It's a world I don't really recognize, this world where Patrick Swayze captured our hearts and imaginations and had such a brilliant career. I don't mean to seem callous... but we are talking about Patrick Swayze... not Patrick Stewart. At least Stewart's decision to play to commercial success over art seemed to involve a choice.
A lot of people are talking about Dirty Dancing and how transcendent it was, which is kind of true... but also not: it was a slow summer, no one had made a successful musical - never mind really featured dancing as central to the plot - in years, and Swayze was, yes, wildly attractive. It helped that the script for Dirty Dancing was literate and well put together. But we shouldn't overstate what it was - a real classic summer popcorn pleaser - and raise expectations too high. The real power of Dirty Dancing is in the first word, not the second; it's not "nobody puts Baby in a corner", it's that Baby is a grown woman and the story of her summer fling is about dancing as sex, sex as dancing, and both being pretty damn enjoyable, if you do it right.
Dancers and swimmers... the real secret is in the powerful legs.
I always admired Patrick Swayze because he was an unabashed, unashamed dancer; he was well trained (by his mom, for starters) and good at it, and he was straight and butch and he had nothing to prove. There's nothing wrong with being gay and a dancer (that's me)... but it's the one profession where the two kind of get assumed together, and it's more than a little unfair to straight guys who dance. Swayze went a long way to demolishing preconceived notions, without being arrogant or defensive about it.
He was not a great actor; nor was he a particularly exceptional singer, and had he been either, I suspect he'd have made an effortless transition to Broadway star, which never quite happened. As it was, he was a fairly unique combination of beefy good looks, stolid presence, and graceful physicality. All of that is showcased most effectively in Dirty Dancing... and rarely after that. Though I have to admit... I've never seen Roadhouse. But trying to shower accolades on a career littered with Point Breaks and Ghosts and all sorts of B-list business... it's too much labor to try and dress it up.
In some ways he was too early and peaked too soon - the world of show dancing that's appeared in recent years (So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing With The Stars) would have loved him, in his prime. They might even have embraced now, after all these years, had he been well enough and strong enough. I wish he'd danced more, in public; that's where I think we missed out, where Hollywood never made the best use of his finest skill. And I suppose that's why I don't think of Swayze as "gone too soon" - the lives of dancers are just not as long as everyone else; it's hard on the body... and the heart, I think. The dancer is gone. The celebrity survives.