"You had this combination of this unreachable sexy guy with this sense of an inner foundation at the same time," Carol Potter tells PEOPLE

By Aili Nahas and Aurelie Corinthios
March 05, 2019 05:25 PM
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When Luke Perry landed the role of West Beverly Hills High’s bad boy, the seductive, brooding Dylan McKay on Beverly Hills, 90210, he became a superstar nearly overnight — but it never went to his head.

Speaking to PEOPLE in this week’s issue, costar Carol Potter, who played matriarch Cindy Walsh on the prime-time soap opera, remembers Perry — who died Monday at 52, five days after suffering a massive stroke — as “charming” and a “sweetheart.”

“I was privileged to see his audition — they were auditioning a couple different guys for this part,” she says. “You were immediately struck by this James Dean-esque quality but also he just seemed to have his feet on the ground. He had this combination of this unreachable sexy guy with this sense of an inner foundation at the same time.”

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Potter, 70, says Perry “was always ready to banter and have a little fun.”

“He could be funny,” she says. “He always seemed to be in a pretty good mood in terms of the way he showed up. He was so easy to work with.”

“Luke would go to a signing and thousands of people would show up. It was the first sign that, ‘Oh something is going on here,'” she recalls. “But I always had the sense that he had his feet on the ground, despite the brouhaha that they all went through. You had this sense that he was very grounded. I don’t know where that came from, but it’s valuable.”

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Still, Potter says the fame wasn’t easy for the teen heartthrob, who was in his early 20s at the time.

“I think it got really hard because it was hard for him to go anywhere,” she says. “That’s a real imposition. I think he was just mind-blown by it. But he didn’t let it go to his head. He was more like, ‘This is bizarre. This is crazy. This is my work over here.’ And I think he had a sense of keeping the two apart.”

Potter says Perry’s death feels “unreal.”

“It’s unimaginable,” she admits. “When you work together, there is a family-life intimacy that comes up and that never goes away. I always hoped our paths would cross again and I could get to know the incredible man that he seems to have become.”

Perry’s rep announced the actor’s passing on Monday, confirming he was “surrounded by his children Jack and Sophie, fiancé Wendy Madison Bauer, ex-wife Minnie Sharp, mother Ann Bennett, step-father Steve Bennett, brother Tom Perry, sister Amy Coder, and other close family and friends.”

“The family appreciates the outpouring of support and prayers that have been extended to Luke from around the world, and respectfully request privacy in this time of great mourning. No further details will be released at this time.”

In lieu of flowers, the Perry family has asked that donations be made to Fight Colorectal Cancer and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.