When actor Luke Perry died earlier this week, most of the world lost a popular actor and former teenage heartthrob, but Jerome Davis lost a friend.
"He was just a super-nice guy and one of the most humble guys I've ever been around," says Davis, a former professional bull rider who met Perry in 1993 on the set of "8 Seconds," the actor's acclaimed movie about bull rider Lane Frost. It was Perry's first leading role in a movie, coming in the midst of his huge success as Dylan McKay on the TV hit "Beverly Hills 90210."
Perry died Monday, several days after suffering a massive stroke.
During the filming of "8 Seconds," Davis did some stunt riding for the movie, donning the same plaid shirt and black cowboy hat as Perry. Unfortunately, he ended up injuring his knee, and he didn't get to spend a great deal of time with the young actor.
"I met him, but it wasn't like we were real tight buddies," Davis recalls.
Several years later, though, Davis found out just how much of a nice human being Perry really was.
In March 1998, at a rodeo competition in Fort Worth, Texas, Davis was thrown from a bull and broke his neck, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. Because Davis was so well-known by then — the so-called "Carolina Cowboy" had won a world championship in 1995 — the news of his accident spread across the nation, and among those who heard about it was Perry.
About three months later, when Professional Bull Riders hosted an auction in Charlotte to benefit Davis, his wife Tiffany received a phone call the night before the event from someone claiming to be Luke Perry. Tiffany hung up on the caller, assuming it was a prank.
Fortunately, the caller — yes, it really was Luke Perry — called right back and convinced Tiffany he was not pranking her. He had heard about the benefit auction and wanted to help, so Tiffany put Jerome on the phone.
"He just called out of the blue," Jerome says. "He said, 'I've been keeping up with you since the accident and I heard about your event — I'd love to come out and be a part of it. I said, 'That'd be awesome.'"
The only catch, Perry said, was that he would need someone to pick him up at the airport.
Not a problem. Tiffany's sister often drove bull riders from the airport to the Davis ranch in Archdale, so Tiffany called and asked if she could go pick up Luke Perry. Her sister hung up on her.
Finally, Tiffany called their mother and convinced her it really was Luke Perry who needed a ride. At that point, Perry's welcoming committee grew to include not only Tiffany's sister, but also her mom, her uncle, her cousins "and whoever else could fit in the car," Tiffany wrote in a Facebook post about Perry's visit. "I'm not even sure where Luke sat, probably in my Mom's lap. LOL."
Perry even brought along a personal painting from his home to sell at the auction.
"I think it was a picture of some cowboys sitting on a fence," Jerome says. "That was pretty cool for him to do that. And he didn't do it for attention — he just did it because he was a good guy."
At the fundraiser, Perry mingled graciously with the crowd, signing autographs and posing for photographs.
"Luke showed up and treated everyone with total respect and appreciation," Tiffany wrote. "You would never know he was a Hollywood movie star. He just wanted to help out a fellow bull rider."
Perry hit it off with Jerome immediately.
"We became buddies," Jerome says. "He was such a nice guy, and he didn't have no airs about him — he was really grounded. I can't say enough nice things about him."
Perry even gave Jerome his personal phone number and told him to call if he ever needed anything. Jerome never called — "I didn't want to bother him," he explains — but Perry called Jerome on several occasions, just to see how he was doing.
"He felt like an old friend," Jerome says. "He was just a really good guy, and I'm sorry that he's gone."