ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block. Actor Patrick Swayze has died after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 57 years old. As Jesse Baker reports, Swayze played a wide range of memorable characters: a 1950's greaser, a lovelorn ghost and, of course, a dirty dancer.
JESSE BAKER: Patrick Swayze said he always knew he was going to be a performer.
Mr. PATRICK SWAYZE (Actor): I kind of came out of the womb on stage. My mother is a choreographer so in all my younger, formative years, into my teens and early adulthood, I've done just about every musical ever written.
(Soundbite of musical, "Grease")
Unidentified Man (Actor): (Singing) Go greased lightin' you're burning up a quarter mile…
BAKER: In that 2004 interview on NPR, Swayze credits the role of Danny Zuko in the original Broadway production of "Grease" as his first big break. He made his first film in 1983 in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Outsiders." And then in 1987, he landed a role that would forever embed him in the anthology of American pop culture…
(Soundbite of song, "The Time of My Life")
BAKER: …as the rough hewn dance instructor Johnny Castle in "Dirty Dancing." In the final scene of the film, after being asked to leave the Catskill summer resort where he teaches, Swayze steals the mic and the stage to reclaim what's rightfully his.
(Soundbite of movie, "Dirty Dancing")
Mr. SWAYZE: (As Johnny Castle) Sorry about the disruption, folks. But I always do the last dance of the season. This year, somebody told me not to. So I'm going to do my kind of dancing with a great partner.
BAKER: An entire generation of high school girls sighed as he stood up for his partner with this unforgettable line.
(Soundbite of movie, "Dirty Dancing")
Mr. SWAYZE: (As Johnny Castle) Nobody puts Baby in a corner.
BAKER: At the time, the critics pretty much panned the film, but most could agreed on one thing: The laconic Johnny Castle became downright eloquent when Patrick Swayze danced. Here's Philadelphia Inquirer movie critic Carrie Rickey.
Ms. CARRIE RICKEY (Movie critic, Philadelphia Inquirer): There's a moment where he kind of leaps off the stage, where he's dancing with Jennifer Grey - into the audience, and I heard a gasp, a collective gasp from the audience. It was like watching Baryshnikov crossed with James Dean.
BAKER: Swayze was back on top of the box office charts three years later with the film "Ghost." Again, movie critic Carrie Rickey.
Ms. RICKEY: And there was not just little teardrops, but there was projectile weeping. There was tears, you know, like a hard rain through the audience. Men, women, everyone.
BAKER: In the film, Swayze played Manhattan financier Sam Wheat who's murdered by a co-worker. Wheat spends the rest of the film trying to communicate with his girlfriend, played by Demi Moore. The takeaway scene from this film, which left the audience breathless, has no dialogue. If you need a reminder, it involves a pottery wheel and this Righteous Brothers song.
(Soundbite of song, "Unchained Melody")
RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS: (Singing) Oh my love, my darling. I've hungered for your touch. A long lonely time…
BAKER: Patrick 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," Swayze sported a bustier and a garter belt for the drag queen. He robbed banks in a Nixon face mask and was on the run from Keanu Reeves in the 1991 film "Point Break." Richard Kelly directed him in the 2001 indie cult film "Donnie Darko."
Mr. RICHARD KELLY (Film director): Patrick was really kind of ballsy to take this role because the character, you know, turns out to be a pedophile. And it's not easy to find an actor who wants to play a role like that.
BAKER: Swayze was an actor, a dancer - he even dabbled in songwriting. But regardless of the genre, at his core, Patrick Swayze was a dancer.
Mr. SWAYZE: Lisa and I are dance whores. We just, you know, just you know, you put music on, you put salsa on, and we rock.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. SWAYZE: It's hard to do these days with all the celebrity and fame stuff, you know? At functions, you know, it's really a bummer because it used to be just a private moment with my wife and I on a dance floor. Now, it's like, oh, my lord, they're going to dance. Watch, Martha.
BAKER: And watch they did. Swayze said for him, dancing was the most intense way to connect with another human being.
For NPR News, I'm Jesse Baker.