich/Alamy Stock PhotoLuke Perry died five days after his “massive” stroke.

For many people, Luke Perry will always be Dylan McKay, the bad boy teen heartthrob from the hit series Beverly Hills, 90210. Maybe that’s why Luke Perry’s death at the age of just 52 felt especially shocking.

By then, Perry had had a long career that spanned far beyond 90210. Though he remained strongly linked to the series, Perry also appeared in many other TV shows and films, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 8 Seconds, The Fifth Element, and, more recently, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood and Riverdale.

But for him, fame was never the point. Though he’d been chased by countless fans at the height of his 90210 stardom, Perry was more likely to be found with his pet pigs than at a Hollywood club in the 1990s. His 90210 co-stars raved about his gentle, kind nature, and Perry was known to be a great, “hands-on” father to his two children, Jack and Sophie.

In the final months of his life, things seemed to be going well for Perry. He had steady acting work as the character Fred Andrews on Riverdale, and he was engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Wendy Madison Bauer.

But then, on February 27, 2019, the actor suffered from a sudden stroke in his Los Angeles home. Rushed to the hospital, Luke Perry reportedly “never regained consciousness” and died five days later on March 4, 2019.

From Fredericktown, Ohio, To Fame On 90210

Born on October 11, 1966, in Fredericktown, Ohio, Coy Luther Perry III grew up in circumstances far different from the ones portrayed on 90210. At Fredericktown High School, Perry claimed that he and other students took “classes on giving birth to cows and driving tractors.”

But some things about his real life were reflected on the screen. For one, Perry was voted “Biggest Flirt” by his high school classmates. And two, Perry had a tumultuous childhood, just like the 90210 character he later played. He told Vanity Fair in 1992 that his father had been “violent” and “a drunk.”

Beverly Hills 90210

ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Stock PhotoLuke Perry got his big break playing Dylan McKay on 90210.

His parents divorced when he was six, and Perry remained close with his mother and later bonded with his stepfather. But after graduating from high school, Perry decided to leave Ohio and try to become an actor.

“I felt like I belonged on a screen,” he told Vanity Fair. “I guess because I related to the people up on that screen much more than the people around me. I always felt like I was one of them and in a matter of time I’d get there.”

It wasn’t easy. The Washington Post reports that Perry was rejected 216 times before he started booking roles on soap operas. Even then, his acting career wasn’t exactly a success — while living in Los Angeles, Perry was also laying asphalt — but his fortunes changed when he was cast in 90210.

Though the show had a rocky start after its premiere in 1990, it soon became a hit. Set in the affluent 90210 zip code in Beverly Hills, it followed the lives of rich, attractive teenagers and touched on issues like AIDS and rape. Perry, who played “bad boy” Dylan McKay, was one of the show’s breakout stars.

But Perry was wary of fame and rejected the “teen idol” label outright. “Man, I hate those two f—ing words,” he said in 1991, according to PEOPLE. “I’m a simple guy… I don’t need a whole lot.” Indeed, Perry was better known for his beloved Vietnamese potbellied pigs than for his Hollywood exploits.

Shannen Doherty

Photo 12/Alamy Stock PhotoLuke Perry and his 90210 co-star Shannen Doherty. Luke Perry would be closely linked to the show even after his death.

As his career progressed, Perry tried to shake off his “Dylan McKay” reputation, and even left 90210 for two seasons. He had mixed success. But by the time Luke Perry died in 2019, his career had entered a new stage.

The Shock Of Luke Perry’s Death

Between 90210 in the 1990s and Luke Perry’s death in 2019, Luke Perry booked consistent work. He starred in the 1992 movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer, appeared in TV shows like Oz and movies like The Fifth Element, and performed on Broadway. But he never quite escaped Dylan McKay’s shadow.

“Like earlier throbs (Matt Dillon in particular) [Luke Perry] looks capable of rising above the fanzine drivel and proving himself a real actor. But this isn’t quite the movie,” Roger Ebert wrote of Perry’s 1994 film 8 Seconds.

