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Originally published September 15, 2009 at 12:06 AM | Page modified September 15, 2009 at 11:00 AM

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Hunky star Patrick Swayze danced into fans' hearts

Patrick Swayze, an actor who starred in the hit films "Dirty Dancing" and "Ghost," died Sept. 14 in Los Angeles. He died of pancreatic cancer, which was diagnosed last year. He was 57.

The Washington Post

Patrick Swayze, an actor who starred in the hit films "Dirty Dancing" and "Ghost," died Sept. 14 in Los Angeles. He died of pancreatic cancer, which was diagnosed last year. He was 57.

A former ballet and Broadway dancer, Mr. Swayze rarely earned more than tepid reviews for his on-screen 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, 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."

"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" earned a fortune at the box office, a fact largely attributed to female ticket-buyers wowed by Mr. Swayze.

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 his dead character embracing Moore as "Unchained Melody" swells.

Mr. Swayze's 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 sky-diving stunts.

His attempts at more daring roles, 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), met with critical disappointment.

He prepared for the latter role by volunteering to work with the dying at Mother Teresa's Calcutta clinic.

Patrick Wayne Swayze was born in Houston, where he performed at his mother's ballet school. When that prompted bullying by other kids, he beat them up, with the approval of his mother, Patsy Swayze, who 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.

Mr. Swayze played football and studied martial arts as a youth and won a gymnastics scholarship to San Jacinto College in Houston before dropping out to skate in a touring "Disney on Parade" ice revue.

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 hampered his dancing career.

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

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