"As soon as he became a dad, that was it," a source tells PEOPLE of Luke Perry, who died Monday at 52

By Aurelie Corinthios Aili Nahas Christina Dugan
March 06, 2019 11:27 AM

Luke Perry is best known for playing West Beverly Hills High’s bad boy, the seductive, brooding Dylan McKay on Beverly Hills, 90210 — but those closest to him remember him first and foremost as a devoted dad.

Speaking to PEOPLE in this week’s issue, friends say Perry — who died Monday at 52, five days after suffering a massive stroke — considered his best role to be that of father. The late actor shared son Jack, 21, and daughter Sophie, 18, with ex-wife Rachel “Minnie” Sharp.

“He was very protective of his family,” one source says. “As soon as he became a dad, that was it. It didn’t matter that he was a huge star on Beverly Hills, 90210, or what came after. He always knew what was important.”

“He didn’t care about being famous or being a ‘celebrity,'” the source adds. “He was a good person, he cared about the people he loved, and when he smiled at you, it felt like the best thing in the world.”

RELATED: Inside Luke Perry’s Private Life, from Beverly Hills, 90210 Heartthrob to ‘Hands-on’ Father

Luke Perry with son Jack and daughter Sophie in 2004

A second source remembers the late actor as “a super great, very hands-on dad.”

“He was always attending his kids’ school and after-school functions when they were younger,” the source says. “He loved just hanging out with them and being present. He was so proud of everything they accomplished.”

Perry’s pride in his children continued as they grew older, with Sophie embarking on community building with One World Center in Malawi, and Jack pursuing a career as a pro wrestler. (Perry was known to film his son from the stands during matches.)

RELATED: Luke Perry’s Son Jack Drops Out of Wrestling Show Following His Father’s Sudden Death

Luke Perry with son Jack and daughter Sophie in 2004
Gregg DeGuire/WireImage

Shannen Doherty, who, as Brenda Walsh, was one half of a supercouple with Perry’s Dylan McKay on 90210, says her costar’s children were his pride and joy.

“Luke loved his family,” says Doherty, 47. “He raved about his kids and how proud he was of them. He showed me videos of them often. They were his heart and for him, his biggest accomplishment.”

Another member of Perry’s 90210 family, Tori Spelling, says he “adored his kids beyond words.”

“Luke was one of the kindest and most humble human beings I’ve ever known,” she says. “He was so proud of Jack and Sophie.”

  • For more on Luke Perry’s life and death, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

Perry’s rep announced the actor’s passing on Monday, confirming he was “surrounded by his children Jack and Sophie, fiancée 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.”

PEOPLE confirmed that Sophie rushed home to Los Angeles from Africa as soon as she heard about her father’s condition. Per her Instagram, she’d been in Malawi for the last month.

She broke her silence about his death on Tuesday alongside a photo with her father on Instagram.

“A lot has happened in this past week for me,” she wrote. “Everything is happening so fast. I made it back from Malawi just in time to be here with my family, And in the past 24 hours I have received an overwhelming amount of love and support.”

“I cannot individually respond to the hundreds of beautiful and heartfelt messages, but I see them, and appreciate you all for sending positivity to my family and I,” she continued. “I’m not really sure what to say or do in this situation, it’s something you aren’t ever given a lesson on how to handle, especially when it’s all happening in the public eye. So bear with me and know that I am grateful for all the love. Just, being grateful quietly.”

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