So many of Patrick Swayze's roles have a certain adjective in common.
He was the hunky dance instructor, the hunky bouncer, the hunky surfing bank robber, the hunky ghost, the hunky drag queen...
But all of the above, plus a dozen others, also share the inexplicable extra that Swayze brought to every part, a sensitivity and earnestness that radiated from the screen when he was uttering an iconic line like "nobody puts Baby in a corner" or pleading with Johnny Utah for the chance to catch just one last wave. Swayze treated movie-making with utmost gravity, respectful of every chance he was given, even when the film itself didn't turn out to be a winner.
But no matter the genre, the classically trained dancer, gymnast, horseback rider and outdoorsman, pilot and daredevil from Texas was always a reason to watch.
And he approached movies as he did life—always up for trying something new.
"The thing that I observed from afar is that Patrick as an actor had much less respect for the script than most other actors I worked with, which at first I resented," admitted James Cameron, who executive-produced Point Break, in a 1990 Q&A with the film's director and his wife at the time, Kathryn Bigelow. "In the long run, I think it annealed what was good about the script, because he challenged everything."
Bigelow agreed that Swayze not simply going with the flow and scrutinizing those ever-quotable lines made for a more committed performance on his part. "It was his method of territorializing the character," she said. "It was like an exorcism. And in his case, that was exactly what attracted him to the material."
In the 2019 documentary I Am Patrick Swayze, the actor observed in an old interview, "I was just looking for any way to make a mark." The raw look at his life and legacy took an in-depth dive into his goals as a performer; his incomparable work ethic; his 34-year marriage to Lisa Niemi, who met him long before he made his first movie; and the demons that he fought behind the scenes at every turn up until he died of cancer at the way too young age of 57 in 2009.
He had an all-consuming, full-body approach to roles, whether he was kicking ass in Road House, skydiving in Point Break or spending hours in hair and makeup for To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar. He also wasn't averse to meaty character parts, such as the puritanical motivational speaker with a nasty secret he played in Donnie Darko, one of the few true villains he ever played.
Any way he did it, he left that mark.
In honor of the much-missed movie star, on what would have been his 69th birthday, check out some fascinating behind-the-scenes stories about the roles you remember him for most—and some you may have forgotten about.
Swazye died that September.
A few months beforehand he wrote in what would be the foreword to his book, which Niemi helped finish, "Together with Lisa, I'll keep on pushing, keep on believing. Because that, in the end, is the greatest gift we have."
(Originally published Aug. 18, 2019, at 4 a.m. PT)