He had the looks and the moves. As the star of some iconic films of the 1980s and '90s, Patrick Swayze, 57, brought intelligence and warmth to old-fashioned movie maleness. Then he played his toughest role, in a gritty, 20-month battle with pancreatic cancer that ended Sept. 14.
Swayze's father was a rodeo performer, his mother a choreographer who ran a dance studio in Houston. The actor took inspiration from both of them, playing athletic daredevils who were fast on their feet. After a stint in Grease on Broadway, he crashed Hollywood with roles as tough, sensitive older-brother types in The Outsiders and Red Dawn and found TV renown as the principled Southern soldier in the Civil War maxiseries North and South.
It was a small film that brought him stardom. In 1987's Dirty Dancing, he played a dance instructor at a Catskills resort, where a nice Jewish girl finds love and lust in his strong arms. Instantly, Swayze became the teen female's ideal of a rapturous first beau. His audience grew up with Ghost, in which his character's early death can't keep him from returning in spirit to his beloved widow (Demi Moore) and making passionate love one last time. He would lend flesh and substance to a stereotype hero once more, finding urgent plausibility in Point Break's surfer-dude villain role.
Diagnosed with cancer in January 2008, he could have retreated from the public eye. Instead, he vowed to fight the disease, and between chemotherapy treatments he starred in the A&E cop show The Beast. Attended by Lisa, his wife of 34 years, whom he'd met at his mom's dance studio, Swayze left this life with a grace and dignity befitting the men he had so often embodied. That's how heroes die.