Patrick Swayze: the time of his life

By Richard Porritt,Press Association
Saturday 22 October 2011 21:37

Patrick Swayze enjoyed a long and varied career - but it was an 80s B-movie that made him famous.

Skatetown, USA gave 27-year-old Swayze his first crack at the big time - but the roller disco-inspired feature film failed to get the critics swooning.

They took more notice of the 1983 gang tale The Outsiders where Swayze played Darrel Curtis, with Rob Lowe and C Thomas Howell as his brothers.

He went on to star as Orry Main in the 1985 American Civil War drama North and South.

But Swayze had little reason to believe a low-budget boy-meets-girl film about dancing would change his luck. He was wrong.

In 1986 he began filming Dirty Dancing - and it was to make him a star.

Swayze said he did not consider it his breakthrough movie but instead that it launched his career into "hyperspace".

The film, released in 1987 to poor reviews, charts the coming of age of a young debutante rebelling against her father while the family enjoys a holiday at the 1960s American equivalent of Butlins.

The story centred on 17-year-old New Yorker Frances "Baby" Houseman (Jennifer Grey) who develops a crush on the resort's dance instructor Johnny Castle (Swayze), part of the working-class entertainment staff.

As plotlines go Dirty Dancing's was thin - but it ended with Baby and Castle performing together. And the famous lift - Swayze held Grey above his head - inspired a thousand imitations, all but a few unsuccessful.

The critics were not sure but the public - and the blossoming teenage market - adored it.

Although not initially a big screen hit, Dirty Dancing was the first massive VHS success. It was the first film to sell more than a million copies on home video and Swayze was suddenly a megastar.

Dirty Dancing, which cost only five million dollars to make, has, to date, grossed more than 213,954,274 dollars worldwide.

And although the plot, script and acting were scoffed at by the film media's elite, it did bag an Oscar for Best Original Song and even today no wedding reception is complete without "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" and a drunken attempt at that lift.

Next for Swayze were the tough guy roles and Next of Kin and Road House followed - as did much tittering and finger pointing from those 'I told you so' critics. Neither were a success and Swayze may have thought to himself that he was back where he started.

But it was another romantic role that cemented his place in Hollywood history.

Both he and co-star Demi Moore needed a major hit - the memory of Dirty Dancing was fading and Moore, who had promised much as a young actress in St Elmo's Fire, had hardly troubled the box office.

Then came 1990 and Ghost.

Sam Wheat (Swayze) and girlfriend Molly Jensen (Moore) are returning from a night out in New York City when a street thug attempts to rob the pair. Wheat is shot dead. But instead of doing the decent thing and heading off to the afterlife he is tasked with unravelling a bizarre plot involving money laundering by a co-worker - as a ghost. And all the while he must protect Jensen from the scheming colleague.

As a ghost he manages to save the day and finally tell Jensen he loves her - something he had never done while alive.

The film was loved by the cinema-going public and won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay as well as a nomination for Best Picture. Swayze and Moore were suddenly Hollywood's hottest stuff.

Swayze decided to drop his Mr Nice Guy persona again when he starred as Bodhi, the charismatic leader of a gang of bank-robbing surfers, in the well received Point Break.

The actor insisted on doing many of his own stunts and cracked several ribs while surfing but the film's aerial jump instructor said he was a natural at skydiving.

Swayze had already earned three Golden Globe nominations - for Dirty Dancing and Ghost - and he took a third for his portrayal of drag queen Vida Boheme in 1995's To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.

The actor took another unusual turn when he appeared in Donnie Darko - the cult 2001 psychological thriller - as a local celebrity who is exposed as a paedophile.

But despite his efforts to throw off the role of romantic lead, Swayze will be best remembered by film fans as the man who made hearts melt in Dirty Dancing and Ghost.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments