Patrick Swayze died nearly three years ago, but his star still burns bright. On what would have been his 60th birthday, we remember the heartthrob with the hungry eyes who still makes us swoon. Written by Joyce Gemperlein and originally published on Obit-Mag.com.
Actor Patrick Swayze played a tough cop hurting inside, a kind and vivacious drag queen, a surfer dude, an agent-runner, a ghost on a mission, a lovable small-time crook, a New Age television guru, a drifter and the crew-cut commander of a Vietnamese refugee camp – among other characters.
But, above all, every female who was ever 14 years old is familiar with the, shall we say, interesting stirrings that visit as she watches Swayze in his role as Johnny Castle in Dirty Dancing.
Recently I witnessed my daughter, who has begun noticing boys and putting two and two together, studying the actor’s piercing gaze and rhythmic gyrations in the 1987 hit movie.
I could see it dawning, however subliminally, on this young teenager that, as playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote, “Dance is a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire legalized by music.”
Patrick Swayze, 1992 (Terry O'Neill/Getty Images)
It also was obvious that she was wondering – hoping, maybe – if this is what life has in store for her and if it will include a Swayze/Castle character who provokes her to yearn and grow. Would she be escorted into womanhood in such a joyful, electric and enviable way?
As the credits rolled, she asked me what I knew about Swayze.
I said I found it easy to confuse him with the character of Castle because both seemed to be tender, talented and on the same wavelength as women.
Swayze grew up in the studio of his mother, the well-known choreographer and dancer Patsy Swayze. (He first saw his future wife, Lisa Niemi, there.) Amazingly, he was talented at gymnastics, football, diving, track, ice skating, ballet and acting. He was offered both athletic and dance scholarships. He trained with the Joffrey Ballet.
At his death at age 56, Swayze had worked steadily as an actor all of his adult life, but his three dozen movies weren’t among the greatest. He was nominated for, but never won, a major award.
No matter, I told her, he worked hard at what he loved.
The final scene of Dirty Dancing was filmed when Swayze was in great pain (from rehearsing and performing), but he carried on because, as he said in an interview for the 20th anniversary of the movie, he believed that his work was a privilege and a duty.
And then, even as he was undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments, Swayze filmed two seasons of the rough-and-tumble television drama, The Beast. The FBI agent he plays is angry, as was Swayze after his January 2008 diagnosis with pancreatic cancer.
As he fought his illness, he excoriated tabloid media outlets for their deathwatch on him. This contact with them was rare; he had not been gossip fodder often during his career and marriage of three decades.
Patrick Swayze, 1990 (Nancy R. Schiff/Archive Photos)
Like Castle, Swayze talked freely about his emotions and seemed to use them to power his dancing.
Like me, my daughter thrilled to the corny scene in which Castle declares famously and angrily that “nobody puts Baby in the corner!” and then explodes into dance.
As the credits rolled, she and I agreed that Swayze as Castle was virile as all get out, with the face of a neighborhood tough and the torso of a beefcake model.
It was difficult for me to realize that my own baby totally got the sweaty, shirtless thing, and I wondered how soon she’ll also grasp the implications of the phallic pottery scene in Swayze’s 1990 movie, Ghost.
Watching Swayze in Dirty Dancing, we knew, was something we could together do over and over again.
So we hit the “rewind” button.
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