Handsome, charismatic and by all accounts nice, Patrick Wayne Swayze (1952-2009) – Buddy to his friends – was a rare talent. But just quite how rare has only become apparent in retrospect.
As well as being an excellent actor – not always a requirement – he was a true renaissance man. He could sing and write songs (‘She’s Like The Wind’ reached No.3 in the US), dance (both ballet and dirty), surf, ice-skate, do martial arts, ride horses and fly planes.
This versatility translated to the screen, where he convinced as a romantic lead (Ghost), an action star (Point Break), even a throat-ripping, philosophy-studying bouncer (Road House) – all while maintaining a layer of vulnerability. Unusually for the era, there was something malleable in Swayze’s maleness. He seemed just as comfortable playing a World War III guerilla warrior (Red Dawn) as he did doing drag (To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar).
The fact that he often played the object of lust/idealisation while someone else was the hero might have stopped him being taken more seriously, but it’s crucial to his enduring appeal. To be that object without unbalancing the films required self-awareness and generosity.
Although he clearly had his troubles – most involving alcohol, plane crashes or some terrible combination of the two – Swayze always seemed an advocate. While the other male stars of the era were making films that endorsed toxic masculinity (hello, Cocktail!) or childishness (Big), Swayze was making Dirty Dancing, a pro-choice drama that seems more and more extraordinary with each passing year.
Although he made some poor decisions in later life (Christmas in Wonderland, anyone?), Swayze kept taking risks. Donnie Darko saw him playing a paedophile, a role it’s hard to imagine either of the Toms fighting over.
Since his death from pancreatic cancer in 2009, Swayze’s films have undergone critical re-evaluation, so perhaps it’s time his performances did, too. Nobody put Buddy in the corner, but we should have put him on a pedestal. Or is it just me?