Patrick Swayze Loses His Battle With Cancer at 57
Fans of the actor were saddened to learn in March 2008 that Swayze was suffering from a particularly deadly form of cancer. (Learn more about his disease at AOL Health.)
He had put on a remarkably brave face during his illness, working despite the diagnosis, putting together a memoir with his wife and shooting "The Beast," an A&E drama series for which he had already made the pilot. It drew a respectable 1.3 million viewers when the 13 episodes ran in 2009, but A&E said it had reluctantly decided not to renew it for a second season.
Swayze said he opted not to use painkilling drugs while making "The Beast" because they would have taken the edge off his performance. He acknowledged that time might be running out given the grim nature of the disease.
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.
"I'd say five years is pretty wishful thinking," Swayze told ABC's Barbara Walters in a candid interview earlier this year. "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."
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 great 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 followed that 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 (Moore) - with great frustration and longing - through a psychic played by Whoopi Goldberg.
Swayze said at the time that he fought for the role of Sam Wheat (director Jerry Zucker wanted Kevin Kline) but once he went in for an audition and read six scenes, he got it. Why did he want the part so badly? "It made me cry four or five times," he said of Bruce Joel Rubin's Oscar-winning script in an AP interview.
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"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."
Over the last year, Swayze's name had been connected with countless death rumors on the cover of tabloid magazines. Swayze had been aggressive of fighting back against the claims of his failing health.
"It's amazing to me that the tabloids such as the National Enquirer print such negative stories about me and my health when there are so many positive things going on in my life right now. I've started a new chemotherapy and, once again, I am one of the lucky ones with pancreatic cancer that is responding well to the treatment," he told PEOPLE.
Among his earlier films, Swayze was part of the star-studded lineup of up-and-comers 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." (for which he also provided choreography) 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 also had stay in 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." But 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.
2009 AOL LLC. All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. Active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.
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