Luke Perry 'Never Changed' After Fame, Hometown Friends Recall: 'We Loved Him'
Despite skyrocketing to fame as a teen idol as Dylan McKay in Beverly Hills, 90210 and, later, captivating in roles like Fred Andrews on Riverdale, the late Luke Perry never changed who he was, according to his hometown friends.
Rachel Mackall said she last saw Perry — who died Monday after suffering a stroke five days prior — two years ago when he stopped into her bar/restaurant, Door 142, in downtown Fredericktown, Ohio, where the actor grew up.
“He was always pretty low-key about it,” Mackall tells PEOPLE exclusively. “He was usually with someone in his family. He loved his kids. He would talk about them nonstop. When he came to town, people wouldn’t treat him differently. He never changed, so no one ever had a reason to treat him like he had.”
“We are totally devastated about his death,” she continues. “It hasn’t even really sunk in yet. He loved his life, his kids, his family. He never stopped being ‘hometown’ and we loved him for it.”
For more about Luke Perry’s life and death, check out this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
One of Perry’s former Fredericktown High School classmates, Beth Corba, tells PEOPLE she “never had a crush” on him growing up “because he was like a brother” to her — a feeling shared by many other girls when it came to Perry, who played the fun-loving school mascot, Freddie Bird.
“It’s been a few years since I saw him. He was always adorable and always so fun. He had girlfriends but most of us just saw him as that goofy kid,” she says. “After he was a celebrity, he would come to the Tomato Show (the town’s annual festival) and you could stand there and just talk to him. Sometimes people would line up to talk with him and I’d say, ‘I need to let you go’ and he would grab my hand and say, ‘No, stay here.’ ”
“He was like that with everybody. He would have done anything for anybody,” Corba adds. “He was a star to begin with and he knew it and we knew it. He was always a prankster and always putting on a show (in school). One time, we took a limo out onto the field for homecoming and he popped out of it in the Freddie Bird costume and we acted like his bodyguards. The crowd went wild. He always had that big, sweet personality and he never changed.”
A source told PEOPLE on Monday that Perry, who died at the age of 52, never woke up after suffering the massive stroke that killed him. The insider said that the actor remained under “heavy sedation” for five days while in the hospital until he died on Monday, after paramedics were initially dispatched to his home in Sherman Oaks, California.
“He never regained consciousness,” the source explained. “Things were so dire that they put him under heavy sedation. He was gone, basically, by the time he got to the hospital.”
He is survived by his two children: Sophie, 18, and Jack, 21. The actor wed Rachel “Minnie” Sharp (his kids’ mother) in 1993, but they split in 2003. At the time of his death, he was engaged to Wendy Madison Bauer.
“Actor Luke Perry, 52, passed away today after suffering a massive stroke,” read a statement from Perry’s rep. “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. 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.”
Countless celebrities have come out in the wake of Perry’s death to share anecdotes about the star and how much he impacted their lives, including many of his Riverdale and former Beverly Hills, 90210 castmates. (Production on the former has been temporarily suspended.)
“I’m finding it hard to grasp that he will no longer be around to give long hugs and share his wisdom and kindness with all of us,” tweeted his Riverdale costar Lili Reinhart. “I’m thinking of his family. His children. I pray for them to heal and find peace in this devastating loss.”
In a 1991 cover interview with PEOPLE, a then-newly famous Perry talked about his disdain for being referred to as a “teen idol” and how fame was “just fantasy.”
“This,” he said, pointing to his bare chest “is reality.” Gesturing at his humble surroundings, he added, “I’m a simple guy. Look around. I don’t need a whole lot.”