On the morning following September 14, 2009, newspapers across the world reported the sad news: Patrick Swayze, the beloved, balletically athletic star of Dirty Dancing and Ghost, was dead at 57-years-old.
The actor’s death, while early, was not unexpected. It came at the end of a five-year battle with pancreatic cancer. We revisit Swayze’s story — from his rise to stardom to his cancer diagnosis, and finally, to his last years.
Patrick Swayze: The Early Years
Patrick Swayze was born in Houston, Texas, in 1952. Swayze fell in love with ballet at a young age, thanks largely to his mother, who was the director of the Houston Jazz Ballet Company.
In addition to dance, Swayze excelled in gymnastics, swimming, and football during high school. Eventually, he began catching recruiters’ eyes and was offered a number of athletic scholarships, including ones for ballet and gymnastics. Swayze decided to accept the gymnastics at San Jacinto College in Houston, where he studied for two years before leaving to join the touring cast of the Disney on Parade ice show (Swayze played Prince Charming).
Patrick Swayze on Broadway
Swayze moved to New York in 1972 to train with the Harkness and Joffrey Ballet companies. He was hired as the main dancer at the prestigious Eliot Feld Ballet Company, but had to give up the role after surgery for an old football injury resulted in infection. After being forced to leave the ballet stage, Swayze decided to focus on stage acting. After starring in the Broadway shows Goodtime Charley and West Side Story, he landed the role as Danny Zuko in Grease.
Patrick Swayze Heads to Hollywood
In 1979, Swayze headed to Los Angeles, where he made his silver screen debut in the movie Skatetown, U.S.A. Swayze went on to portray a leukemia patient on the TV show MAS*H before landing a leading role in The Outsiders. Next came major roles in the films Red Dawn and Grandview, U.S.A., and the television miniseries North and South.
Dirty Dancing & Ghost
In 1987, Swayze was rocketed to international celeb status with the success of Dirty Dancing. His performance as hunky dance instructor Johnny Castle earned him a Golden Globe nomination. Oh, and here’s a fun fact: Swayze along with co-writer Stacy Widelitz worked together to write the hit song “She’s Like the Wind” for the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.
In the years that followed Dirty Dancing, Swayze appeared in Road House and Next of Kin, before nabbing the leading role in Ghost alongside co-stars Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg.
Point Break, Donnie Darko, and Beyond
In 1991, Swayze was named “The Sexiest Man Alive” by People. That same year, Swayze would star in Point Break alongside Keanu Reeves. Following Point Break, Swayze appeared in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, Black Dog, and Letters from a Killer. In the early 2000s, Swayze starred in Forever Lulu before joining the cast of cult-classic Donnie Darko. Later on, the actor appeared in One Last Dance and Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights.
Swayze’s Cancer Diagnosis and Final Years
Swayze was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer in 2008. Swayze didn’t let the diagnosis stop him from acting in the movies Jump! and Powder Blue. He also starred in the A&E TV series The Beast as Charles Barker, undergoing chemotherapy in between shoots. The star died on September 14, 2009, after spending more than two years fighting his disease.