By now you’ve heard that Patrick Swayze has died. He described himself as a spiritual “seeker.” And you’ve probably read or heard or watched quite a bit about his life. Allow me to add these few words, a few which may not be eloquent but which I’ve not seen elsewhere.
1. Patrick Swayze was a spiritual guy. He came from Catholicism. He tried Adventism. He tried Buddhism. In the end, he wanted to “give back.” He knew he’d been blessed with a great career. He knew that “Dirty Dancing” had originally been financed as a tax shelter and ended up being a surprise success. His approach was practical, as he knew that the dance moves which came from ballet training would mix with the macho image he’d built from “The Outsiders” and “Red Dawn” to help him emerge as a strong guy who had great moves…and a great future.
2. Patrick Swayze starred in a movie that probably was the best received “afterlife” film since “Heaven Can Wait,” and one of the most enduring of our time. In “Ghost,” Swayze played a sympathetic and strong character who had some business to complete before he moved on to his final resting place. For a generation that was appalled by the Religious Right yet figured there was something spiritual out there somewhere, “Ghost” probably fit the bill for teaching about Heaven for a whole generation…at least until the “Left Behind” series came out. Swayze was believable as the imperfect human guy who needed to make things right.
3. Beyond his ballet moves, dance steps and action-figure attraction was a guy who was as believable as a justice seeker on screen as he was as a vulnerable human being in live stage drama. In “Red Dawn,” he was one of the young, lone Americans who fought to protect us from a surprise (if not implausible) Russian attack. In “Road House,” he fit the bill as the classy, above-the-fray cooler whose band of bouncers joined his cause and defeated the bad guys. And in the aforementioned “Ghost,” he made things right not only in this life (for his Demi Moore) but for eternity. In a time when our culture was rejecting the religious televangelists who preached about Heaven and Hell, the national audience had few issues with Swayze’s victory and his friend’s banishment to eternal damnation. In “Point Break,” he played the guy who knew there was more to life than what most of us have and he was looking for it WAY outside the nine dots. Yet, at the same time, he could go on stage in “Saturday Night Live” and make fun of himself as a Chippendale’s dancer upstaged by, well, Chris Farley! In retrospect, that was great bit. But at the time, it took courage, transparency and an incredible esteem to step forward for that bit.
At least for now, it’s hard to imagine an actor from our generation who could be the good guy and the bad guy, the bouncer and the ballet guy, the lover and the warrior, the friend to be trusted and the foe to be feared. For all of his popularity, he accomplished some things on screen that the critics may have missed.
But the audience did not.
May the Lord bless you and keep you, Patrick Swayze.