Patrick Wayne Swayze (//; August 18, 1952 – September 14, 2009) was an American actor, dancer, singer, and songwriter. Having gained fame with appearances in films during the 1980s, he became popular for playing tough guys and romantic lead males, gaining him a wide fan base with female audiences, and status as a teen idol and sex symbol. He was named by People magazine as its Sexiest Man Alive in 1991.
During his career Swayze received three Golden Globe Award nominations, for Dirty Dancing (1987), Ghost (1990), and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995). His other films included The Outsiders (1983), Road House (1989), and Point Break (1991). He wrote and recorded the popular song “She’s Like the Wind“. He was posthumously awarded the Rolex Dance Award in 2009.
Patrick Wayne Swayze was born on August 18, 1952, in Houston, Texas, the second child of Patsy Swayze (née Karnes; 1927–2013), a choreographer, dance instructor, and dancer, and Jesse Wayne Swayze (1925–1982), an engineering draftsman. He had an older sister, Vickie (1949–1994), two younger brothers, actor Don (born 1958) and Sean (born 1962), and one younger sister, Bambi. Swayze’s direct paternal ancestor was Englishman John Swasey (1619-1706) from Bridport in Dorset. During the great migration, Swasey travelled aboard The Recovery arriving at Massachusetts. He married Katherine Kinge from Essex eventually having seven children. The grandson Samuel was among the first to use the Swayze spelling.
Until the age of 20, Swayze lived in the Oak Forest neighborhood of Houston, where he attended St. Rose of Lima Catholic School, Oak Forest Elementary School, Black Middle School, and Waltrip High School. During this time, he pursued multiple artistic and athletic skills, such as ice skating, classical ballet, and acting in school plays. He played football for his high school and was hoping to receive a football scholarship for college until a knee injury ended his career. He also concurrently practiced martial arts such as Wushu, Taekwondo and Aikido, which he used to channel his “self-deprecating rage”. In 1972, he moved to New York City to complete his formal dance training at the Harkness Ballet and Joffrey Ballet schools.
His first professional appearance was as a dancer for Disney On Parade. He starred as a replacement playing the role of Danny Zuko in the long-running Broadway production of Grease before his debut film role as “Ace” in Skatetown, U.S.A. (1979). He appeared as Pvt. Sturgis in the M*A*S*H episode “Blood Brothers” (1981) as well as in the TV movie Return of the Rebels (1981) with Barbara Eden and had a brief stint in 1983 on a short-lived TV series The Renegades playing a gang leader named Bandit. Swayze became known to the film industry after appearing in The Outsiders (1983) as the older brother of C. Thomas Howell and Rob Lowe. Also in 1983, Swayze played a U.S.M.C. trainer in Vietnam rescue film Uncommon Valor with Gene Hackman. The following year, Swayze, Howell, and Howell’s friend Darren Dalton reunited in Red Dawn (1984); in 1986, Lowe and Swayze reunited in Youngblood (1986).
His first major success was in the 1985 television miniseries North and South, which was set during the American Civil War.
Swayze’s breakthrough role came with his performance as dance instructor Johnny Castle in the film Dirty Dancing (1987), alongside his Red Dawn co-star Jennifer Grey. Dirty Dancing, a coming of age story, was a low-budget film that was intended to be shown in theaters for one weekend only and then be released on video, but it became a surprise hit and achieved an enormous international success. It was the first film to sell one million copies on video, and as of 2009, it had earned over $214 million worldwide and spawned several alternative versions, ranging from a television series to stage productions to a computer game. Swayze received a Golden Globe Award nomination for the role, and sang one of the songs on the soundtrack, “She’s Like the Wind“, which he had originally co-written with Stacy Widelitz for the film Grandview, U.S.A. (1984). The song became a top-10 hit and has been covered by other artists.
After Dirty Dancing, Swayze found himself in great acting demand and appeared in several films, including Road House (1989). His biggest role came when he starred in Ghost (1990) with Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg. In 1991, he starred alongside Youngblood castmate Keanu Reeves in another major action hit, Point Break, and he was chosen by People magazine as that year’s “Sexiest Man Alive”.
