September 15, 2009
Tribute to Patrick Swayze (1952-2009)
After a long, public and brave battle with pancreatic cancer, the Ghostly Dirty Dancer himself, Patrick Swayze, died yesterday at the age of 57. Dirty Dancing was my best friend in high school's favorite movie, and on her recommendation, I finally saw it about seven years ago. I'll be honest and say that it didn't do much for me, but I do think Swayze was absolutely electric in his role as Johnny Castle, a dance instructor from the wrong side of the tracks. His athleticism and masculinity brought a layer to his charisma which captured the hearts and libidos of millions, and turned Dirty Dancing into one of the most beloved romances ever to grace the screen.
Speaking of classic romances, who doesn't swoon thinking about the ghoulish Swayze with his arms around a very much alive Demi Moore in Ghost? There has arguably never been a scene in movie history that has titillated more women than that one. Ghost was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, and since Swayze carried that film almost entirely on his shoulders being that he's in just about every scene, he ought to be credited for much of its critical and commercial success.
My favorite performance of Swayze's, though, is not one he's well known for. In the great Donnie Darko, he plays a sleazeball character named Jim Cunningham with such complete commitment. It's a stand-out cameo in one of my all-time favorites. His other noteworthy films included The Outsiders, Red Dawn, Youngblood, Road House, Next of Kin, Point Break and To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar. He starred in the cable series The Beast for eight episodes before it was canceled, presumably due to his illness.
Born and raised in Texas, he grew up with a choreographer mother who obviously taught him everything he knew as a dancer. He married dancer Lisa Niemi in 1975, and they stayed married until his death. A thirty-four year marriage is an eternity by Hollywood standards. He began on Broadway in the original production of Grease, and then after minor television and film roles, he broke out with the sleeper hit Dirty Dancing, and from there, he became a superstar, remaining in the spotlight all the way until the end.
His unflinching battle with cancer inspired more people than Swayze ever knew, and his movies have brought joy to countless people in the past, present and future. A truly sad loss.
Rest in Peace.
In honor of Swayze's death, I will watch Red Dawn, Next of Kin, Point Break and To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar.