The late, great Patrick Swayze was one of Hollywood’s most charismatic leading men. Iconic roles in movies like Dirty Dancing and Ghost cemented Patrick Swayze as the romantic hero of the ’80s and ’90s, but the multitalented actor could do it all — his roles aren’t just limited to the swoon-worthy leading men. He also memorably starred in action movies, cult favorites and comedies.
Patrick Swayze was destined to be in showbiz. Born in Houston, Texas, in 1952, Patrick’s mom owned a dance school where he became a student at a young age. Another pupil was Lisa Niemi, whom Patrick had known when she was 15; they later married in 1975, staying together until his untimely death in 2009.
As a young man, Swayze cultivated artistic and athletic skills, among them ice skating, martial arts and ballet. His physique and elegant dance moves got him noticed right away, and soon enough, he began dancing for Disney revues — yep, the man literally played Prince Charming!
Swayze becomes a Hollywood star
Following his work as a dancer, Patrick Swayze then made the move to Broadway, playing Danny Zuko in the original production of Grease. His film debut came in 1979, when he acted in the campy roller disco movie Skatetown, U.S.A. He even starred in a Pabst Blue Ribbon commercial as a disco dancer — it doesn’t get more ’70s than that!
As the ’80s dawned, Patrick Swayze was poised for stardom with a role in the ensemble cast of the movies The Outsiders, and appearances in TV shows like M*A*S*H under his belt. In 1987, Swayze would take on his breakout role in Dirty Dancing. The low-budget film became a sleeper hit, and remains one of the most beloved Patrick Swayze movies of the era. Swayze was instantly catapulted to Hollywood heartthrob status, and by 1991, he was voted People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive.
Swayze continued to work steadily throughout the ’90s and into the ’00s, but sadly he was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer in 2007. He passed away at just 57 in 2009.
Nearly 15 years after Swayze’s shocking death, there’s still no actor quite like him. His mix of swagger and softness is endlessly compelling, and we could watch his movies on repeat (we pretty much have Dirty Dancing memorized!)
Patrick Swayze movies
Here’s a look back at some of Swayze’s most memorable roles through the years.
Skatetown, U.S.A (1979)
Capitalizing on the roller disco craze, this movie starred Swayze as Ace Johnson, a roller skater who gets into a rivalry with one of his peers. The movie also featured ’70s TV icons like Happy Days‘ Scott Baio and The Brady Bunch‘s Maureen McCormick.
The Outsiders (1983)
The Outsiders is a moody teen drama from acclaimed director Francis Ford Coppola. The film is well-known for its explosive cast of up-and-coming stars — among them Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Diane Lane, C. Thomas Howell and Tom Cruise. Taking place in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1964, the film (adapted from the beloved 1967 novel by S.E. Hinton) follows the rivalry between two gangs, the poor, working class Greasers and the rich Socs.
Uncommon Valor (1983)
Swayze is more than just a pretty face. In this intense Vietnam War drama, he starred alongside veteran actor Gene Hackman and showed some serious acting chops.
Dirty Dancing (1987)
“Nobody puts baby in the corner!” Set at a resort in the Catskills during the summer of 1963, Dirty Dancing stars Jennifer Grey as Frances “Baby” Houseman, the daughter of a wealthy and highly-respected family. Swayze plays Johnny Castle, a rebellious but good-hearted resort dance instructor. The film puts Swayze’s acting and dancing abilities center stage, as Johnny and Baby start to develop feelings for each other, and the sexy choreography is unforgettable.
Swayze not only starred in this beloved ’80s hit, he also co-wrote and sang one of the songs on the soundtrack, “She’s Like The Wind,” which became a hit. Decades after it was released, Dirty Dancing remains a touchstone for women of all ages, and no one could’ve played Johnny quite as memorably as Swayze did.
Swayze would reprise the role with a cameo appearance in the 2004 prequel Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights.
Road House (1989)
Road House stars Swayze (alongside Sam Elliott, Ben Gazzara and Kelly Lynch) as the powerful, tough bouncer Dalton, who has been hired to tame a seedy Missouri bar called the Double Deuce. The only problem? A corrupt local businessman is running the town and wants the bar to stay just as it is.
The romantic fantasy Ghost was a smash hit that made Swayze even more of a megastar. After his character, Sam, is murdered, his spirit stays behind to warn his lover, Molly Jensen (Demi Moore) of impending danger. The scene where Swayze and Moore use a pottery wheel is welll-known as one of the sexiest, most romantic moments in film history.
Point Break (1990) Patrick Swayze movies
Point Break is one of the ultimate ’90s thrill rides. Keanu Reeves stars as Johnny Utah, an undercover FBI agent who infiltrates Swayze’s gang of surfers who are suspected of being bank robbers. The two men strike up an unlikely friendship, and the film provides a fun showcase for two of the most handsome stars of the decade.
To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)
Swayze put his good looks to work in a somewhat… different way as Vida, a drag queen who travels cross-country with his fellow queens Noxeema (Wesley Snipes) and Chi-Chi (John Leguizamo). When their Cadillac convertible breaks down along the way, the three friends are left stranded in a small town, leading to unforeseen circumstances.
Donnie Darko (2001) Patrick Swayze movies
This ’00s cult-favorite is truly unclassifiable, mixing elements of sci-fi, mystery and coming-of-age. Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), a troubled teen, narrowly escapes a strange incident and becomes haunted by hallucinations of an individual wearing a rabbit costume, who compels him to engage in a series of illegal acts. Swayze plays against his usual charming type. Here, he’s a motivational speaker who is revealed to be a closeted pedophile.
Jump! (2007) Patrick Swayze movies
Swayze took on an intense real-life role in Jump!, playing Richard Pressburger, one of Austria’s leading Jewish lawyers during the rise of the Nazi regime. When Phillipe Halsman (Ben Silverstone) is accused of patricide, he hires Pressburger to defend him. Soon Pressburger comes to the conclusion that the judge is prejudiced against his client and wonders if he will get a fair trial. Swayze has said that he considered this film his most important work.
Powder Blue (2009)
Powder Blue was Swayze’s final film project. The story focuses on a group of four people who find themselves unexpectedly connected on Christmas Eve due to a series of coincidences. Velvet Larry (Swayze) is the sleazy owner of a strip club where the four people meet up through chance, misfortune and divine intervention. The film co-stars Patrick’s younger brother, Don Swayze, making it their first and last time working together.
We miss Patrick Swayze and all the movies he could have made, but his legacy will live on.
Keep reading for more of our favorite leading men!