An athlete practically from birth, Patrick Swayze was a football player in high school and then earned a gymnastics scholarship to pay for college. His father had been a dancer/choreographer, and Swayze began to study dance early on, eventually working with the prestigious Harkness and Joffrey Ballet companies. He made his professional debut as a dancer with the lead role of Prince Charming in a traveling company of Disney on Parade, but an old knee injury from his football days threatened to cut his dancing career short at any moment. Hedging his bets, Swayze opened his repertoire up to acting and made the transition to Broadway, landing the role of Danny in the hit musical Grease before heading to Los Angeles to make yet another transition, this time to the screen.
Swayze cut his teeth on TV guest appearances, scoring a memorable role as a dying soldier in an episode of M*A*S*H. Finally, he got a role in Francis Ford Coppola's youth ensemble film The Outsiders (1983), a film of massive critical acclaim and box-office success. Steadily continuing his upward trajectory, he followed The Outsiders with the Cold War classic Red Dawn (1984) and with the Civil War TV miniseries North and South (1985). His real big break came in 1987, however, with a starring role in the hit Dirty Dancing. The film gave Swayze the chance to showcase both his acting and dancing abilities and, additionally, he wrote and performed one of the film's songs, "She's Like the Wind," which went on to become a major hit. The role made Swayze an undisputed star, and he scored big again with a tough-guy role in the movie Road House, as well as the romantic lead in the supernatural drama Ghost (1990), a box-office smash that ended up grossing more than $200 million.
The '90s had started out for Swayze with a bang, but with so much of his success wrapped up in the films of the 1980s, the actor soon found himself fighting against the mentality that he was out of date. He found iconic roles like surfer Bodhi in the police thriller Point Break and even played a drag queen in 1995's To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, but transitioning into the next phase of his career proved challenging. In 2001, Swayze found a film to help him facilitate this change with the role of twisted self-help guru Jim Cunningham in the dark mystery drama Donnie Darko. There was an element of self-parody in Swayze's portrayal of the über-positive, deceptively clean-cut Cunningham, and audiences found the role refreshing. He continued to pick up projects as they appealed to him, appearing in everything from the romantic drama One Last Dance to the quirky British comedy Keeping Mum.
Sadly, however, by the late 2000s some upsetting news arrived. Swayze announced to the press in March 2008 that he was suffering from inoperable stage IV pancreatic cancer. The star battled his illness for a reported 20 months, but in the end it took his life. He died at the relatively young age of 57 in September 2009.