Patrick Swayze, a movie star with a dancer's body
Patrick Swayze -- the actor who helped make dirty dancing a worldwide phenomenon -- died today in Los Angeles after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 57.
With his lithe body and athletic virility, Swayze brought a dancer's sensibility and grace to his most famous movie roles. The son of dance instructor, he studied at the Joffrey Ballet and the Harkness Ballet School before moving on to the acting world.
His breakout movie hit was 1987's "Dirty Dancing," in which he starred as Johnny Castle, a dance instructor at a Catskills resort. Swayze performed his own dancing in the movie, which also starred Jennifer Grey as his romantic interest, Baby.
In "Ghost" (1990), Swayze played Sam Wheat, a banker living with his girlfriend Molly (Demi Moore) in New York. When Sam is murdered one night by a mugger, his ghost must find a
way to protect Molly from the same people who attacked him. For certain action scenes -- most notably a shot that required his character to leap between moving subway trains -- Swayze used his ballet training to execute the moves with precision and a certain stylish flair. (Times Film Critic Betsy Sharkey says it was this film that provided her favorite Swayze memory.)
Though he spent most of his career on screen, it was in theater where Swayze got his big break and where he eventually returned in the later part of his life.
As a young stage performer, he landed a role in the original Broadway production of "Grease" as a replacement for the Danny Zuko character. His success in the role helped launch his television and film career.
In 2003, Swayze returned to Broadway in the revival of "Chicago," in which he played Billy Flynn. In 2006, he made his West End debut as Nathan Detroit in a revival of "Guys and Dolls" directed by Michael Grandage.
Swayze performed in a touring production of "Chicago" that came to Hollywood's Pantages Theatre in 2004. In his review, the Times' Lewis Segal wrote that "Swayze can swagger convincingly and dance a step or two, here and there, with his vaunted skill."
In his final years, Swayze acted in the television series "The Beast."
Swayze had been fighting cancer since January 2008. He died at his home on Monday, surrounded by his family, according to the Associated Press.
-- David Ng
Top photo: Patrick Swayze, with Jennifer Grey, in "Dirty Dancing." Credit: Vestron Pictures. Bottom photo: Swayze in "Chicago" at the Pantages Theatre. Credit: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times