Who Was Patrick Swayze?
Born in 1952 in Houston, Texas, Patrick Swayze began his career as a dancer before finding success on Broadway. After early films like The Outsiders, he enjoyed a breakout as the sexy star of Dirty Dancing. Swayze followed with the smash hit Ghost, along with memorable roles in Point Break and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2008, the actor passed away the following year at age 57.
Patrick Wayne Swayze was born on August 18, 1952, in Houston, Texas. He and his four siblings were raised by parents Patsy and Jesse Swayze. Swayze's mother, director of the Houston Jazz Ballet Company, introduced her son to dance at an early age.
While still in grade school, Swayze developed a love for ballet and was often teased by fellow classmates. Throughout high school, he set aside his dance career to concentrate on athletics like gymnastics, swimming and football. After graduation, he was offered both athletic and dance scholarships. Swayze opted for athletics and enrolled at San Jacinto College in Houston, Texas, where he focused on gymnastics. Two years later, he left school to tour with the Disney on Parade ice show, as Snow White's Prince Charming.
In 1972, Swayze traveled to New York City to pursue a dance career. He began training with the Harkness and Joffrey Ballet companies, and was soon hired as a principal dancer with the Eliot Feld Ballet Company. However, his success was cut short when an old football injury required that he undergo knee surgery. The operation, coupled with the infection that followed, caused Swayze to leave the prestigious Feld Company.
Stage, TV & Film Career
'West Side Story,' 'Grease'
In 1976, Swayze redirected his efforts toward stage acting and made his Broadway debut in Goodtime Charley. He later appeared in West Side Story, and in 1978, he won the leading role in the musical Grease. Swayze's high-profile performance as Danny Zuko led to many television and movie offers.
'The Outsiders,' 'Red Dawn'
Swayze's stage success brought him to Hollywood, where he made his film debut as a vigilante roller skater in Skatetown, U.S.A. (1979). He added television to his repertoire in 1981 with a notable portrayal of a leukemia patient on M*A*S*H, before enjoying a breakout screen role in Francis Ford Coppola's The Outsiders (1983), alongside Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon and Emilio Estevez. Swayze went on to appear in the 1984 features Red Dawn and Grandview, U.S.A., as well as the 1985 miniseries North and South and its 1986 sequel.
'Dirty Dancing' & 'She's Like the Wind'
It was the release of the surprise hit Dirty Dancing (1987) that brought Swayze instant celebrity and established him as Hollywood's newest heartthrob. The film featured Swayze as the misunderstood dance instructor Johnny Castle, a role that earned him a Golden Globe nomination.
Dirty Dancing also allowed Swayze to pursue a singing career. Inspired by his relationship with his wife, Lisa, Swayze and co-writer Stacy Widelitz penned the song "She's Like the Wind" for the film's soundtrack. "I had been meeting girls with names like Mimi and Angel. And for a long time I didn't feel like I deserved her," Swayze told People magazine. "I just felt at that time that I'm very, very lucky to have a woman who thinks I hung the moon."
The song resonated with music fans, and the single catapulted to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.
'Road House,' 'Ghost'
In 1989, Swayze starred in two action features, Road House and Next of Kin, which both enjoyed modest success at the box office. A year later, he fought for and won the lead role in Jerry Zucker's romantic drama Ghost (1990). The film, which co-starred Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg, revived Swayze's struggling career. Ghost grossed over $200 million and earned Swayze a second Golden Globe nomination.
'Point Break,' 'City of Joy'
In 1991, the same year he adorned the cover of People magazine as "The Sexiest Man Alive," Swayze partnered with Keanu Reeves in the action-adventure Point Break. The following year he turned to drama, playing an American doctor in India in City of Joy. Both films met with moderate success, and Swayze's ascent seemed to taper off for the next few years.
'To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar'
In 1995, Swayze teamed up with fellow actors Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo to play a trio of drag queens in the comedy To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar. Swayze's performance as Vida Boheme won him a third Golden Globe nomination in 1996. However, his follow-up features Black Dog (1998) and Letters from a Killer (1998) were largely dismissed by critics.
'Wakin' Up In Reno,' 'Donnie Darko'
Swayze went on to star in the romantic comedies Forever Lulu (2000), with Melanie Griffith, and Wakin' Up In Reno (2002), with Natasha Richardson and Charlize Theron. In between, he played a television personality with a dark secret in the cult hit Donnie Darko (2001). Swayze also appeared in another acclaimed indie release, 11:14 (2003), while returning to his roots for One Last Dance (2003) and Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004).
Swayze's late career film work included roles in the dramas Jump! (2008) and Powder Blue (2009). Also in 2009, he starred in the lone season of the A&E series The Beast, as FBI veteran and loose cannon Charles Barker.
Illness & Death
New challenges came for Swayze in early 2008, when he discovered he had stage IV pancreatic cancer. He continued to work in spite of the diagnosis, receiving chemotherapy treatments when not on set for The Beast.
Swayze passed away on September 14, 2009, after more than 20 months spent battling his illness.
Wife & Personal
Swayze met his future wife, Lisa Niemi, when she was a 15-year-old student at his mother's dance studio in the early 1970s. They were married in 1975.
After Lisa had a miscarriage in 1990, the couple gave up on having children. Instead, they invested their time and love on their ranch full of dogs, horses and cattle. "We're a team," Swayze said of he and his wife. "A relationship survives because of keeping the friendship alive and learning how to fall in love over and over again and never taking the other person for granted and seeing things in a new light with new eyes."
In 1997, Swayze broke his right leg in a horse-riding accident while filming Letters From a Killer. Around that time, the actor recognized that a serious drinking problem was hampering his career and he entered a rehab clinic.
Documentary: 'I Am Patrick Swayze'
In August 2019, the documentary I Am Patrick Swayze aired on the Paramount Network on what would have been the actor's 67th birthday. The doc included recollections from Dirty Dancing co-star Jennifer Grey and Ghost director Jerry Zucker, as well as the revelation that Swazye had been subjected to physical abuse at the hands of his hard-driving mother.
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