Between the recent 30th anniversary of Road House and a new Paramount Network documentary, I Am Patrick Swayze, the late actor—born Patrick Wayne Swayze on August 18, 1952—has been the subject of renewed interest. For die-hard Swayze fans, however, the versatile performer has never gone out of sight. For more on the Houston native, check out some facts on Swayze’s upbringing, his detour into carpentry, and why he wasn’t the first choice for 1990’s Ghost.
1. Patrick Swayze was part of a Disney ice show.
While Swayze garnered acclaim for his dramatic works in films like 1983’s The Outsiders and 1987's Dirty Dancing, among others, he was equally adept at roles requiring a high degree of physicality. His agility stemmed from an early love of dance. Growing up in Houston, Swayze’s mother, Patsy, was the director of the Houston Jazz Ballet Company, which provided her son with an early portal of entry to the art form: At eight months old, Swayze would sit in his playpen and dance in time to the music while his mother taught class. Swayze went on to take ballet, which earned him the occasional taunts by classmates but also helped him when he branched out into football and gymnastics. (He also met his future wife, Lisa Niemi, at his mother’s class. The two married in 1975.) Fresh out of college, Swayze toured for one year with the Disney on Parade ice show as Prince Charming. At 19, he moved to New York to pursue a stage career. After his dance aspirations were derailed following a knee injury, he began to focus on acting.
2. Patrick Swayze took over the lead role in Grease from John Travolta.
Following complications with his knee, Swayze sought out a lower-impact role. He auditioned for and won the part of Danny Zuko in Broadway’s Grease, which had previously been played by John Travolta. The part paid dividends, and not just in exposure. Swayze invested part of his salary from the show into acting classes for both himself and Lisa at Warren Robertson’s Theater Workshop in New York, where Robert De Niro and James Earl Jones had also studied.
3. Patrick Swayze once owned a carpentry business.
At the time of his feature film debut in 1979’s campy roller rink melodrama Skatetown USA, Swayze feared his career could take a turn into teen idol territory. Rather than accept a multi-film contract where he would have little control over the parts offered, he and Lisa decided to open a carpentry business, Nepotism, Inc. (It employed brothers from both of their families, hence the name.) Swayze knew little about carpentry but studied books on the subject. The business was successful, with jobs ranging from renovating the kitchen of actress Jaclyn Smith to an entire home in Coldwater Canyon. The work kept him busy between acting auditions. With the income, Swayze could also be more selective about the movies he appeared in. After a string of appearances on television, including a TV movie titled The Comeback Kid with John Ritter and an episode of M*A*S*H, Swayze earned his second-ever film role in 1983’s The Outsiders, an adaptation of the S.E. Hinton young adult novel.
4. Patrick Swayze didn’t write “She’s Like the Wind” for Dirty Dancing.
One of the bigger hits to come out of the 1987 Catskills dance drama Dirty Dancing was “She’s Like the Wind,” a song on the film’s soundtrack that Swayze sang and co-wrote. But he actually didn’t compose it for that film. Swayze originally co-wrote it for 1984’s Grandview, USA, a demolition derby comedy featuring Swayze and C. Thomas Howell. When that production passed on using it, Swayze was free to resurrect it for Dirty Dancing. Due to the film’s low budget and lack of funds for music licensing, Swayze and co-writer Stacy Widelitz were able to retain 100 percent of the publishing rights—a lucrative arrangement after the song became a hit.
5. Dirty Dancing almost landed Swayze his own fragrance.
With Dirty Dancing, Swayze became a recognized movie star. That success, he told People in 1988, led to a series of offers that he found bewildering. “There are people who want me to do a cologne,” he said. “They want to call it Patrick. I was offered a fortune to make exercise videos. Posters, all kinds of stuff—something like $10 million worth. It’s insanity. I’m not going to do any of it.” Swayze instead chose to do 1989’s bar bouncer epic Road House, which performed only modestly at the box office but has since become a cult classic.
6. Patrick Swayze wasn’t the first choice for Ghost.
A perennial favorite among Swayze fans, 1990’s Ghost features the actor as Sam Wheat, a murdered man who returns as a spirit to communicate with his widow (Demi Moore). In 1990, director Jerry Zucker told People that Swayze was not his first choice for Wheat, due to a pair of knuckle-dusting action movies the actor had made in 1989: Road House and Next of Kin. That changed once Swayze read a key scene from the script in Zucker’s office. “We all had tears in our eyes, right there in the office—and we knew how it ends,” Zucker said. “I saw a side of Patrick that I never knew existed.” Ghost became Swayze’s biggest hit by far, grossing nearly $218 million.
7. It was surfing, not skydiving, that made Point Break so dangerous for Patrick Swayze.
For 1991’s Point Break, Swayze portrayed Bodhi, a Zen master of a bank robber with a taste for adrenaline. The actor reportedly went on an estimated 50 jumps to prepare for the film, though the insurance company eventually asked him to stop. This was something Swayze found puzzling, as he considered surfing the far more dangerous activity of the two. “The funny thing was, it was a joke for the insurance company to give me such a battle about the skydiving, when, statistically, skydiving has become one of the safest sports around,” Swayze told the Morning Call in 1991. “It’s safer than driving your car to work ... they didn’t say one word about this surfing.” Swayze said he slammed into coral reefs and was held under water, making it substantially more of a threat than anything else.
8. The I Am Patrick Swayze documentary set a ratings record.
Swayze passed away 10 years ago, on September 14, 2009, at age 57 from pancreatic cancer. His life and work were recently celebrated in the Paramount Network documentary I Am Patrick Swayze. The film, which features comments from Lisa Swayze, Demi Moore, Sam Elliott, and several of his friends and co-stars, premiered August 18, 2019, and earned a total of 2 million viewers, making it the most-watched cable personality documentary of the year.