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'Riverdale' stars talk losing Luke Perry and exploring grief in season premiere

While "Riverdale" returns this week, it does so without one of its most beloved stars. But even though Luke Perry is gone, his character is not forgotten.
/ Source: TODAY

Archie and the gang are back Wednesday night for season four of "Riverdale," but the premiere promises to be unlike any other episode of the teen drama.

That's because of the one star and character who won't be back: Luke Perry, who played Fred Andrews, the father of the show's protagonist, and who was a man loved both on and off-screen.

Luke Perry, seen here in his final "Riverdale" scene, is missed by his castmates and fans alike. CW

Five of Perry's past co-stars — the show's other parental figures, Molly Ringwald, Skeet Ulrich, Mädchen Amick, Mark Consuelos and Marisol Nichols — visited TODAY Tuesday and talked about what fans can expect as the series goes on without him.

"We lost our friend and colleague, Luke Perry, at the end of last season, so this season, we deal with his death on the show," Ringwald explained. "Fred Andrews dies, as well, and we have to say goodbye to him. That's the beginning of the season."

A clip from that premiere episode reveals the heartbreaking moment Archie, played by KJ Apa, and his friends learn of his father's death.

"It's a very moving tribute," Ringwald said of the emotional scenes.

But it wasn't an easy tribute to create. Perry died following a massive stroke in March of this year, after having filmed all of his episodes last season. The new season marks the first time the cast has worked without him.

"It was really difficult to film, to go back," Ulrich said. "We'd had a long season of shooting, and it was hard dive into (it), for sure, to dredge all that up."

The cast of "Riverdale": Luke Perry as Fred Andrews, Madchen Amick as Alice Cooper, Cole Sprouse as Jughead Jones, Camila Mendes as Veronica Lodge, KJ Apa as Archie Andrews, Lili Reinhart as Betty Cooper, Madelaine Petsch as Cheryl Blossom, Ashleigh Murray as Josie McCoy, Marisol Nichols as Hermione Lodge, and Casey Cott as Kevin Keller.Art Streiber / The CW

Nichols added, "I don't think anyone got through it with a dry eye at all."

And it was, of course, especially hard for one young actor in particular.

"KJ was so close to Luke, you know," Consuelos said. "They had that father-son relationship. I haven't seen the (premiere) episode, but I've heard his work is just beautiful on this."

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But all the stars realize that they aren't alone in their grief. Fans of the series have their own pain to navigate, too.

"There are a lot of young people that watch the show," Ringwald noted. "I think it's very cathartic and healing for them to see these characters that they love dealing with grief and going on with their lives, because the season goes on — 'Riverdale' is still 'Riverdale.' But we miss our friend."