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Luke Perry was a beloved actor and had millions of fans all over the world. However, his biggest fans were from Fredericktown, Ohio.
He was Fredericktown. And Fredericktown was him.
Perry’s death Monday at age 52 sent a shockwave over the globe, but the epicenter was squarely in northwestern Knox County, Ohio. Not because we had posters of him on our walls or watched his western movies. He was our guy.
News spreads quickly around this area and the news of his passing blasted everyone in and around Fredericktown on Monday morning. It devastated everyone. It still does. It hurts. It has hurt everyone, particularly his family and closest friends.
The people who grew up in Fredericktown, particularly the ones who graduated from high school in the 1980s, knew him or his older brother or younger sister. In fact, people from all over the county went to school with Luke. The Knox County Sheriff; the Fredericktown Fire Chief and Assistant Chief; the Fredericktown Village Administrator; at least one member of Fredericktown EMS; at least two people who work for the Mount Vernon Police Department; at least two people who work for the Village of Fredericktown; three people who work at the Mount Vernon News and two actresses who are currently performing in the Alcove Dinner Theater production, among many others.
Luke graduated from Fredericktown in 1984 and left immediately to pursue acting in Los Angeles. I went to high school with him for one year and graduated with his sister in 1987. Before we graduated, Luke was already on TV.
One of Luke’s first on-camera appearances was in a Twisted Sister video called “Be Crool to Your Schuel” which featured the band along with flesh-eating zombies, some of which were high school kids and some were musicians. Luke had gone to LA with two friends — all from Fredericktown — and all three landed non-speaking roles in the video. The three guys played high school students and were all featured prominently in the video. It’s on YouTube, you can see it. The video was banned from MTV due to the use of bloody makeup effects, but it had Alice Cooper and Bobcat Goldthwait in it.
After appearing in at least two television commercials, Luke landed a role on the soap opera “Loving.” We Fredericktown people heard about his being on TV and stopped what we were doing and watched. Our senior biology class stopped in the middle of class just to watch him make his soap opera debut as “Ned Bates.” That was the beginning. Not only for him, but also for us. We started following his career. He was on “Loving” for more than a year. People who didn’t watch soap operas watched that show, just because he was on it.
After being in several community theater plays in Knox County, I moved to California — because of him. Like him, I liked movies and television and wanted to be a part of it.
While I was there, he had gotten the role on “Beverly Hills, 90210” and his popularity had exploded. It was amazing that someone from Fredericktown was such a huge star. No one had done that before. Everyone watched him every week and talked about him and as he did interviews and was in the public eye, he was the same guy that he was when he was here. We were all proud of him. It was seven and eight years after he graduated from Fredericktown High School and he was a huge TV star.
I moved to Los Angeles in 1996 after getting a job at a movie studio. He was not on “90210” at the time, but was making movies and appearing on other shows and I started working and meeting people in entertainment also.
After working at several places in entertainment, I started to meet people who knew him, but I never ran into him myself. Sometimes I would work somewhere where he had just been or somewhere where he would be next week.
In 2016, he was cast as Fred Andrews on the CW show Riverdale, which is a dark interpretation of the Archie Comics. The place where I still worked on occasion, the Paley Center for Media, held a seminar for the show where the cast and crew came to discuss the show in front of an audience and not only was he going to be there, but I was working it.
I took a moment from working — as an usher — and I went upstairs to the green room to say hello. There he was. I went up to him, said hello and he looked at me like he saw a ghost. He knew me immediately and was shocked that another Fredericktown person was there. He asked about my parents and launched right into Fredericktown topics. But that was him. He was Fredericktown. The irony of that meeting is that it was in Beverly Hills — with a zip code of 90210.
Before the seminar started, he stood up and introduced me, by full name, in front of the live audience and said that we had gone to high school together.
A year later, the Paley Center did another seminar, in front of a bigger audience, and I saw him again. He immediately asked about my family and then during the seminar, he again introduced me to the crowd and said that we had gone to high school together. He also took off his jacket and gave it to his co-star when she appeared cold. Again, that was him.
We exchanged numbers and kept in contact for months after that. Usually by text, we would just say ‘Hi’ and check in. Each time, he would ask about Fredericktown or my family.
He and I both met his friend who walked across the country to raise awareness for colorectal cancer in August 2018. We walked between Santa Monica to Venice Beach. His friend had gone to Crestline High School and I knew Los Angeles-based people whom he had grown up with.
I came back to Ohio in January of this year and Luke and I still kept in contact. We had planned on doing an interview before the release of his next movie, which is the Quentin Tarantino film “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” in which he has a small part. Tarantino allegedly wrote a part just for Luke and he was thrilled by that.
When Luke had a stroke last week, no one thought this would be the result. He’s 52. He’s our guy. We all know him or his family. He’s young.
He has inspired us and encouraged us.
We’re proud of him. Everyone loved him and he loved us. He was Fredericktown.
It is tremendously sad that he is gone.
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