In Life and Facing Death, Patrick Swayze Forged His Own Path


Iconic dancer and actor Patrick Swayze passed away after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

I put “dancer” before “actor” because he grew up dancing in his mother’s dance studio and eventually made his way into acting. I remember hearing that he was sick and seeing the photos of a once fantastic-looking man becoming pale and gaunt and a shell of his former self. I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear that someone is ill, especially with cancer, I literally get sick to my stomach. Why? Because cancer is a beast, and I have watched too many wonderful people succumb to one form of it or another.

Swayze’s illness struck me because my paternal grandfather also died from the disease in 1998. He too was a good-looking old guy (much older than Swayze) with so much energy and enthusiasm. I loved my grandpa so much because he was always happy to see us. He always greeted us with a smile and spoiled us as grandparents do. When I heard that my grandpa was sick, I immediately felt nauseated — and then went to see about him. The first time I saw him after the diagnosis, he looked like the Grandpa Earl I remember — a strong, robust man. The last time that I saw him alive, however, pancreatic cancer had literally eaten him away, and so quickly.

As I watched Patrick Swayze decline in the public eye, I thought about the toll this illness was taking on a man once known for his physical power and prowess on the dance floor; that was the part of the illness my grandpa hated the most. Swayze was also loved for his ability to work around Hollywood, a town known for fluff, yet maintain his good ol’ boy charm. After his success with Dirty Dancing, the industry tried desperately to put him in the sex-object box. People pulled on him from multiple directions — he was asked to endorse a cologne and to record an album, but he resisted, wanting to be something other than what Hollywood imagined him to be. (more)

This article originally ran in Creative Loafing, where Nsenga K. Burton serves as cultural critic. She is also managing editor for and Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Goucher College.


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