Actor, Dancer Patrick Swayze Dies At 57

Patrick Swayze in 'Ghost' i i

hide captionPatrick Swayze in 1990's Ghost. Co-star Whoopie Goldberg was cast in the movie partly at his insistence; when Goldberg won an Oscar for her performance in the film, Swayze was one of the only people she thanked.

Associated Press
Patrick Swayze in 'Ghost'

Patrick Swayze in 1990's Ghost. Co-star Whoopie Goldberg was cast in the movie partly at his insistence; when Goldberg won an Oscar for her performance in the film, Swayze was one of the only people she thanked.

Associated Press
Patrick Swayze

hide captionSwayze's career fixed him firmly in the annals of American pop culture as the quintessential heartthrob.

Wally Fong/Associated Press
Patrick Swayze and Lisa Niemi i i

hide captionSwayze and his wife, actress Lisa Niemi, had been married since 1975. "I have no greater respect for any other human being on this earth like I have for her," Swayze told Barbara Walters in a 2008 interview.

Dave Hogan/Getty Images
Patrick Swayze and Lisa Niemi

Swayze and his wife, actress Lisa Niemi, had been married since 1975. "I have no greater respect for any other human being on this earth like I have for her," Swayze told Barbara Walters in a 2008 interview.

Dave Hogan/Getty Images

Actor and dancer Patrick Swayze died Monday after a 15-month battle with advanced pancreatic cancer. His performance as rough-hewn dance instructor Johnny Castle in the 1987 cult classic Dirty Dancing permanently embedded him in the anthology of American pop culture.

Swayze's career began on stage, not on screen. His first major role was that of Danny Zuko in the original Broadway production of Grease. He made the move into film, and in 1983 appeared in Francis Ford Coppola's The Outsiders.

But it was Dirty Dancing that really put Swayze on the map. At the time the critics pretty much panned the film, yet Swayze's laconic Castle still won the hearts of a generation of viewers with his dancing and the unforgettable, 11th-hour delivery of the line, "Nobody puts baby in a corner."

Philadelphia Inquirer movie critic Carrie Rickey says, "There's a moment where he kind of leaps off the stage where he's dancing with Jennifer Grey, and I heard a collective gasp from the audience. It was like watching Baryshnikov crossed with James Dean."

Swayze was back on top of the box office charts three years later with the film Ghost.

In the film, Swayze played Manhattan financier Sam Wheat, who is murdered by a co-worker. Wheat spends the rest of the film trying to communicate with his girlfriend, played by Demi Moore.

During the film's heartbreaking climax, Rickey says, "there was projectile weeping — tears like a hard rain through the audience. Men, women, everyone."

Swayze is not often acknowledged as an actor with broad range, but at times he played against type. In To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, he sported a bustier and a garter belt as the drag queen Vida Boheme. He robbed banks in a Nixon face mask and was on the run from Keanu Reeves in the 1991 film Point Break

Richard Kelly, who directed him in the 2001 indy cult film Donnie Darko, says, "Patrick was really ballsy to take this role because the character turns out to be a pedophile. It's not easy to find an actor who wants to play a role like that."

Swayze was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2008. Even while undergoing treatment, he continued to work, starring as a cop in the A&E series The Beast. He also wrote the memoir The Time of My Life, with his wife of more than 30 years, Lisa Niemi, chronicling his life and his struggle with illness.

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