Sunday, September 20, 2009

Patrick Swayze 1952-2009

"I dream that the word 'cure' will no longer be followed by the words 'it's impossible'. Together, we can make a world where cancer no longer means living with fear, without hope, or worse"
Speaking at the multi-network simulcast of Stand Up For Cancer in September 2008, appealing to the general public to make donations for the cause.
Patrick Swayze was a big part of my adolescence.  Not a day went by between the ages of 12 and 16 where my sister and I wouldn't put Dirty Dancing in the VCR and sing along to every song he and Jennifer Grey danced to.  To us, it was the epitome of the 'converted bad boy' that we dreamed to meet one day.  Dirty Dancing still remains to be one of my favourite movies.

So to hear that Patrick had passed away after suffering from pancreatic cancer since January 2008, I was happy to hear he wasn't suffering anymore, but still confused and sad that someone I consider so young to be taken away from us so soon.

Born in Houston, Texas in 1952, Patrick's mother was his primary dance influence, her being a choreographer.  He pursued many other artistic and athletic endeavours such as ice skating, ballet, and acting in school plays.  He lived in Houston until he was twenty, where he moved to New York City to finish his classical dance training. 

Patrick's worked through many stage and film roles before he found himself an honourary member member of the 'Brat Pack' in the 1980s for his frequent work with Rob Lowe.  First gaining success in the 1985 miniseries North and South, he would break through in his own right by accepting the role of Johnny Castle in the movie Dirty Dancing, with Red Dawn co-star Jennifer Grey.  A low-budget production, the movie was intended to be release in theatres one weekend only, then become a straight-to-video release.  Patrick had even contributed his vocal talents to the soundtrack with the song, "She's Like The Wind."  The movie has since developed not just a cult following, a prequel and one of the most popular movie soundtracks of all time, but has earned more than $210 million worldwide since its release in 1987.

It was difficult for Patrick to top the success that this movie gave him.  Although many of his movies after the release of Dirty Dancing didn't own up to critic's standards, Patrick continued to work, leading him to another blockbuster success in 1990, and another personal favourite, Ghost, where many women around the world wished they were Demi Moore in the 'pottery wheel scene', or at least tried to get their husbands interested.

Ghost brought Patrick back to the people, reminding us of the warmth he brings to his characters.  He worked on a string of projects bringing him from television to theatre to movies, one notably that will be one of the greatest performances I have witnessed from an actor's point of view - his role as the elegant drag queen Miss Vida Boheme in the movie To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar.

Also starring Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo, Patrick really took great care into creating this character with finesse, right down to physical details from swaying the hips when he walks, learning heel-to-toe first in high heels, the graceful way to flip hair out of your lipstick ... to see a truly great actor at work is to see him overcome the challenge of playing something he innately knows nothing about.

Actors naturally work from what they know, sometimes using personal experiences as their 'tools' to acquire belief behind the words in the script.   Patrick's personal struggles with family loss and addiction occasionally seeped into his work, occasionally affecting it.  He withdrew from Hollywood life for a while in 1994, leading him to seek treatment for alcoholism after his sister committed suicide from overdose.  After release, he retreated to his ranches he kept in California and Las Vegas, where he took to breeding Arabian horses.

Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January 2008, and over the months rumours of worsened health were denied by Patrick's camp.  By July 2008, he had been given only 'weeks' to live by his doctors, touting to survivors that he considers himself 'an individual living with cancer', a statement which gave cancer patients and survivors a spark of hope in recognition of their cause.  He was determined to live, and underwent many surgical procedures and therapies to try to irradicate the cancer from his body.  He told Barbara Walters in an interview in January 2009:
"That's one thing I'm not gonna do, is chase, is chase staying alive. I'm not, you know, you'll spend so much time chasing staying alive you won't live, you know? I wanna live. If anybody had that cure out there like so many people swear to me they do, you'd be two things: you'd be very rich, and you'd be very famous. Otherwise, shut up."
I consider 57 to be young.  My father is 59, and still living life to the fullest.  To hear of someone dying at this age does remind me of mortality, and that we should care for ourselves and each other.

Patrick Swayze is on his way home.  It's reported his last words to his wife were, "I love you.  We'll be together soon."  Rest in peace, Patrick.

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