Following a long and very public battle with cancer, Patrick Swayze — a film and television star and dance icon — died Monday (September 14). He was 57 years old.
Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer early last year, the news shocked fans who had long followed the career of Swayze, a muscular heartthrob most famous for playing a virile dance instructor in "Dirty Dancing" and a no-nonsense tough guy in films like "Road House" and "Point Break." As the tabloid headlines of his imminent demise intensified, he launched a new crime show called "The Beast," even though the noticeably thinner star admitted that shooting was difficult on him physically.
Born in Houston, Swayze's mother was a dance instructor, and he followed in her footsteps while pursuing classical ballet. He also poured his evolving, formidable physique into everything from ice skating to gymnastics to acting. In 1972, he moved to New York for formal dance training, later landed a job as a dancer for a Disney stage show, then made his film debut in 1979's "Skatetown, U.S.A" as "Ace" Johnson.
In the years that followed, Swayze secured roles in such instant classics as "The Outsiders," "Red Dawn" and "Ghost." His career truly exploded in 1987, however, when he and Jennifer Grey joined forces for "Dirty Dancing," portraying what some consider to be the greatest cinematic romance of the '80s. Swayze continued to soar into the next decade with "Point Break," but a string of clunkers ranging from "Father Hood" to "City of Joy" to "Black Dog" set him up for eventual elder-statesman supporting status in flicks like "Donnie Darko" and a wink-wink cameo as "dance instructor" in the 1958-set bomb "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights."
It must be mentioned, however, that over the years, Swayze became more than just a movie star. Mining a rare mix of fan love and tongue-in-cheek self-deprecation, he entered the William Shatner/ David Hasselhoff stratosphere of former leading men who were in on the joke. When Swayze hosted "Saturday Night Live" in 1990, he and ill-fated funnyman Chris Farley spoofed Chippendales with a now-iconic sketch. His public struggles — he sought treatment for alcoholism in the '90s and crashed his small plane years later — made the onetime People magazine-appointed "World's Sexiest Man" seem even more relatable.
Swayze was nominated for three Golden Globes during his lifetime, for 1995's "To Wong Foo ... ," 1991's "Ghost" and "Dirty Dancing." He was reportedly writing a memoir about his life and illness that was due in bookstores this fall. Swayze leaves behind his wife of 34 years, Lisa Niemi.