In life, there are often enemies that one cannot prepare for, see, or fight against, even after you understand you’re in a battle not just to win, but to live.
This week, we revel in the life and career of Patrick Swayze, a fallen on and off-screen soldier, who took an imposed 4-month death sentence, and turned it into almost 2 years of life that sealed the deal on a legacy full of integrity, memorable roles and scenes that will continue to push the envelope of television and cinema for many years to come.
Swayze started his acting career 30 years ago in a little film called Skatetown U.S.A. – tearing up the hardwood with white ball-bearinged wheels, a black leather outfit and a belt ready to smackdown each and every opponent who dared cross his path. His final career crescendo, the A&E TV series The Beast, showcased Swayze as a wayward FBI agent harnessing rage and righteousness to make the world a better place: the sweet irony is that both in real life, and on the small and silver screens, Patrick Swayze did just that.
We at Screen Rant are proud to take you on a journey of outstanding entertainment experiences, courtesy of a gone-too-soon actor that will be remembered for a long time. Please read on below as we remember the celluloid life (beyond Ghost and Dirty Dancing) of Patrick Wayne Swayze.
Ahh, the perfect zen of starting a listing of great Swayze performances with a film that includes the word, “uncommon.” This 1983 action/drama/thriller featured a very young, fit, determined marine named Kevin Scott, who tries valiantly to get a collected team of past-their-prime misfits into shape to rescue comrades left behind. The mission? WIN. Period. It’s one of Swayze’s initial smaller performances that becomes a piece of exquisite fabric as he joins an all-star cast, and it is not to be missed.
In 1984, The Cold War was ablaze. All sides were talking about the threat of invasion and mutually assured destruction and in my freshman year, high school was literally invaded by military paratroopers – in the movie Red Dawn. Swayze played Jed, the eldest of two experienced outdoorsman brothers. He leads a team of invasion survivors/saboteurs called “WOLVERINES” who resist the collective invasion of America. It’s truly some of the strongest acting in his career. The realization of knowing that you’re seeing your father for the last time – ever; The anguish of having to execute a previous best friend-turned traitor – but not being able to pull the trigger; The passion for explaining why people must die because they’ve chosen to invade your home, and the endearing final shot where a soldier realizes a larger brotherhood exists. They are probably the strongest memories I have of when I was a teenager and they live on in me. I only hope I too can convey their meaning in articles like this and more.
NORTH AND SOUTH
It’s not every man’s dream to use the word “smitten” inside an action hero’s book-turned-television series, but audiences were at least as smitten with Swayze’s portrayal as Orry, in the 1985-86 epic mini-series North and South. The confidence and achievement conveyed in this role of a man instantly “smitten” with a Juliet-like damsel in distress is an epic character for an actor that oozed honor. Swayze in period costume and long flowing locks in this series is something that will be remembered forever.
Does anyone think of a bar fight – ever – and not think of “Dalton” – Swayze’s alter-ego in 1989s Road House? Swayze’s penchant for being the lone man left to take on “the man” and his gang of goons is the true showcase of grace under pressure, letting loose at the perfect moment to levy justice, revenge and satisfaction for all movie-goers. The tearing of henchmen 13’s throat is of particularly satisfying note. Steven Segal should have been taking notes long ago on how to be a lone wolf amongst helpless lambs.
Zen has never been so kitsch, bank robbery never so smooth and Ex-Presidents never so bad. In 1991, Swayze, as a Surfer/Bank Robber named Bodhi, leads a band of benjamin-searching surfers into a collision course with an undercover federal agent (Keanu Reeves) who understands the allure of the surf, and the adrenaline of armed robbery all too well. It’s another of the hallmark roles for Swayze that is a must-see experience. The skydiving scenes and overall cinematography of this film are some of the best ever captured.
WAKING UP IN RENO
2002 heralded the arrival of a different kind of vehicle for Swayze in the form of Waking Up in Reno. This romantic comedy romp not only included monster trucks, Charlize Theron and Billy Bob Thornton, but also Natasha Richardson: wife of Liam Neeson who was also taken much too soon after a March 2009 skiing accident. Films like this one conveyed that Swayze had a very well-rounded skill set in front of the camera. Swayze said of Richardson: “It is such a great loss to this community to lose an actress and person such as Natasha. Gifts like her don’t come along very often. It’s a rare thing in this industry to have someone with so much talent, beauty, and dedication and yet is imbued with such humility.” Who’d have thought we too would be using words with very much the same tone to describe Swayze himself? It’s another off-the-beaten-path series of steps for Swayze that people will now perhaps take full notice of.
I had the personal pleasure of working with a gentleman named Paul Spatarro on the East Coast this year. His brother had also been diagnosed with (and died from) Pancreatic Cancer, which is where I initially learned not only about Swayze’s affliction, but also how deadly this disease is in general. Pancreatic Cancer has an astronomical lethality rate, because it’s often not diagnosed until it’s truly too late. The Beast was a crime/action vehicle created for Swayze at A&E. The network contacted me to offer up a series of promotional items and videos to help promote the show, and we gave them away based on feedback in a contest called “The Swayze GiftAways” Contest. While The Beast was a short series that was standard, Swayze-style satisfaction on cable television, it also became the final Hollywood sampling of Swayze’s skill set and work ethic. It’s a wonderfully strong show, made even more so by the knowledge that even while undergoing significant procedures in an attempt to slow the progression of his disease, and enduring 12-hour work days, Swayze finished out every single scene and in many cases completed the stunts choreographed and featured by his character, Barker, a vengeful, cunning FBI agent not just looking for, but ensuring that justice is found.
Patrick Swayze – as many have already said in the day or so since his death – was a true American original. A classic performer from the start, who knew the value of literally being a southern “iron first in a velvet glove.”
We will miss this man who, for all intents and purposes, was commonly uncommon in Hollywood circles. There was never a scandal featuring Swayze; He was married only once, to his long time teenage sweetheart Lisa Niemi; and he quite literally worked until he physically couldn’t anymore. I find the dubbing of his being “common” incredibly endearing.
Swayze once said, in character as “Sam Wheat” from Ghost, lamenting over a report about a downed airliner: “It’s amazing just like that >SNAP< black out”. Au contraire – Patrick Swayze’s performances will live on not only on in DVD, Blu-ray and feature film marathons everywhere, but in us – his family, friends and fans.
Thank you, Mr. Swayze, for your leading man contribution to Hollywood and to movie history.
We’ve only scratched the surface of Swayze-based excellence here in our homage. What other films have you seen Swayze in that should be collected into every one’s film library (Ghost and Dirty Dancing being obvious choices)? Let us know what you think in the discussion below.
Patrick Wayne Swayze, August 18, 1952 – September 14, 2009, R.I.P.