Published September 15, 2009
LOS ANGELES – Patrick Swayze personified a particular kind of masculine grace both on and off screen, from his roles in films like "Dirty Dancing" and "Ghost" to the way he carried himself in his long fight with pancreatic cancer.
Swayze died from the illness on Monday in Los Angeles, his publicist said. He was 57.
"Patrick Swayze passed away peacefully today with family at his side after facing the challenges of his illness for the last 20 months," Annett Wolf said in a statement Monday evening. She declined to give details.
Fans of the actor were saddened to learn in March 2008 that Swayze was suffering from an especially deadly form of cancer. He continued working despite the diagnosis, putting together a memoir with his wife and shooting "The Beast," an A&E network drama series for which he had already made the pilot.
Swayze said he chose not to use painkillers while making "The Beast" because they would have taken the edge off his performance. The show drew a respectable 1.3 million viewers when the 13 episodes ran this year, but A&E said it reluctantly decided not to renew it for a second season.
When he first went public with the illness, some reports gave him only weeks to live, but his doctor said his situation was "considerably more optimistic" than that. Swayze acknowledged that time might be running out given the grim nature of the disease.
"I'd say five years is pretty wishful thinking," Swayze told ABC's Barbara Walters in early 2009. "Two years seems likely if you're going to believe statistics. I want to last until they find a cure, which means I'd better get a fire under it."
And that's exactly what he did. In February, Swayze wrote an op-ed piece in the Washington Post titled, "I'm Battling Cancer. How About Some Help, Congress?" in which he urged senators and representatives to vote for the maximum funding for the National Institutes of Health to fight cancer as part of the economic stimulus package.
He also appeared in the September 2008 live television event "Stand Up to Cancer," where he pleaded: "I keep dreaming of a future, a future with a long and healthy life, a life not lived in the shadow of cancer, but in the light. ... I dream that the word `cure' will no longer be followed by the words `is impossible."'
Celebrities and fans inspired by Swayze's struggle poured out their condolences, including C. Thomas Howell, who costarred with Swayze in "The Outsiders," "Grandview U.S.A." and "Red Dawn."
"I have always had a special place in my heart for Patrick," he said. "While I was fortunate enough to work with him in three films, it was our passion for horses that forged a friendship between us that I treasure to this day."
Others used Twitter to express their sadness, and "Dirty Dancing" was a top trending topic Monday night, trailed by other Swayze films.
Demi Moore, who played Swayze's fiancee in "Ghost," wrote: "Patrick you are loved by so many and your light will forever shine in all of our lives." Moore's husband, Ashton Kutcher, tweeted: "RIP P Swayze" and linked to a YouTube clip of the actor poking fun at himself in a classic "Saturday Night Live" comedy sketch, in which he played a wannabe Chippendales dancer alongside the corpulent — and frighteningly shirtless — Chris Farley.
Larry King wrote: "Patrick Swayze was a wonderful actor & a terrific guy. He put his heart in everything. He was an extraordinary fighter in his battle w Cancer." King added that he'd do a tribute to Swayze on his CNN program Tuesday night.
A three-time Golden Globe nominee, Swayze became a star with his performance as the misunderstood bad boy Johnny Castle in "Dirty Dancing." As the son of a choreographer who began his career in musical theater, he seemed a natural to play the role.
A coming-of-age romance starring Jennifer Grey as an idealistic young woman on vacation with her family and Swayze as the Catskills resort's sexy (and much older) dance instructor, the film made use of both his grace on his feet and his muscular physique.
It became an international phenomenon in the summer of 1987, spawning albums, an Oscar-winning hit song in "(I've Had) the Time of My Life," stage productions and a sequel, 2004's "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights," in which he made a cameo.
Swayze performed and co-wrote a song on the soundtrack, the ballad "She's Like the Wind," inspired by his wife, Lisa Niemi. The film also gave him the chance to utter the now-classic line, "Nobody puts Baby in a corner."
Swayze followed up with the 1989 action flick "Road House," in which he played a bouncer at a rowdy bar. But it was his performance in 1990's "Ghost" that showed his vulnerable, sensitive side. He starred as a murdered man trying to communicate with his fiancee, with great frustration and longing, through a psychic played by Whoopi Goldberg.
"Ghost" provided yet another indelible musical moment: Swayze and Moore sensually molding pottery together to the strains of the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody." It also earned a best-picture nomination and a supporting-actress Oscar for Goldberg, who said she wouldn't have won if it weren't for Swayze.
"When I won my Academy Award, the only person I really thanked was Patrick," Goldberg said in March 2008 on the ABC daytime talk show "The View."
Swayze himself earned three Golden Globe nominations, for "Dirty Dancing," "Ghost" and 1995's "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar," which allowed him to toy with his masculine image. The role called for him to play a drag queen on a cross-country road trip alongside Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo.
His heartthrob status almost kept him from being considered for the role of Vida Boheme.
"I couldn't get seen on it because everyone viewed me as terminally heterosexually masculine-macho," he told The Associated Press then. But he transformed himself so completely that when his screen test was sent to Steven Spielberg, whose Amblin pictures produced "To Wong Foo," the director didn't recognize him.
Among his earlier films, Swayze was part of the star-studded lineup in Francis Ford Coppola's 1983 adaptation of S.E. Hinton's novel "The Outsiders," alongside Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Emilio Estevez and Diane Lane. Other '80s films included "Red Dawn," "Grandview U.S.A." and "Youngblood," once more with Lowe, as Canadian hockey teammates.
In the '90s, he made such eclectic films as "Point Break" (1991) in which he played the leader of a band of bank-robbing surfers, and the family Western "Tall Tale" (1995) in which he starred as Pecos Bill. He appeared on the cover of People magazine as its "Sexiest Man Alive" in 1991, but his career tapered off toward the end of the 1990s, when he went to rehab for alcohol abuse. In 2001, he appeared in the cult favorite "Donnie Darko," and in 2003 he returned to the New York stage with "Chicago"; 2006 found him in the musical "Guys and Dolls" in London.
Swayze was born in 1952 in Houston, the son of Jesse Swayze and choreographer Patsy Swayze, whose films include "Urban Cowboy."
He played football but also was drawn to dance and theater, performing with the Feld, Joffrey and Harkness Ballets and appearing on Broadway as Danny Zuko in "Grease." He turned to acting in 1978 after a series of injuries.
Within a couple years of moving to Los Angeles, he made his debut in the roller-disco movie "Skatetown, U.S.A." The eclectic cast included Scott Baio, Flip Wilson, Maureen McCormack and Billy Barty.
Off-screen, he was an avid conservationist who was moved by his time in Africa to shine a light on "man's greed and absolute unwillingness to operate according to Mother Nature's laws," he told the AP in 2004.
Swayze was married since 1975 to Niemi, a fellow dancer who took lessons with his mother; they met when he was 19 and she was 15. A licensed pilot, Niemi would fly her husband from Los Angeles to Northern California for treatment at Stanford University Medical Center.