Rural Tennessee town remembers star resident, Luke Perry
DICKSON, Tenn. — Emily Murphy remembers the day more than 20 years ago when her father told her to come straight home from Dickson County High School.
“Oh boy. Chores,” Murphy thought.
Later, a BMW pulled into their driveway. A couple got out and her father, George Dufty, escorted them out onto the family’s field. Her father said to the man, “I think someone wants to meet you.”
“He turned around, looked me dead in the eyes, stuck out his hand, and said, ‘Luke,’” Murphy said.
As in Luke Perry. Sideburns. Slick hair. Bright clothes. The ’90s superstar, who played “Dylan McKay” on the cultural phenomenon TV show “Beverly Hills, 90210.”
Stories about Perry can be found throughout Dickson County. Many folks have a sighting, conversation or even friendship with the actor who died recently at age 52 from a stroke.
He had just starred in a major studio film, “8 Seconds,” a true story about young rodeo champion. That movie premiered in February 1994. Perry bought the Dickson County property, located on Sylvia Road in Vanleer, a month earlier.
A few years later, Perry met a Dickson business owner that many local folks know, Janet Grimes and her sister Emily Huddleston. He stopped in their meat-and-three restaurant Sisters in 1998, and he kept coming back.
“He acted like we were part of his family. He would always give you a hug,” said Grimes, adding that he brought his own family to the restaurant often for breakfast.
“I found him to be just a nice person,” Grimes added. “I enjoyed talking to him. He always knew you.”
Perry was visiting the Dufty family that day because he wanted to buy cattle and raise them.
George Dufty provided all the cattle statistics to Perry, the teen heartthrob, who then turned to Murphy, the teenager, grabbed her hand and asked her to talk about the cattle’s “personalities.”
“He continued holding it while I told him about our herd,” Murphy said.
They delivered the cattle to Perry’s house and the star rolled up on a 4-wheeler “just as casual and kind as he could be.”
“He asked me about my high school classes,” Murphy said. “And, he remembered both my name and the details of our conversations each time that we would talk.”
Perry would call the Dufty home — still the days of landline phones — to borrow their bull.
Murphy describes her brief conversations with him: “I am not sure if Mr. Dufty remembers me. This is Luke Perry. I bought some cattle a few years back.”
“Yeah, we remember you all right,” said Murphy, today.
Belle Meade Police Chief Tim Eads, who lives in Dickson, remembers several conversations with Perry over the years — including the first one over a stolen truck.
Eads said Perry was visiting off and on during the home construction. He had a property manager and trailer on site at the time with an old Ford pickup truck parked there, Eads said. That truck disappeared and later turned up in the Cumberland River, said Eads, who was a Dickson County Sheriff’s Office detective at the time. He worked for the office nearly 20 years before taking the Belle Meade job.
“He was pleasant. He wasn’t blaming us … ,” Eads said. “He was very cordial, nice, laid back. Just like somebody you would have grown up with.”
“We hit it off. I think he hit off with most people he met around here,” Eads added. “It was not crazy the fan stuff.”
Eads said he did some background checks for him and generally helped him out however he could. Most of those interactions were in the mid- to late-’90s.
“One Christmas (Perry) came by the house and his wife had made some little spice cakes in the fruit jars,” said Eads, noting that Perry also gave them some Planet Hollywood merchandise. “I think he had a Subaru station wagon that he knocked around town in. And he wanted to come by and wish us a Merry Christmas.”
Eads said Perry invited him over for lunch one day.
“I swung by his house for lunch. He made sandwiches and I had a glass of tea,” Eads said. “It was one of those things, we would say ‘If we ever get time, maybe we will go fishing.’ It never happened between his schedule and mine.”
Vanleer Mayor Jason Weaver, owner of Weaver and Sons Repair, said he used to work on Perry’s vehicles and farm equipment.
Weaver said most people never guessed who the former “90210” star was while driving beat up, old trucks, wearing wader boots and a dirty hat, and sporting a beard.
“He was kind of low key. He really didn’t want people to know who he was,” Weaver said.
But Weaver added: “When he came in that day, I knew exactly who he was.”
Weaver said his wife, too, knew his face — and his voice. She was working at the local dollar store when Perry stopped in one day.
“As soon as she heard him say something, she stopped her line at the store and went out with a piece of paper to get his autograph,” Weaver said.
Weaver said when he saw Perry on the land, he saw a “hard worker”
“He was a super nice guy,” Weaver said. “He wanted to be away and be a normal person.”
Dickson County residents posted memories of Perry sightings and conversations on social media in recent days, remembering seeing him at Pizza Hut, Texaco, Ruby Tuesdays, Burger King, Ace Hardware, Tractor Supply, Kroger, K-Mart and various other places in Dickson.
Tonya Sweatt-Elliott recalled Perry paying for an elderly couple’s lunch at Captain D’s and then bringing the food to their table.
Debby Whited said Perry stopped at Burger King often while his wife was pregnant. “Sometimes twice a day. He was really nice,” she said.
Several people spotted him over the years at the Dickson County Fair with his family and a few people made small talk with him there.
Andrea Gilpatrick said she had lots of memories of Perry and his Vanleer land. She said her father took care of Perry’s farm for more than 10 years.
“It’s sad for his family. He was down-to-earth and decent human being,” she said.
Murphy, like many others who met Perry, also remembered him as “overwhelmingly kind, polite, and humble.”
“You treated a small-town high school girl like she was important when you were at the peak of your fame,” Murphy said. “I am so glad you called Dickson County home for a bit of your too-short life.”