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Arts and Entertainment

Community swayed by loss of Swayze

By Jane Qu
Published: September 2009

Triple threat, Patrick Swayze, an actor, dancer, and singer-songwriter, died on September 14 after fighting against cancer for almost two years. Some South students may know him from Dirty Dancing, others may know him from his recent battle with pancreatic cancer, and others may never have heard of him at all. Though he is not as well known as certain other actors, Swayze leaves behind a small legacy of his own within the South community.

Swayze began his career as a professional dancer before segueing into acting in his late 20s. His career spanned over almost 30 years and numerous movies, though the role that people remember most is his portrayal of Johnny Castle in Dirty Dancing. This low-budget film did not star any well-known actors, but still became a surprise success upon its release in 1987.

Though Swayze never became an important icon for Science teacher Derek Van Beever, he still remembers the phenomenon. “Everyone saw [Dirty Dancing]. Everyone knew the music, he said.

The movie included romance, rebellion, and well-known original songs, but dancing, obviously, was the most important component. “Most of the dancing in the film happens to have Latino origins, senior Lucky Liyanage said. “I think the movie brought that type of dancing into the spotlight.

Math teacher Margery Waldron also admired Swayze’s abilities. “He was a very talented athlete. I read he did all his own stunts in Dirty Dancing, which was pretty amazing, Waldron said.

Though the movie resonated among audiences during that time, English and Film Studies teacher David Weintraub actually prefers some of Swayze’s other films to Dirty Dancing.

Weintraub describes Swayze as an actor that could uniquely balance both the serious and ridiculously comical elements into his performances. The movie Point Break, for example, amusingly combines bank robberies with surfing, skydiving, and extreme football.

“I think Patrick Swayze’s star persona fluctuates between heartthrob and laughing stock, he said. “When you watch a good Patrick Swayze performance, you’re not sure if you love him or if you want to laugh at him.
Dirty Dancing, and his other relatively well-known film Ghost, fail to capture this fusion of comedy and drama. “It’s all this very serious tone, Weintraub said. “There’s got to be an element of self-conscious humor in it. Red Dawn and Point Break are those two towering achievements.

Though Swayze’s illness was publicized in the media, his death has not had the same impact on South students as other deaths of this past year. The reason for this difference is partially that Swayze was considered a heartthrob for an earlier generation.

Senior Lia Pagliuso has never seen a Swayze film, but knows about him because of his fame during her parents’ generation.

“I’m guessing the adult reaction is much stronger than the students’, Pagliuso said. “I remember how when Heath Ledger died, the entire youth population was devastated since he was such an icon for our generation. I’m guessing Patrick Swayze was a similar icon for the adult generation.

Swayze may not have been an extremely influential icon, but his illness still moved many people.

“It’s terrible that anyone has to die from cancer, Van Beever said. “Though it wasn’t the passing of an icon, in that sense, I was moved. Van Beever, however, does not agree with the media’s portrayal of Swayze’s illness. “One thing I have noticed is the obsession of tabloid media when someone is suffering from an illness. I think it’s disgusting that the tabloids would prey on any person’s last days and use it to sell magazines.

At the same time, Swayze always carried his illness with an optimistic attitude. He wanted to be known as a fighter, and never lost sight of his passion for acting. He continued working even after being diagnosed until his illness became too severe for him to continue.

“I thought he was very, very brave and dignified, Waldron said. “He never let it conquer him. It conquered his body, but not his spirit. I really admire that.

In the end, Swayze will primarily be remembered for his contributions to the art world through his performance in Dirty Dancing. People from many different generations continue to watch this particular film.
“He had that one good movie that sparked this shift in dancing and music, Liyanage said. “That’s what makes his death sad.

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