Patrick Swayze went out fighting on September 14th, 2009 after an extended bout with pancreatic cancer. That rare kind of movie star, both a lover and a fighter, taught a generation of men and women to love and kick ass in equal measure. To quote Dalton, "Pain don't hurt," but losing a loved one and a mentor causes that rare kind of anguish that even the world's most efficient bouncer couldn't take lying down. Since his fans can neither rip out cancer's larynx nor stand up to its snobbery in the Catskills, the best we can do is remember Swayze's cinematic accomplishments, both good and, let's be fair, not quite so very good at all, really. Here is our humble tribute.
For the iconic role of Johnny Castle, Patrick Swayze beat out both Val Kilmer (which might have been pretty good) and Billy Zane (which would have irreparably damaged the time-space continuum). But over 20 years and one of the most-rented movies of all time later, it’s abundantly clear that the filmmakers behind one of the most cherished (and only kinda cheesy) romances of all time made the right choice. Swayze’s unique blend of thinking man’s machismo and lithe, baby-faced approachability made Castle one of the most attractive characters in film history. If any film is still going to be a mainstay at pre-teen slumber parties in a hundred years, it’s Dirty Dancing, and Patrick Swayze will be making your great-granddaughters swoon.
Screw Johnny Castle, do you have any idea how many people were considered for Sam Wheat ahead of Patrick Swayze? Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Al Pacino, Bruce Willis, Harrison Ford, Nicholas Cage, Mickey Rourke, Chevy Chase and Alec Baldwin, just to name a few, and most of them probably still wake up in a cold sweat most nights, freaking out about what a mistake they made. Like Sam Wheat, Swayze was cut down before his time, and Swayzes other romantic classic (the one boyfriends can enjoy too, because of the awesome subway ghost the late Vincent Schiavelli and the badass comeuppance of Tony Goldwyn) may get the biggest post-mortem boost in popularity as a result (which is kind of creepy if you think about it). One of the other most-rented movies of all time, Ghost sometimes gets a bad rap because of the oft-parodied Righteous Bros. spinning wheel scene, not to mention Whoopi Goldbergs Oscar (Swayze got her the part, incidentally), but its still a touching and creative love story that audiences just keep falling in love with.
…But the men liked him too! Swayze’s weirdest creation was easily Dalton, a mysterious martial arts philosopher who exists in a strange alternate universe in which bouncers can become world famous celebrities. It may be inaccurate to say that Road House has aged poorly, because even in the 1980’s it was a curio – monster trucks, Tai Chi, "I used to f*** guys like you in prison!" being used as a villainous taunt – but no one who has seen it is ever likely to forget the experience. While Stallone and Schwarzenegger spent the 1980’s shooting first and then not asking questions because talking would be for little girls, Swayze used his best action movie to promote the credo, "Just be nice." And if that didn’t work, THEN he’d rip out your larynx.
"Patrick Swayze has just robbed this bank, and Keanu Reeves is chasin' him through peoples' gardens, and then he goes to shoot Swayze but he can't because he loves him SO much and he's firin' his gun up in the air and he's like 'ahhh!'" That’s exactly what it’s like. Swayze’s career took a downward turn after Point Break, and in retrospect it’s easy to see why – no other character captures Swayze’s appeal better than Bodhi, the enlightened surfer bank robber who successfully romances (in a very manly, heterosexual way) the very FBI agent sent to destroy him. Afterwards, every character could only be a step down for the superstar. Oh yeah, and how many "In Memoriam" montages do you think are going to end with Bodhi surfing into that tidal wave?