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Patrick Swayze, 57; 'Dirty Dancing,' 'Ghost' Highlighted Film Career

Actor Patrick Swayze dies after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

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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).

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Mr. 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. Mr. Swayze said he also struggled with heavy drinking for many years in Hollywood.

Survivors include his wife, Lisa Niemi, whom he married in 1975; his mother; two brothers, including actor Don Swayze; and a sister, Bambi Swayze.

Besides dancing, Mr. 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.

In 1978, he made a positive impression as a replacement Danny Zuko in the long-running Broadway musical "Grease"; Barry Bostwick had originated the part onstage, and John Travolta played the film Zuko. Mr. Swayze's transition to movies came in 1979 with the roller-disco drama "Skatetown U.S.A." as a gang leader named Ace Johnson.

The film was trashed by critics, but Mr. Swayze won ecstatic reviews. Kevin Thomas, writing in the Los Angeles Times, said "not since Valentino did his tango in 'The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' has there been such a confident display of male sexuality."

Mr. Swayze remained a busy supporting actor on television and in film during the next several years, appearing mostly in tough roles in films such as "The Outsiders" (1983), "Uncommon Valor" (1983) and "Red Dawn" (1984).

He also was a brutal team captain in the hockey drama "Youngblood" (1986) and had leading roles in "Steel Dawn" (1987), a violent sci-fi drama that co-starred his wife, and "Tiger Warsaw" (1988), a poorly received small-budget feature about a man who returns home 15 years after shooting his father.

He also had a supporting role in the miniseries "North and South," which aired on ABC in 1985 and 1986, and stood out for his likability in an otherwise panned production.

Starting in the mid-1990s, he continued to appear on camera but in smaller roles, such as a born-again motivational speaker in "Donnie Darko" (2001). He also raised Arabian horses, rodeo cattle and peacocks on farmland he owned in California and New Mexico and learned to fly single-engine planes.

While undergoing chemotherapy for his cancer, which was diagnosed last year, he received good reviews for his gritty portrayal of an undercover FBI agent in "The Beast" (2009), a drama series for the A&E cable network.

Mr. Swayze missed only one day of work while filming the series. "One thing I'm not going to do is chase staying alive," he told interviewer Barbara Walters at the time. "You spend so much time chasing staying alive, you won't live."

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