Friends and family have announced that Patrick Swayze, the actor who smouldered his way into the limelight in Dirty Dancing and went on to became one of the most influential leading men of his generation, had died in Los Angeles, following a two-year battle against pancreatic cancer. He was 57.
The Hollywood star greeted the disease with the mixture of bravery and defiance that was the trademark of his most famous alter egos, appearing on TV earlier this year to inform fans that he was "going through hell" but would keep on fighting, and performing, until the bitter end.
A statement from Swayze’s publicist, Annett Wolf, revealed that he passed away yesterday at his ranch in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains to the north of the city. Lisa, his wife of 33 years, and several close family members were at his side. No further details were given.
The news was hardly unexpected, since Swayze had already outlived average survival rates for the highly-virulent form of cancer, which kills more than 95 of its victims within five years. However it was greeted with an outpouring of sadness by fans and former colleagues.
"Gorgeous and strong, he was a real cowboy with a tender heart," read her statement. "He was fearless and insisted on always doing his own stunts, so it was not surprising to me that the war he waged on his cancer was so courageous and dignified."
Rob Lowe, who played in a number of films with Swayze, includuing Youngblood paid tribute to his friend and co-star’s dancing, song-writing and horsemanship, adding: "the thing I will remember him most for was his amazing love affair with his wife Lisa."
Typically, Swayze decided to devote a portion of his final months to lobbying for increased funding for research into cancer, giving an interview to the ABC host Barbara Walters in January in which he recalled in graphic detail the awful circumstances of his diagnosis.
"You can bet that I'm going through hell," he told TV viewers. "And I’ve only seen the beginning of it. There’s a lot of fear here. There's a lot of stuff going on. Yeah, I’m scared. Yeah, I’m angry. Yeah, I’m asking, ‘Why me?’"
He had been diagnosed, he revealed, in early 2008, shortly after attempting to toast the New Year with a glass of champagne.
"It [was] like pouring acid, you know, on an open wound," he recalled. "Then my indigestion issues started getting constant. And after that, I started thinking, ‘I’m getting skinny’. I dropped about 20lbs in the blink of an eye."
In February, Swayze wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post headlined "I’m Battling Cancer. How About Some Help, Congress?" It urged senators and representatives to vote for funding to fight cancer as part of the economic stimulus package
Despite the platform his status afforded, Swayze enjoyed a topsy-turvy career. Its high points included three Golden Globe nominations – most notably for Dirty Dancing, and Ghost, the roles that thrust him to stardom – and a starring role as the villain in Point Break.
However he often met with a sniffy reaction from critics, who never quite got over the fact that he had originally trained as a dancer during his childhood in Texas during the 1960s. During the late 1990s, he added grist to their mill by agreeing to appear in a series of flops.
The setbacks never prevented Swayze from enjoying life - a keen horseman and conservationist, he was never short of things to do off-set. But they perhaps meant that much of the last decade was market by frustration.
Having turned down television for much of his career ("I thought I was De Niro," he once rued) Swayze was at one point reduced to succeeding reality TV star Darius Danesh in a West End production of Guys and Dolls.
Yet in his final months, he mounted a return to former glories after deciding, against doctors advice, to return to work in The Beast, a successful TV drama in which he played Charles Barker, an undercover FBI agent.
The job required him to spend five months filming in Chicago, working 12-hour days, mostly in cold, night-time conditions, while foregoing the painkillers doctors had prescribed as part of his treatment. "When you're shooting, you can’t do drugs," he later revealed. "I can’t do Hydrocodone or Vicodin… because it takes the edge off of your brain."
In the event, the show marked one of Swayze's crowning achievements. It was, after all, in keeping with the sentiment expressed what now seems like his most haunting line - when he looked out to sea at the end of Point Break and solemnly declared: “It’s not tragic to die doing something you love.”
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