Over the course of his 30-year career, Patrick Swayze established himself as a true jack of all trades, appearing in romantic dramas and action movies alike. A Texas native whose mother was a dancer and choreographer, the aspiring actor was classically trained in ballet and on the football team, a dichotomy that would inform his persona as a movie star.
Swayze was as known for playing the sensitive dreamboat (like his role in Ghost) as he was any number of tough guys (like in Point Break and Road House). The role that would come to define his identity as a leading man combined it all, as slick dancer Johnny Castle in 1987's Dirty Dancing.
In 2009, Swayze tragically passed away at the age of 57 from pancreatic cancer. In honor of Dirty Dancing's 35th anniversary on Aug. 21, A.frame fondly remembers the actor while looking back on some of his most notable work.
Although the film received mixed reviews at the time of its release, Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of S.E. Hinton's classic novel was influential in the wave of "Brat Pack" films of the '80s, and helped to launch the careers of A-listers like Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe — and, of course, Swayze. He plays Darrel "Darry" Curtis, the older brother of the main character, Ponyboy (C. Thomas Howell). Both boys are involved in a gang war between their poor Greasers and the wealthy Socs. When a Soc is killed by a Greaser, the group is forced to go on the run. Swayze was nearly 10 years older than his fellow actors, but the film helped him gain notoriety as a vulnerable heartthrob.
In this action thriller directed by Ted Kotcheff and starring Gene Hackman, Swayze plays a marine who is a part of a group assembled to rescue prisoners of war in Laos. A commercial success, the film was praised by audiences for its realistic take on POWs, and Swayze was praised for his performance.
The first film ever to be released with a PG-13 rating, Red Dawn, directed by John Milius, was considered by some at the time as the most violent movie ever made. Swayze stars as Jed, the older brother of one of the teenagers who come together to fight back against a communist invasion of their small Colorado town, fighting back with guerrilla warfare. Jed, by default, becomes one of the leaders of the group, guiding the resistance. Co-starring Howell, Charlie Sheen, Lea Thompson and Jennifer Grey (in their first collaboration). Despite pushback that the film was too right-wing, Red Dawn proved Swayze's chops as a leading man.
The film that launched Swayze into superstardom, Dirty Dancing was originally only supposed to be released in theaters for a week before heading straight to video. But then word of mouth spread about Emile Ardolino's romantic drama — due in part to Swayze's performance as Johnny Castle, the cool dance instructor who wins the heart of Baby (Jennifer Grey) during a 1963 summer in the Catskills.
Dirty Dancing was a huge commercial hit and ultimately won an Oscar for Best Original Song for "(I've Had) The Time of My Life." This summer classic was an opportunity for Swayze to show off his skills as a classically-trained dancer, and he instantly waltzed his way into the hearts of millions of viewers. And the final scene, in which Johnny lifts Baby over his head, has since become one of the most iconic (and romantic) scenes in film history.
Coming off of the success of Dirty Dancing, Swayze starred in Rowdy Herrington's Road House as the enigmatic Dalton, a bouncer hired to clean up the rowdiest bar in the South. Like a few other movies starring Swayze, Road House, co-starring Sam Elliott and Ben Gazzara, was actually initially panned by some critics before becoming a cult classic. The campy premise and over-the-top action scenes make Road House an essential guilty pleasure.
After Sam (Swayze) is murdered, he comes back as a ghost in order to save his girlfriend, Molly (Demi Moore), from danger. Whoopi Goldberg (who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her performance) plays the psychic who brings him back. The romantic fantasy drama works, in part, due to Swayze and Moore making a fantastical plot feel real. This is another Swayze movie featuring a classic scene from the romance canon: The pottery scene set to "Unchained Melody" by The Righteous Brothers.
Yet another box office hit, Ghost was nominated for a total of five Oscars, including Best Picture, and also won the award for Best Original Screenplay.
After years of playing good guys, Swayze finally got a chance to play a darker character in Point Break. Director Kathryn Bigelow, the movie stars Keanu Reeves as FBI agent Johnny Utah, who goes undercover to catch a band of surfing and skydiving bank robbers led by Swayze's Bodhi. Reeves and Swayze were highly committed to their roles, both learning to surf for the film — Swayze even cracked four ribs while surfing. But it's their chemistry that really sells this action flick.
In a turn away from his typical roles, Swayze plays a drag queen by the name of Vida Boheme in this Beeban Kidron comedy-drama. Also playing drag queens in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar are Wesley Snipes, who plays Noxeema Jackson, and John Leguizamo, who plays Chi-Chi Rodriguez. The three are on a cross-country road trip together to a drag beauty pageant. When, on their journey, their car breaks down in a small town in the Midwest, the group must endear themselves to the locals.
Swayze again moved away from heroic leading roles in the Richard Kelly psychological thriller Donnie Darko. Here, he plays a motivational speaker who turns out to be a disturbing villain. Though the role is a small one, it's pivotal to Jake Gyllenhaal's Donnie, who begins to have paranoid thoughts and begins to see visions of a figure in a rabbit suit warning him about the end of the world.
One of Swayze's final films, 11:14 proved he was still at the top of his game. This darkly comedic thriller depicts five intersecting storylines, involving drunk driving and crimes, converging at — you guessed it — 11:14 p.m. Each storyline expertly contributes to the film's larger puzzle, all adding up to one clever narrative. The film co-stars Hilary Swank, Ben Foster, Jason Segel, Colin Hanks, and Rachael Leigh Cook.