In 2003, Swayze co-produced and also starred in the fictional dance film One Last Dance, along with his real-life wife Lisa Niemi and a talented cast. The story revolves around an actual dance production, “Without a Word”, which had been choreographed by Alonzo King, and had also been produced by, starred, and some of the music composed by Swayze and Niemi.
Swayze was seriously injured in May 1997 while filming HBO’s Letters from a Killer near Ione, California, when he fell from a horse and hit a tree. Both of his legs were broken, and he suffered four detached tendons in his shoulder. Filming was suspended for two months, and the film aired in 1998. Swayze recovered from his injuries, but he had trouble resuming his career until 2000, when he co-starred in Forever Lulu, with Melanie Griffith.
In 2001, he appeared in Donnie Darko, wherein he played a famous motivational speaker revealed to be a closeted pedophile. In 2002, he co-starred with Billy Bob Thornton and Charlize Theron in Waking Up in Reno, which focuses on two redneck couples taking a road trip from Little Rock to Reno to see a monster truck rally. In 2004, he played Allan Quatermain in King Solomon’s Mines and had a cameo appearance in the Dirty Dancing prequel, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, as an unnamed dance instructor.
Swayze made his West End theatre début in the musical Guys and Dolls as Nathan Detroit on July 27, 2006, alongside Neil Jerzak, and remained in the role until November 25, 2006. His previous appearances on the Broadway stage had included productions of Goodtime Charley (1975) and Chicago.
Swayze also provided the voice for Cash the country music band dog in The Fox and the Hound 2 (2006), and in 2007 he starred in the film Christmas in Wonderland. Swayze played an aging rock star in Powder Blue (2008), co-starring his younger brother Don in their first film together.
In his final role, Swayze starred as FBI Agent Charles Barker in the A&E FBI drama The Beast, which was filmed in Chicago. Swayze was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer shortly after filming the pilot episode of The Beast, but continued working on the show while receiving treatment. The Beast premiered on January 15, 2009 and ran for one season. Reviewer Alan Sepinwall wrote:
[When] you watch Swayze in The Beast, [you] realize that this is the best performance of his career—that the opportunity to play a part like this, and to play it as well as he is, may be fueling his ability to keep fighting against the cancer. And you realize, in an odd silver lining, that the cancer may, in turn, be fueling the performance.
Swayze was married to Lisa Niemi for 34 years from June 12, 1975, until his death; they had no children.
The couple met in 1970, when Swayze was 18 years old. Niemi, 14 years old at the time, was taking dance lessons from Swayze’s mother. In a 2008 interview, Swayze stated that Niemi was the inspiration for his hit song, “She’s Like the Wind” (1987).
In 1989, Swayze said, “I’ve always felt there was something different in there (my personality), but I was scared to look. For I fear I wouldn’t find anything. That’s the reason I got into Buddhism, took EST training, was into therapy, into Scientology, into Transcendental Meditation. I was trying to support that side of myself. But, you know, in Texas there isn’t much support for that part of you.” He also had said he was interested in and loved looking into different [religious] belief systems and faith[s], how it matters to other people, and how these various religious teachings are important to him in his world.
Swayze entered rehab treatment for alcoholism in the 1990s. After an initial recovery, he temporarily withdrew from show business, retreating to his ranches in California and Las Vegas, New Mexico, to breed Arabian horses. His best-known horse was Tammen, a chestnut Arabian stallion.
Swayze, who was an FAA licensed pilot with an instrument rating, made the news on June 1, 2000, while flying with his dogs in his twin-engine Cessna 414 N414PS, from Van Nuys, California, to Las Vegas, New Mexico. His plane developed a pressurization problem, causing Swayze to make a precautionary landing on a dirt road in a housing complex in Prescott Valley, Arizona. The plane’s right wing struck a light pole, but Swayze was unharmed. According to the police report, witnesses said that Swayze appeared to be extremely intoxicated and asked for help to remove evidence from the crash site (an open bottle of wine and a 30-pack of beer). He made himself unavailable to police for several hours. It was later determined that the alcohol in question was not in the cabin but stored in external storage compartments inaccessible in flight, and the probable cause of the accident was Swayze’s physical impairment due to the cumulative effects of carbon monoxide from engine exhaust by-products, carbon monoxide from heavy tobacco use, and the loss of an undetermined amount of cabin pressurization, resulting in hypoxia.
