Patrick Swayze was born on August 18, 1952, in Houston, Texas, the second child of Patsy Yvonne Helen (née Karnes; 1927–2013), a choreographer, dance instructor, and dancer, and Jesse Wayne Swayze (1925–1982), an engineering draftsman. He had two younger brothers, actor Don Swayze (born 1958) and Sean Kyle (born 1962), and two sisters, Vickie Lynn (1949–1994) and Bambi. He was a sixth cousin, once removed, of news commentator John Cameron Swayze, and a relative of noted Texas Revolution soldier, Henry Karnes. Swayze and his siblings were raised in their mother’s Roman Catholic faith.
Until the age of twenty, Swayze lived in the Oak Forest neighborhood of Houston, where he attended St. Rose of Lima Catholic School, Oak Forest Elementary School, Black Middle School, and Waltrip High School. During this time, he also pursued multiple artistic and athletic skills, such as ice skating, classical ballet, and acting in school plays. He played football for his high school and was hoping to receive a football scholarship for college until a knee injury ended his career. He studied gymnastics at nearby San Jacinto College for two years. In 1972, he moved to New York City to complete his formal dance training at the Harkness Ballet and Joffrey ballet schools.
Swayze’s first professional appearance was as a dancer for Disney on Parade. He then starred as a replacement playing the role of Danny Zuko in the long-running Broadway production of Grease before his debut film role as “Ace” in Skatetown, U.S.A.. He appeared as Pvt. Sturgis in the M*A*S*H episode “Blood Brothers” (1981) and had a brief stint in 1982 on a short-lived TV series The Renegades playing a gang leader named Bandit. Swayze became known to the film industry after appearing in The Outsiders as the older brother of C. Thomas Howell and Rob Lowe. Swayze, Howell, and Howell’s friend Darren Dalton reunited in Red Dawn the next year, and Lowe and Swayze reunited in Youngblood (1986). He was considered a member of the Brat Pack. His first major success was in the 1985 television miniseries North and South, which was set during the American Civil War.
Swayze’s breakthrough role came with his performance as dance instructor Johnny Castle in the 1987 film Dirty Dancing, alongside his Red Dawn co-star, Jennifer Grey. Dirty Dancing, a coming of age story, was a low-budget film that was intended to be shown in theaters for one weekend only and then go straight to video, but it became a surprise hit and achieved enormous international success. It was the first film to sell one million copies on video, and as of 2009, it earned over $214 million worldwide and spawned several alternative versions, ranging from a television series to stage productions to a computer game. Swayze received a Golden Globe Award nomination for the role and sang one of the songs on the soundtrack, “She’s Like the Wind”, which he had originally co-written with Stacy Widelitz for the film Grandview, U.S.A. The song became a top-ten hit and has been covered by other artists.
After Dirty Dancing, Swayze found himself in great acting demand and appeared in several films, of which Road House (1989) was the most successful. His biggest role came in 1990, when he starred in Ghost with Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg. In 1991, he starred alongside Youngblood castmate Keanu Reeves in another major action hit, Point Break, and he was chosen by People magazine as that year’s “Sexiest Man Alive”.
Swayze was seriously injured in 1998 while filming HBO’s Letters from a Killer near Ione, California, when he fell from a horse and hit a tree. Both of his legs were broken and he suffered four detached tendons in his shoulder. Filming was suspended for two months, and the film aired in 1999. Swayze recovered from his injuries, but he had trouble resuming his career until 2000, when he co-starred in Waking Up in Reno, with Billy Bob Thornton and Charlize Theron, and in Forever Lulu, with Melanie Griffith. In 2001, he appeared in the cult classic Donnie Darko, wherein he played a famous motivational speaker revealed to be a closet pedophile, and in 2004, he played Allan Quartermain in King Solomon’s Mines. He also had a cameo appearance in the Dirty Dancing sequel, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, as an unnamed dance instructor.
Swayze made his West End theatre début in the musical Guys and Dolls as Nathan Detroit on July 27, 2006, alongside Neil Jerzak, and remained in the role until November 25, 2006. His previous appearances on the Broadway stage had included productions of Goodtime Charley (1975) and Chicago. Swayze also provided the voice for Cash the country music band dog in The Fox and the Hound 2 and in 2007 starred in the film Christmas in Wonderland. Swayze played an aging rock star in Powder Blue, co-starring his younger brother Don in their first film together. Swayze starred in the A&E FBI drama The Beast, filmed in Chicago, as FBI Agent Charles Barker. Swayze was married to Lisa Niemi from June 12, 1975, until his death. The couple first met in 1970 when Swayze was 18 years old. Niemi, 15 years old at the time, was taking dance lessons from Swayze’s mother. Swayze and Niemi had no children. In a 2008 interview, Swayze stated that Niemi was the inspiration for his 1987 hit song, “She’s Like the Wind”.
