Swayze as evil surfer dude Bodhi in "Point Break"
Patrick Swayze died last night at the age of 57, losing his battle with pancreatic cancer. He wore a lot of hats in the public arena: Broadway hoofer, movie idol, pop singer, tabloid fixture, star of stage musicals and TV series, fighter of disease. The last could have defined his final years if not for Swayze's insistence on carrying on, playing the lead in a full season of "The Beast" on A&E.
But resoluteness was always the hallmark of his public persona, whether pulling Baby out of her corner in 1987's "Dirty Dancing," getting through to Demi Moore from the great beyond in "Ghost" (1990), or cresting the criminal waves in the joyously straight-faced 1991 action/surf film "Point Break." Intense poise and a wounded, almost angry sense of self are what galvanize Swayze's performances. He grew up a ballet dancer in a rough Houston neighborhood, taking on the bullies who taunted him with his fists and ultimately beating them with his talent. There was little irony to his persona; when you have to fight to be who you are, there probably isn't time for irony.
"Dancing," "Ghost," and "Point Break" were Swayze's three best-known movies, and in truth he seemed to wander far afield in the late 1990s and 2000s. There are solid little gems in his early filmography -- he stole "Grandview USA" (1984) from C. Thomas Howell (all right, not exactly hard to do) and "Road House" (1989) may be the great lost meathead action movie of its generation. After his peak, Swayze aimed for epic drama in the earnest and somewhat underrated "City of Joy" (1993), donned drag for 1995's "To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar," a movie regrettably not up to the level of its title, and enlivened "Donnie Darko" (2001) as the sleazy self-help guru Jim Cunningham. The latter was the role many people under the age of 30 will remember him by, even as their moms and older sisters still hold Johnny Castle close to their beating hearts: