Patrick Swayze, an actor who enjoyed brief popularity in Hollywood as the snake-hipped charmer of "Dirty Dancing" and a romantic lead from beyond the grave in "Ghost," died Sept. 14 in Los Angeles. He died of pancreatic cancer, which was diagnosed last year. He was 57.
A former ballet and Broadway dancer, Swayze rarely earned more than tepid reviews for his onscreen emotional range. But he found enduring mass approval for a handful of movie roles that took advantage of his muscular build, tousled blond hair and charismatic swagger.
Rita Kempley, a former Washington Post film critic, once described Swayze's appeal as "a cross of Brando and Balanchine. From the neck up, he looks like a guy who could fix your carburetor; from the neck down he has the body of an Olympian."
Swayze's best-remembered movies -- "Dirty Dancing" (1987) with Jennifer Grey and "Ghost" (1990) with Demi Moore -- were unexpected hits that relied more on terrific soundtracks and appealing performances than dramatic plausibility.
"Dirty Dancing" featured Swayze as a dangerously hunky Catskills dance teacher named Johnny Castle who teams with a guest's shy daughter for a dance performance at a neighboring hotel. They also fall in love.
Swayze co-wrote and sang a hit song from the film, "She's Like the Wind," which reached No. 3 on the pop charts.
Film critic Vincent Canby, writing in the New York Times, said Swayze was "at his best -- as is the movie -- when he's dancing."
"Dirty Dancing" earned a fortune at the box office, a fact largely attributed to female ticket-buyers wowed by Swayze. Eleanor Bergstein, the film's writer and co-producer, told Parade magazine, "I wanted a hooded quality in the eyes -- someone a father would never want for his daughter."
When she saw Swayze, Bergstein said, "I told him I couldn't imagine doing the movie without him."
After several action films, Swayze eagerly accepted the role of an investment banker in "Ghost." His character, killed during a robbery, helps his lover (Moore) solve the crime with the aid of a psychic played by Whoopi Goldberg.
A signature moment showed Swayze's dead character embracing Moore as "Unchained Melody" swells.
Despite brief success as a heartthrob, Swayze's career remained uneven. He was a philosophy major turned bouncer in "Road House" (1989); a Chicago police officer avenging his brother's murder in "Next of Kin" (1989); and a surfing bank robber in "Point Break" (1991). In the last, he performed his own skydiving stunts.
Most of the action films met with critical disappointment. So did his attempts for a more daring career, from the drag queen Vida Boheme he played in "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar" (1995) to the suicidally forlorn American doctor who finds redemption in Calcutta in "City of Joy" (1992).
Swayze prepared for the latter role by volunteering to work with the dying at Mother Teresa's Calcutta clinic and told The Post, "This film is about my insides screaming to move further as an actor, to see what's on the other side."
Patrick Wayne Swayze was born Aug. 18, 1952, in Houston, where he performed at his mother's ballet school. This prompted bullying by other kids, he said. With his mother's approval, he beat them up.
His mother, Patsy Swayze, later choreographed dance sequences in the John Travolta film "Urban Cowboy" (1980). His father, Jesse Wayne Swayze, an alcoholic, died in 1982. Swayze said he also struggled with heavy drinking for many years in Hollywood.
Besides dancing, Swayze played football and studied martial arts as a youth. He won a gymnastics scholarship to San Jacinto College in Houston before dropping out to skate in a touring "Disney on Parade" ice revue as Prince Charming in "Snow White."
He left for New York at 19 and attended the Joffrey and Harkness ballet schools. He began to study acting after an old knee injury from football harmed his career as a dancer with the Eliot Feld Ballet.
Survivors include his wife, Lisa Niemi, whom he married in 1975; his mother; two brothers, including actor Don Swayze; and a sister, Bambi Swayze. "