Patrick Swayze, the star of Dirty Dancing and Ghost, died from complications from pancreatic cancer yesterday in Los Angeles. Swayze was 57.
The Texan-born Swayze (on Aug. 18, 1952, in Houston), whose background included classical dance training, became a star after playing the romantic lead in the sleeper hit Dirty Dancing (1987), directed by Emile Ardolino and co-starring Jennifer Grey. However, Swayze’s follow-up releases – the little-seen Tiger Warsaw; Next of Kin, as a rough cop; and Road House, as a bouncer – were disappointments.
Swayze’s career took another upward turn with Jerry Zucker’s Ghost, a 1990 supernatural romantic comedy-melorama-thriller in which he dies but hangs around so as to find out the identity of his murderer. Demi Moore played the bereaved girlfriend, while Whoopi Goldberg won a best supporting actress Oscar for her fake seancemeister who, much to her surprise, discovers that she actually can see and chat with ghosts. Throughout it all, a version of the Academy Award-nominated ditty “Unchained Melody” (from the 1955 B-movie Unchained) could be heard in the background.
Despite misgivings in some quarters about the quality of the acting of the two romantic leads and the saccharine tendencies of Bruce Joel Rubin’s storyline, Ghost turned into a worldwide box office hit. It even earned an Academy Award nod for Best Picture, an announcement that drew gasps and laughter from the crowd of reporters at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater.
Among Swayze’s other film roles – none of which came close to matching the financial success of either Dirty Dancing or Ghost – were those of an idealistic American doctor working the slums of Calcutta in the poorly received City of Joy (1992), a drag queen in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995), and an angel-cum-tramp in Three Wishes (1995).
At one point, Swayze developed a serious drinking problem, but publicly stated that he was able to overcome it with the help of his wife, fellow dancer Lisa Niemi.
His last appearance in front of the cameras was in the television series The Beast.