Patrick Swayze, who died Monday at age 57 after a long and much-publicized battle with pancreatic cancer, became a big star after the huge success of two romantic dramas, Dirty Dancing and Ghost. Those films also turned Swayze into a sex symbol.
But I much preferred the grace and poise Swayze brought to his tough-guy roles: The exasperated older brother of two poor Tulsa orphans in The Outsiders; the defacto leader of a gang of youthful rebels fighting off Russian invaders in Red Dawn; the bouncer hired to clean up the toughest honkytonk bar on the planet in the guilty pleasure Road House; the mastermind behind a pack of surfing bank robbers in Point Break.
There was a nobility to Swayze that came across in his screen performances, and his choices of roles - including a drag queen in To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar and a pedophile in Donnie Darko - were indicative of a confident actor willing to take chances with his People-anointed mantle of "Sexiest Man Alive." I don't know anyone who would describe Swayze as a great actor. But he enjoyed a popularity and public good will talent alone cannot guarantee.