Shortly before Luke Perry died, however, the actor’s career had reached a new stage. He was cast in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (which premiered a few months after his death) and found a steady role on the TV show Riverdale, playing Archie Andrews’ father Fred.

How Did Luke Perry Die

The CWLuke Perry’s role on Riverdale introduced his talents to a new audience.

KJ Apa, who plays Archie Andrews, told Jimmy Fallon in 2019 that he and Perry had a “really close relationship.” Perry acted as a father figure to Apa, from New Zealand, while they were filming the show in Canada.

Perry’s life was good in other ways, too. He and his longtime girlfriend Wendy Madison Bauer — who were together over 11 years — were engaged.

All that made Luke Perry’s death in March 2019 all the more tragic.

On February 27th, Perry suffered from a “massive” stroke while in his Los Angeles home. He was rushed to the hospital, where Bauer, Perry’s children, his ex-wife Minnie Sharp, and his other family members raced to his side.

Sadly, after five days, Luke Perry died on March 4th. He was 52 years old.

“The past 11½ years with Luke were the happiest years of my life, and I am grateful to have had that time with him,” Bauer stated to PEOPLE. “I also want to thank his children, family, and friends for their love and support. We have found comfort in one another and in the knowledge that our lives were touched by an extraordinary man. He will be dearly missed.”

How Did Luke Perry Die?

Though Luke Perry’s family kept most details about his death private, his 90210 co-star Brian Austin Green told the Comfort Food with Kelly Rizzo podcast in 2023 that Perry “passed away of complications from brain swelling and things that happened because of the physical stroke itself.”

Luke Perry

MediaPunch Inc/Alamy Stock PhotoLuke Perry in 2017, two years before he died from a stroke at the age of 52.

These symptoms were apparently so severe, according to Green, that Perry would have had a long road of recovery ahead if he had somehow survived. For that reason, Green said that part of him felt like Perry dying after the sudden stroke “was the best thing to happen for him.”

“Luke took pride in who he was. He was very quick-witted. He was very kind. He was very generous,” Green said. “And… any of those things missing at all would have so severely affected him. I think for recovery possibly taking four years… It would have been really, really difficult for him.”

Luke Perry’s death was especially shocking because he was so young and appeared to be in good health. But The New York Times reported in 2019 that strokes in Perry’s age group, though rare, are not unthinkable.

“About seven in one million Americans under age 50 die annually from strokes caused by a blocked blood vessel,” the paper reported, “and nine per million die from a brain hemorrhage, the two main types of strokes.”

It’s still unclear exactly what caused Perry’s fatal stroke. Experts say some of the most common explanations for a man his age meeting this fate would be a heart defect, artery narrowing, blood clots, a hole in the heart, or an aneurysm. Some of these issues could hypothetically be caused by genetics or a pre-existing problem in the body, but others could be caused by stimulants or drugs — or even, shockingly, a sudden movement of the neck.

Since there are a myriad of reasons why someone might suffer a stroke, the full story of Luke Perry’s death — and what led to it — may never be known.

But one thing is for certain. When Luke Perry died, it became clear that people would remember him as much more than his 90210 character.

Though Perry himself acknowledged that he would be linked to Dylan McKay “until I die,” the character was just one small part of how people memorialized him. His family, friends, and co-stars instead touched on his kindness, his gentle nature, and his generosity. In other words, they remembered Luke Perry the man — and not the character he’d played on TV.

After reading about Luke Perry’s death, go inside the sad story of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death from a drug overdose. Or, learn about the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Jim Morrison.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
Jaclyn Anglis
Jaclyn is the senior managing editor at All That's Interesting. She holds a Master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York and a Bachelor's degree in English writing and history (double major) from DePauw University. She is interested in American history, true crime, modern history, pop culture, and science.
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Fraga, Kaleena. "Inside Luke Perry’s Death And The Mysterious Stroke That Caused It.", May 6, 2024, Accessed May 23, 2024.