Illness and death
In late December 2007, just after filming the pilot episode for The Beast, Swayze began to suffer a burning feeling in his stomach caused by a blockage of his bile ducts. Three weeks later, in mid-January 2008, he was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. He traveled to the Stanford University Medical Center for chemotherapy and treatment with the experimental drug vatalanib which doctors hoped would cut off the blood supply to the tumor.
On March 5, 2008, a Reuters article reported that Swayze “has a very limited amount of disease, and he appears to be responding well to treatment thus far.” Swayze’s doctor confirmed that the actor was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer but insisted he was not as close to death as reports suggested. Despite repeated tabloid claims that his death was imminent, Swayze continued to actively pursue his career.
In early May 2008, it was widely reported in a number of tabloids that Swayze underwent surgery to remove part of his stomach after the cancer spread. Reports also stated that he rewrote his will, transferring his property to his wife. In a statement made on May 28, Swayze said he continued to respond well to treatment at Stanford University Medical Center. In late May 2008, he was seen at a Los Angeles Lakers basketball game, his first public appearance since his diagnosis.
In late July 2008, six months after reportedly being given just weeks to live by medical experts, a seemingly healthy Swayze was asked by a reporter in a Los Angeles airport about his health. He replied, “I’m cooking. I’m a miracle, dude. I don’t know why.” The previous month, he reportedly said, “My treatments are working and I am winning the battle.”
Swayze appeared on the ABC, NBC, and CBS simulcast of Stand Up to Cancer in September 2008, to appeal to the general public for donations for the initiative. Swayze said to a standing ovation, “I dream that the word ‘cure’ will no longer be followed by the words ‘it’s impossible’. Together, we can make a world where cancer no longer means living with fear, without hope, or worse.” After the show ended, Swayze remained onstage and talked to other cancer patients; executive producer Laura Ziskin (herself battling advanced breast cancer, which would claim her own life) said, “He said a beautiful thing: ‘I’m just an individual living with cancer’. That’s how he wants to be thought of. He’s in a fight, but he’s a fighter.” On December 2, 2008, Swayze denied claims made by tabloids that the cancer had spread to his liver.
In an interview with Barbara Walters which aired in January 2009, Swayze admitted that he had a “tiny little mass” in his liver, but told Walters that he wanted the media to report that he was “kicking it”. When Walters asked him if he was using any holistic or alternative methods of treatment besides chemotherapy, Swayze said he was using some Chinese herbs. He then voiced his opposition to the unsupported claims made by proponents of alternative therapies.
On January 9, 2009, Swayze was hospitalized with pneumonia. The pneumonia was said to be a complication of chemotherapy for Swayze’s cancer. On January 16, he was released from the hospital to rest at home with his wife. On April 19, 2009, doctors informed Swayze that the cancer had again metastasized to his liver. Swayze had been a heavy smoker for years, and he once admitted to smoking 60 cigarettes a day. He stated that his chain smoking probably “had something to do with” the development of his disease. Photos taken of a gaunt Swayze in the months before his death showed him continuing to smoke.
Swayze died, with family at his side, on September 14, 2009, at the age of 57. Swayze’s death occurred 20 months after his cancer diagnosis. Swayze’s publicist confirmed to CNN that he had died of pancreatic cancer. His body was cremated, and his ashes were scattered over his New Mexico ranch.
In popular culture
Swayze’s name has become a commonly used term in hip hop songs. Lyrics will use the phrase “…and I’m Swayze”, meaning that the speaker has become “like a ghost”, meaning he disappeared or is otherwise gone. This is a reference to the title character of Swayze’s film Ghost (1990). It began in the early 1990s, by rappers such as EPMD, Black Sheep, and CL Smooth. The use of Swayze’s name has continued to be used by such rappers as The Notorious B.I.G. in 2Pac’s song “Runnin’ (Dying to Live)“, Sir Mix-a-Lot in “Swap Meet Louie”, Chali 2na in “So Crazy”, Method Man, Aesop Rock, Mistah F.A.B.‘s “Ghost Ride It“, Bad Meets Evil‘s “Fast Lane“, Denzel Curry, and in Mobb Deep‘s song “The Start of Your Ending (41st Side)”, as well as Frank Ocean’s song “Swim Good”. Swayze himself appeared in the music video for Ja Rule‘s song “Murder Reigns“. The most recent usage of Swayze’s name is in the Eminem diss “Killshot“.
