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Patrick Swayze, 57

'Dirty Dancing,' 'Ghost' Highlighted Swayze's Film Career

Actor Patrick Swayze dies after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Patrick Swayze, 57, an actor who enjoyed success in Hollywood as the snake-hipped charmer of "Dirty Dancing" and a romantic lead from beyond the grave in "Ghost," died Sept. 14, his publicist reported from Los Angeles. He had pancreatic cancer.

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A former ballet and Broadway dancer, Mr. Swayze rarely received 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 hair and charismatic swagger.

Rita Kempley, a former Washington Post film critic, once described Mr. 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."

Mr. 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 Mr. 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.

Mr. 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 Mr. Swayze was "at his best -- as is the movie -- when he's dancing."

"Dirty Dancing" made a fortune at the box office, a fact largely attributed to female ticket-buyers wowed by Mr. 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 Mr. Swayze, Bergstein said, "I told him I couldn't imagine doing the movie without him."

After several action films, Mr. 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 Mr. Swayze's dead character embracing Moore as "Unchained Melody" swells.

Despite brief success as a heartthrob, Mr. Swayze 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.

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