Hollywood agent Chris Nassif doesn’t want the world to remember his former client Luke Perry as just a TV idol, but rather a humble star who managed to achieve his dream before his sudden passing.
The 52-year-old, who shot to fame with “Beverly Hills, 90210” as heartthrob Dylan McKay in the ‘90s, passed away on March 4 after suffering a stroke. The actor died at a hospital in Burbank, Calif., surrounded by his family.
The late actor is the subject of a new Reelz special titled “Luke Perry: In His Own Words,” which explores his career through his previous reflections and interviews with some of his friends and co-stars.
Nassif, who participated in the documentary, told Fox News he wanted to share how Perry impacted his life over the years.
“He’s part of a past that I’m very fond of,” said Nassif. “It was right before my kids were born. I started the agency business in 1981, but Luke was my first big success.”
Nassif served as Perry’s agent between 1989 until 1992. He described the Ohio native as someone he quickly loved and admired.
“I loved him,” said Nassif. “He had no fear. He was very humble. Always willing to help. He used to tell me, ‘Chris, if you need any help with anything in your house, I got lots of time on my hands.’ He truly became one of our family members. Just a salt of the earth type of individual.”
At the time, Perry was an up-and-coming actor looking for his big break. And while he remained hopeful when auditions came his way, Perry was already contemplating leaving Hollywood behind and taking on a completely different role.
“His outlook on life was very positive,” recalled Nassif. “The future looked bright. He was determined to make it. Now I’m not saying he didn’t get a little bit frustrated and felt like it was never going to happen to him. Literally within a week, he was getting ready to go back to Ohio and join the fire department. I told him, ‘You have too much going on for you here. You have that edge. Just give it a little more time.' And that was the week when I got him the audition for ‘Beverly Hills, 90210.’”
The series, which aired from 1990 until 2000, explored a group of friends living in Beverly Hills, Calif. as they make their way through life from their school days into adulthood.
In the documentary, Perry himself admitted in one of his past interviews that the audition was far from a slam dunk.
“I smelled like gasoline,” he shared. “I had tar all over me. It was bad. I didn’t have a shirt on. I had to dig one out of the trunk of my car. I was filthy. Basically, I was filthy, dirty.”
Nassif confirmed that when it came to auditioning for the network, Perry was in trouble.
“He did not do well on the audition,” said Nassif. “He didn’t get the job… I thought instead of having him as a season regular when the studio didn’t want him, I [proposed] putting him on as a recurring role until we can prove to the network he’s going to be a big star. And that’s what he did. But he never got the job from the beginning.”
According to Nassif, Perry was “tense and nervous” about auditioning in front of intimidating executives for “Beverly Hills, 90210.” It also didn’t help that his car gave him trouble on that fateful day.
“He called me from a payphone,” Nassif recalled. “I told him, ‘If you don’t make it to this audition, it’s over.’ He said, ‘OK, OK, I’ll do my best.’”
Despite the mishaps, Perry was eager for the role, which came naturally to him. But the then-24-year-old also had to prove himself among his castmates.
“In the very beginning, it was rough because he was the new guy,” claimed Nassif. “Despite some of the stuff you might hear about, there was no honeymoon. He wasn’t treated as an equal. He didn’t have a proper dressing room. It actually was like high school with the new kid.”
“When you become a TV idol, you’re always going to worry about being typecast,” said Nassif. “There might have been some of that, sure, but it didn’t overwhelm him. He kept his feet on the ground. He was very humble. Fame never affected him. I remember several film studios wanted to work with him. I told him, ‘Make sure this does not go to your head.’ He said, ‘I get it.’ And he never changed.”
“He knew that this hysteria was surreal, but he wasn’t raised on money,” continued Nassif. “His parents were hardworking people. He just kept reflecting on that. In some ways, he didn’t like the attention he was getting. Sure, in the beginning, it was fun and interesting. But after a bit, it was too consuming. But Luke was an exception. Many actors don’t keep their feet on the ground. But he did.”
But Nassif was in for a big surprise. With Perry’s fame growing, the star had the opportunity to be represented by Creative Artists Agency (CAA), known for being one of the most influential agencies in Hollywood with a lengthy A-list clientele to prove it. It was an offer Perry couldn't refuse.
“That was heartbreaking,” said Nassif. “[But] that’s what happens to actors. They move on. They think bigger is better. [But] after that I was very upset. I did not speak with him for several years. When you put all of your efforts into helping someone get to where they need to go and they move on, it’s not like you stay great friends after that. … I was very proud of the work that I had put into him and helping him get to where he needed to be.”
Nassif said he eventually got over the professional breakup, and the two men reportedly kept in touch indirectly through mutual friends.
“It was like, ‘Tell him I said hello’ through other people," said Nassif. “We just figured, hey, that’s show business.”
Nassif said his big regret was that the two never got the chance to sit down and hash things out after all this time.
“I was shocked and saddened by his death,” said Nassif. “I didn’t even hear it from the news. I heard it from other people… I was saddened that I wouldn’t be able to get together with him in the future and just laugh about the past. There was no completion of how we started together and how it ended. That was all lost… It was a big time in our lives. And we had a lot of fun together.”
Perry is survived by two children, his mother, a brother and a sister.
Nassif hopes that those tuning in will discover a new side to Perry, one that will continue to leave a lasting impression.
“I think that we’re all fallible,” he said. “Life is too short. Luke was not affected by stardom. I guess that’s pretty much the bottom line.”
"Luke Perry: In His Own Words" airs March 21 at 8 p.m. on Reelz.