In the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode “Santa Claus Conquers The Martians”, the character Crow T Robot writes a Christmas carol centered around Swayze’s movie Road House titled “Let’s have a Patrick Swayze Christmas”.
Year Title Role Notes 1979 Skatetown, U.S.A. Ace Johnson Film debut 1983 The Outsiders Darrel “Darry” Curtis 1983 Uncommon Valor Kevin Scott 1984 Grandview, U.S.A. Ernie “Slam” Webster 1984 Red Dawn Jed Eckert 1986 Youngblood Derek Sutton 1987 Dirty Dancing Johnny Castle 1987 Steel Dawn Nomad 1988 Tiger Warsaw Chuck “Tiger” Warsaw 1989 Road House James Dalton 1989 Next of Kin Truman Gates 1990 Ghost Sam Wheat 1991 Point Break Bodhi 1992 The Player Himself Uncredited 1992 City of Joy Max Lowe 1993 Father Hood Jack Charles 1995 Tall Tale Pecos Bill Alternate title: Tall Tale: The Unbelievable Adventures of Pecos Bill 1995 To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar Vida Boheme 1995 Three Wishes Jack McCloud 1998 Black Dog Jack Crews 1998 Letters from a Killer Race Darnell 2000 Forever Lulu Ben Clifton 2001 Green Dragon Gunner Sergeant Jim Lance 2001 Donnie Darko Jim Cunningham 2002 Waking Up in Reno Roy Kirkendall 2003 One Last Dance Travis MacPhearson Also producer 2003 11:14 Frank 2004 Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights Dance Class Instructor 2004 George and the Dragon Garth Alternate title: Dragon Sword 2005 Keeping Mum Lance 2006 The Fox and the Hound 2 Cash Voice 2007 Christmas in Wonderland Wayne Saunders 2008 Jump! Richard Pressburger 2009 Powder Blue Velvet Larry Final film role
Year Title Role Notes 1980 The Comeback Kid Chuck Television debut
1981 M*A*S*H Private Gary Sturgis Episode: “Blood Brother” 1981 Return of the Rebels K.C. Barnes Television movie 1983 The Renegades Bandit Series regular; 6 episodes 1984 Pigs vs. Freaks Doug Zimmer Television movie 1985 North and South, Book I Orry Main Television miniseries; 6 episodes 1986 North and South, Book II Orry Main Television miniseries; 6 episodes 1986 Amazing Stories Eric David Peterson Episode: “Life on Death Row” 1990 Saturday Night Live Himself (Host) Episode: “Patrick Swayze/Mariah Carey“
Notable comedy sketch performance with comedian Chris Farley of Chippendales dancers
2000–2003 Scruff Uncle Ron Voice role 2004 King Solomon’s Mines Allan Quartermain Television miniseries; 2 episodes 2004 Whoopi Tony Episode: “One Last Dance” 2005 Icon Jason Monk Television movie 2009 The Beast Charles Barker / Apache Series regular; 13 episodes
- She’s Like The Wind (Duet with Wendy Fraser) (also songwriter)
- Sweet June Farts (also songwriter)
- Raising Heaven (in Hell) Tonight
- Cliff’s Edge (also songwriter)
- Brothers (Duet with Larry Gatlin) (also songwriter)
- Chippendales (Duet with Chris Farley)
- Finding My Way Back (also songwriter)
- When You Dance (also songwriter)
- We’re in Harmony
- Hound Dude
Awards and nominations
Swayze received multiple awards and nominations throughout his career for his work both film and television. During his film career he received three Golden Globe award nominations for Best Lead Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical for his roles in Dirty Dancing, Ghost and To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything!, Julie Newmar. In 1996 he was immortalized when Swayze received his star of the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contribution to Motion Picture, located at 7018 Hollywood, Blvd.
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