Tuesday, September 15, 2009

RIP - Patrick Swayze

After a 20 month battle with pancreatic cancer, actor Patrick Swayze died yesterday at the age of 57.

The actor was most famous for his roles in Dirty Dancing and Ghost, and was a sex symbol the world over for his combination of good looks and physical grace.

He was born and raised in Texas, but moved to New York to study dance after completing high school. He made his Broadway debut in 1975, and the same year he married Lisa Niemi, with whom he would spend the rest of his life.

Although he made his film debut in 1979's teenybopper comedy Shaketown, USA opposite Scott Baio, he would hold off on following Baio down the teen star route. In 1983, he broke out as one of the stars of Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of SE Hinton's classic novel The Outsiders. Starring opposite young unknowns like Tom Cruise, C. Thomas Howell, Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Ralph Macchio and Matt Dillon, he seemed to be lost in the shuffle of wild star power on display.

Following the success of The Outsiders, he would become a bankable star with leading roles in films like Red Dawn, and a starring role in the classic Civil War TV miniseries North and South.

But in 1987, he finally broke through into the top tier of stars with Dirty Dancing, in which he played tough but romantic Johnny Castle, a resort floor show dancer that sweeps a guest off her feet. The film cemented Swayze as a major leading man. It was an effective performance in what would become one of the iconic films of the decade.

A success like Dirty Dancing would be hard to top, but in 1990 Swayze did so when he starred in Ghost, a hybrid of thriller, horror, action, comedy, and above all, romance. As Sam, a murdered architect whose spirit cannot move on until he feels the love of his life is safe, Swayze had the role that largely defined his career. He excelled at playing the tough but decent man with a romantic bent. Ghost was a massive hit, earning five Oscar nominations and becoming one of the most successful romance films of all time.

In the 1990s, Swayze's star fell, although there were films that have since become cult favourites, such as Road House and Point Break. In 1995, he surprised many with his excellent performances as a drag queen in To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar. In recent years, appearances in good films were few and far between, a notable exception being his strange performance in Donnie Darko.

He was diagnosed with cancer in 2008. Even though pancreatic cancer is considered to be one of the hardest forms of the disease to conquer, Swayze fought hard. Given only six months to live when originally diagnosed, he beat that prognosis and even returned to work, starring in the dark A&E series The Beast, and winning solid reviews for his portrayal as a shady FBI agent.

Rob Lowe, who appeared in two films with Swayze, had this to say:

He was an expert dancer, he wrote hit songs, he starred in hit movies, he was an amazing horseman. But the thing I will remember him most for was his amazing love affair with his wife, Lisa. He played my brother twice, in The Outsiders when I was 17, and then in Youngblood. Tonight I lost a brother.

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