When he died, every single woman of Generation X, at least the white ones, posted, “No one puts Baby in a corner.” Except those of us who thought to ourselves about how that right jolly old elf better make out his will. I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen Road House. Once. Maybe twice. But it is still, by an associative property, the first movie I think of when I think of Patrick Swayze, even if others are close on its heels. I’m not sure what he would have thought of that; I’m not sure if he knew about the song and, if so, what his response to it was.
His mother was a choreographer who was hit by a car as a child and given dance lessons as therapy. (My aunt, considerably younger than Patsy Swayze, was given dance lessons as therapy when recuperating from polio!) Young Patrick was an extremely athletic person; he ice skated, danced ballet, played football, and practiced martial arts. He went to New York to study dance; acting appears to have been initially a secondary interest of his. He blew out a knee, ending hopes of a football scholarship to college.
It’s easy to say that his primary asset was his physical abilities. I’m not trying to dispute the physical abilities, goodness knows; he got his start as a dancer for Disney, and he would catapult to stardom in Dirty Dancing. But also, even in those early years, there was clear evidence that he actually could act. If you haven’t seen his guest appearance on M*A*S*H, seek it out. He plays a young, not terribly bright, soldier whose best friend needs a blood transfusion—which he cannot give, because he turns out to have leukemia, a death sentence in the early ‘50s. It’s an amazing performance in a one-shot character.
When Tom Cruise dies, I will watch the hell out of The Outsiders, where he plays the small but pivotal role of Darrel, the oldest of the Curtis brothers. Of course there’s Dirty Dancing, which I have seen I don’t know how many times and which requires more acting of him than people realize and also, you know, that’s some great dancing. (Life paired him with Ginger Rogers in their tribute to 1939; she said she hadn’t seen it because the title turned her off. Not that she phrased it that way.) He annoyed the bejeezus out of his wife in the lead-up to making To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar, because he followed her around, copying her mannerisms. And women too old to be in Dirty Dancing’s key demographic can still have Ghost.
I’m seldom on board with People in their “sexiest man alive” listing. Leaving aside that, you know, Antonio Banderas is still alive, I generally disagree with their definition of honorees as sexy. I seldom find them unattractive, but “sexy” has a pretty specific definition for me. Matt Damon isn’t sexy. He’s handsome in a wholesome sort of way. Several of their actual cover photos have given off “your cousin’s new boyfriend” energy. Patrick Swazye, though, was definitely sexy.