Patrick Swayze, Dancer and Actor, Dead at 57

BY Arts Desk  September 15, 2009 at 4:27 PM EST

After battling pancreatic cancer for 15 months, actor Patrick Swayze died Monday at the age of 57. An accomplished ballet dancer and classically trained Broadway performer whose physique landed him both romantic and action roles throughout his 20-year career, Swayze is perhaps best remembered for his heart-throb role as Johnny Castle in 1987’s “Dirty Dancing.”

Rita Kempley, former Washington Post film critic, once remarked that Swayze was “a cross of Brando and Balanchine. From the neck up, he looks like someone who can fix your carburetor; from the neck down he has the body of an Olympian.”

His great popular appeal was only magnified after playing a grief-stricken phantom in “Ghost,” whose spirit that can’t rest until he avenges his sinister and untimely death with the help of a psychic, played by Whoopi Goldberg. (The role earned Goldberg an Academy Award.) His emotional, and sometimes sultry, performance as Demi Moore’s lost paramour made the 1990 romantic drama an unexpected box office phenomenon.

But it was his signature role in “Dirty Dancing” three years earlier that had made Swayze a silver screen celebrity. As Jennifer Gray’s hip-swinging greaser boyfriend, the ballet dancer turned Hollywood actor was able to bridge his athletic talents with his dramatic interests. Swayze immersed himself in the role, even co-writing and singing the hit song “She’s Like the Wind” for the movie’s soundtrack.

“Dirty Dancing” became a classic, particularly among young women, and Swayze the actor became ubiquitous with this seminal role.

“I told him I couldn’t imagine doing the movie without him,” said Eleanor Bergstein, the film’s writer and co-producer, in Parade magazine.


Swayze got his start after starring in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 “The Outsiders,” based on the S.E. Hinton novel about a gang of disaffected, rebellious teenagers. Staring alongside soon-to-be stars such as Tom Cruise, Diane Lane, Matt Dillon and Rob Lowe, Swayze played an older brother willing to sacrifice everything to help those close to him.

Swayze was born Aug. 18, 1952, in Houston, where he learned to dance in his mother’s ballet studio. After achieving star status, Swayze battled with alcoholism for many years, a legacy that he often attributed to his father, according to the Washington Post.

Despite personal problems, Swayze excelled at most physical tasks he undertook, from dancing ballet to playing football and studying martial arts. He won a gymnastics scholarship to San Jacinto College in Houston before deciding to skate in “Disney on Ice.”

At the age of 19, he left Texas for New York to study at the Joffrey and Harkness ballet schools. After an old football injury threatened his career as a professional dancer, Swayze turned to acting and debuted in 1978 as Danny Zuko in the Broadway hit “Grease.”

Other onscreen performances include “Uncommon Valor” (1983), “Red Dawn” (1984), “Road House” (1989), “Point Break” (1991), “To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar” (1995) and “Donnie Darko” (2001).

Most recently Swayze returned as the gritty undercover FBI agent in the A&E television series “The Beast.” During filming, he underwent chemotherapy for his rapidly spreading pancreatic cancer and only missed one day of shooting. As his once “Olympian” frame shrank and withered, he told ABC’s Barbara Walters that he would not give up hope. And he continued to do the things that made him happy — raising Arabian horses, cattle and peacocks on farmland in California and New Mexico and flying single-engine planes.

“One thing I’m not going to do is chase staying alive,” he said. “You spend so much time chasing staying alive, you won’t live.”

Swayze is survived by his wife, Lisa Niemi; his mother, Patsy Swayze; two brothers, including actor Don Swayze; and his sister, Bambi Swayze.

His standout performance as a motivational speaker in “Donnie Darko” was a departure from many of his other film roles.

Swayze poked fun at his own image in this classic Saturday Night Live sketch, featuring “competitor” Chris Farley.