Yesterday, we got the news that Luke Perry of Beverly Hills, 90210 fame had died after suffering a massive stroke last week. Friends all over Facebook were posting about how sad they are. They were posting about how Dylan McKay, his character on the show, was their “first love.” And I get it…
When the original Beverly Hills, 90210 debuted, I had been out of college for a year. I was working for an airline and living in Atlanta. It premiered on October 4, 1990. I was 23 years old, and life was good! The target audience for the show was teenagers. I was older than most of their viewers, I think, but I loved it! Who didn’t want to live in Beverly Hills then? Heck, I want to live in Beverly Hills now! If you’ve never seen the show, you can start with the pilot on Amazon Prime Video here.
I’m not surprised to see how many people are mourning the loss of Luke Perry/Dylan McKay. It’s sad. He was only 52. And I’ve done it lots of times…felt sadness at the loss of a celebrity. I felt it when Prince died a few years ago…I was having lunch with my friend, Linda, at Fenwick’s in Charlotte, when we heard the news. Sometimes, we remember where we were when we heard the news, because strong emotions lock events into long-term memory. I’ve learned that the hard way; my husband has no short term memory (a tumor and brain surgery to remove it), but he has long-term memory.
I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve thought about how we mourn celebrities, and I’ve decided that when I’m mourning a celebrity’s death, I’m not really mourning the loss of the individual as much as I’m mourning the loss of a certain time in my life. I didn’t really know the people. I knew how they made me feel. Maybe sometimes, we mourn the fact that we never got to meet the celebrity, but we don’t really know these people. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I think, when I mourn a celebrity, it’s because I’m mourning the loss of a time in life, or because I never got to meet the person.
For example, I hadn’t kept up with country singer Roy Clark’s career over the last couple of decades, but when I heard he had died last year, I was sad. Roy Clark was one of the hosts of Hee Haw, a show we watched when I was a little girl. Lots of kids watched Hee Haw in the 70s…maybe it was just southern kids, but people watched it. If, right now, I started singing, “Where, oh where, are you tonight…” people my age would chime in. Someone from my generation would immediately sing, “Why did you leave me here all alone?” We all remember getting excited about that segment of the show… and the raspberry in the song. To see it, click here. Roy Clark, as the Hee Haw host, was part of our childhood.
When Dean Martin died in 1995, I reminisced about his variety show that I loved watching as a child. Of course, watching those episodes as an adult, I realize I probably didn’t get most of the jokes, but I enjoyed the show. And I thought Dean Martin was handsome. In fact, I still swoon when I watch videos of him. His death is one I mourn because I’ll never get to meet him.
Penny Marshall…Laverne from Laverne and Shirley. When I heard she had died this past year, I was transported back to third grade, singing, “1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8…schlemiel! schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!” You can see it here. I still make references to Laverne and Shirley regularly. When Penny Marshall died, I lost a piece of childhood.
Marlin Perkins died in 1986. Who is that? If you were born around the same time I was or before, you likely remember him as the host of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. If his show hadn’t aired right before The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights, children likely wouldn’t have known who he was, but when he died in 1986, children who were born in the 60s and early 70s remembered spending Sunday nights in front of the TV, watching Marlin Perkins tell Jim Fowler to approach an animal or two. Mother let us have TV dinners on Sunday nights…and only on Sunday nights…while we watched those two shows. Of course, we had to pick our TV dinners from the grocery store on Saturday, because back then, in Alabama, grocery stores weren’t open on Sundays, due to blue laws.
When Patrick Swayze died, I mourned his death, because he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the year after my daddy died from the same disease. I didn’t know Patrick Swayze, but when he was diagnosed, I remembered how terrible it felt when Daddy was diagnosed. Obviously, I didn’t relive the pain of my daddy’s diagnosis, but I knew the pain his family was feeling. When I was in college, we loved watching him in Dirty Dancing, and when he died in 2009, on my daddy’s birthday, September 14, it hurt.
So yes, celebrity deaths affect me, but it’s not because I love them like I love my family. No celebrity death could ever carry the same weight as the death of my family members, but they’re memorable…not because I knew the celebrity, but because they represented a time in my life…a time I can’t return to. Or maybe I’m sad because I never got to meet them.
So, Rest In Peace, Luke Perry/Dylan McKay. You created some great memories for us, and you’ll always be a part of my youth. And apparently, lots of my friends considered you their first love…