As a reaction to his father’s death at age 57 from a heart attack in 1982, Swayze began to drink heavily. In 1989, Swayze said, “I’ve always felt there was something different in there (my personality), but I was scared to look for fear I wouldn’t find anything. That’s the reason I got into Buddhism, took EST training, was into therapy, into Scientology, into Transcendental Meditation. I was trying to support that side of myself. But, you know, in Texas there isn’t much support for that part of you.” He also had said how he is interested and loves looking into different [religious] belief systems and faith, how it matters to other people, and how these various religious teachings are important to him in his world. His sister Vicky committed suicide by drug overdose in 1994, leading him to seek treatment for alcoholism by going into rehab. After an initial recovery, he temporarily withdrew from show business, retreating to his ranches in California and Las Vegas, New Mexico, to breed Arabian horses. His best-known horse was Tammen, a chestnut Arabian stallion.
Swayze, who was a certified pilot with an instrument rating, made the news on June 1, 2000, while flying with his dogs in his twin-engine Cessna from Van Nuys, California to Las Vegas. His plane developed a pressurization problem, causing Swayze to make a precautionary landing on a dirt road in a housing complex in Prescott Valley. The plane’s right wing struck a light pole, but Swayze was unharmed. He locked the cockpit, left the aircraft in the subdivision, and obtained a ride—with his dogs—from a passing vehicle, allegedly in order to telephone the authorities. According to the police report, witnesses said that Swayze appeared to be extremely intoxicated and asked for help to remove evidence—an open bottle of wine and a 30-pack of beer—from the crash site. He made himself unavailable to police for several hours. It was later determined that the alcohol in question was not in the cabin, but stored in external storage compartments inaccessible in flight and that the probable cause of the accident was Swayze’s physical impairment due to the cumulative effects of carbon monoxide from engine exhaust by-products, carbon monoxide from heavy tobacco use, and the loss of an undetermined amount of cabin pressurization, resulting in hypoxia.
In late December 2007, just after filming the pilot episode for The Beast, Swayze began to suffer a burning feeling in his stomach caused by a blockage of his bile ducts. Three weeks later in mid-January 2008, he was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer (specifically, intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasm). He traveled to the Stanford University Medical Center for chemotherapy and treatment with the experimental drug Vatalanib, the latter of which doctors hoped would cut off the blood supply to the tumor. On March 5, 2008, a Reuters article reported that Swayze “has a very limited amount of disease, and he appears to be responding well to treatment thus far.” Swayze’s doctor confirmed that the actor was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, but insisted he was not as close to death as reports suggested. Despite repeated tabloid claims that his death was imminent, Swayze continued to actively pursue his career.
In early May 2008, it was widely reported in a number of tabloids that Swayze had undergone surgery to remove part of his stomach after the cancer’s spread and that he had rewritten his will, transferring his property to his wife. In a statement made on May 28, Swayze said he continued to respond well to treatment at Stanford University Medical Center. In late May 2008, he was seen at a Los Angeles Lakers basketball game, his first public appearance since his diagnosis. In 2008 Swayze was treated with Cyberknife radiotherapy cancer treatment. In late July 2008, six months after reportedly being given just weeks to live by medical experts, a seemingly healthy Swayze was asked by reporter in Los Angeles airport about his health. He replied, “I’m cooking. I’m a miracle dude. I don’t know why”.
Swayze appeared on the ABC, NBC, and CBS simulcast of Stand Up to Cancer in September 2008, to appeal to the general public for donations for the initiative. Swayze said to a standing ovation “I dream that the word ‘cure’ will no longer be followed by the words ‘it’s impossible’. Together, we can make a world where cancer no longer means living with fear, without hope, or worse”. After the show ended, Swayze remained onstage and talked to other cancer patients; executive producer Laura Ziskin (herself battling advanced breast cancer, which would claim her own life) said, “He said a beautiful thing: ‘I’m just an individual living with cancer’. That’s how he wants to be thought of. He’s in a fight, but he’s a fighter”. On December 2, 2008, Swayze denied claims made by tabloids that the cancer had spread to his liver.
Swayze told Barbara Walters in January 2009 that he wanted the media to report that he was “kicking it”. When Walters asked him if he was using any holistic or alternative methods of treatment besides the chemotherapy, Swayze admitted to using some Chinese herbs. He then voiced his opposition to the unsupported claims made by proponents of alternative therapies.
His last role was the lead in an A&E TV series, The Beast, which premiered on January 15, 2009. Owing to a prolonged decline in health, Swayze was unable to promote the series, and in early June the show was canceled due to poor ratings.. In an interview with Barbara Walters which aired in January 2009, Swayze admitted that he had a “tiny little mass” in his liver. On January 9, 2009, Swayze was hospitalized with pneumonia. The pneumonia was said to be a complication of chemotherapy for Swayze’s cancer. On January 16, he was released from the hospital to rest at home with his wife. On April 19, 2009, doctors informed Swayze that the cancer had again metastasized to his liver. Swayze stated that his chain smoking probably “had something to do with” the development of his disease. Photos taken of a gaunt Swayze in the months before his death showed him continuing to smoke. In August 2009 he was hospitalized for a week with intestinal bleeding.
Swayze died with family at his side on September 14, 2009, at age 57, 20 months after being diagnosed. Swayze’s publicist confirmed to CNN that he had died of pancreatic cancer. He was cremated and his ashes scattered over his New Mexico ranch. He was survived by his wife Lisa Niemi, his late mother, and three siblings.
- August, 18, 1952
- Houston, Texas
- September, 14, 2009
- Los Angeles, California