Thursday, September 17, 2009

Culture Shock 09.17.09: Swayze leaves behind legacy of classic movie moments

I learned a lot from Patrick Swayze, like "It's my way or the highway," "Pain don't hurt," "Be nice until it's time to not be nice" and, most importantly, "Nobody puts Baby in a corner."

During a career that spanned 30 years, Swayze did one of the best things any actor can do for an audience. He made a lot of otherwise unwatchable movies watchable. From "Red Dawn" and "Road House" to "Next of Kin" and "Point Break," Swayze did a lot of heavy lifting that too often went unappreciated.

He died Monday after a nearly two-year battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 57.

The question wasn't if, but when. Swayze had hoped for maybe five more years. He got just less than two. The one-year survival rate for the most common form of pancreatic cancer is just 20 percent, while the five-year survival rate is only 4 percent.

Yet Swayze faced his fate with courage and grace. He continued to work almost until the end, starring in the AMC television drama "The Beast" and appearing in the independent film "Powder Blue" opposite Jessica Biel and Forest Whitaker.

While his brave fight with cancer shouldn't be forgotten, Swayze will always be remembered most as a 1980s movie icon. I admit, I'm not much of a "Ghost" fan — it's the ultimate chick flick, with all that entails. But even I will concede that "Dirty Dancing" is a pretty good movie, carried largely by Swayze's performance as both an actor and a dancer.

Yes, in case you forgot, Swayze was a dancer before he was a movie star, and it was his skill on the dance floor that helped land him his first movie role as bad boy Ace in 1979's now all-but-forgotten disco flick "Skatetown, U.S.A."

By 1983, Swayze was appearing in major motion pictures like "The Outsiders," director Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of S.E. Hinton's novel.

The next year, Swayze starred in the film that would help cement his presence on cable television for the next decade, "Red Dawn," writer/director John Milius' tale of teenagers fending off a Soviet invasion.

"Dirty Dancing" and "Ghost" made Swayze a romantic lead (and People magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive"), while "Road House" — another cable-TV mainstay — made Swayze an action star, a role he followed up with 1991's "Point Break."

And just when you thought you had seen everything, he played a drag queen in "To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar."

Swayze never won any acting awards, although he did receive Golden Globe nominations for "Dirty Dancing," "Ghost" and "To Wong Foo." But along the way, he left behind plenty of classic moments, from his "Unchained Melody" scene at the pottery wheel with Demi Moore in "Ghost" to his Chippendales dance number with Chris Farley on "Saturday Night Live."

That's a legacy most entertainers would kill for.

Some of Patrick Swayze's most memorable moments:
His first film, "Skatetown, U.S.A."
"It's my way or the highway" speech from "Road House."
Final dance from "Dirty Dancing."
"Patrick Swayze Christmas" sketch from "Mystery Science Theater 3000."
"Saturday Night Live" Chippendales sketch.

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