Pop Culture

Here's Why Patrick Swayze Is the GOAT of Houston Actors

Paula Abdul and Patrick Swayze at the 1990 Grammy Awards
Paula Abdul and Patrick Swayze at the 1990 Grammy Awards Photo by Alan Light/Wikimedia Commons
Dirty Dancing opened on August 17, 1987, and for a lot of people who dig romantic dancing movies, that’s a big deal. It’s an even bigger deal if you respect the fine footwork and action hero skills of the late H-town legend, Mr. Patrick Swayze.

Patrick Wayne “Buddy” Swayze wasn’t just a big deal because of that movie, though; he was unforgettable in a number of films. What made him such a great actor was his ability not only to severely beat up the bad guys and kill them with speed and grace, but to follow it up by doing ballet pirouettes in other movies, just like his mom Patsy taught him.

On film he was a lover, a fighter, a Buddhist Zen philosopher surfer, a postapocalyptic cowboy, a working-class Polish-American rebel, a survivalist guerilla and a roller-skating dancer (actually, he was way more than that; the man had range). If Bruce Lee were a white guy from northwest Houston, he might have been something like The Swayze.
Dozens upon dozens of actors from Houston have “made it,” but The Swayze, a triple threat of the stage and screen who died September 14, 2009, from cancer, is easily the GOAT of Houston thespians.

A Texas Monthly article from December 1987 compares The Swayze with Dennis Quaid, Houston’s other big-time Hollywood star. Seems the two became breakout actors around the same time and had a lot in common, although for comparison’s sake The Swayze had a much more interesting upbringing. Not only did he grow up learning to dance and even got paid to ice-skate at The Galleria, but he also roped cattle and did all manner of cowboy-ing. Swayze was a man’s man, but also light enough on his feet that he could take anyone’s girl.

There are a lot of ways to parse The Swayze’s OG status in the entertainment world. The best way, however, is probably to look at his film résumé of cult classics. The Swayze was a badass and a heartthrob, and no one could do it like he did.

Red Dawn vs. Road House
The Swayze in throat-ripping mode. - YOUTUBE SCREEN SHOT
The Swayze in throat-ripping mode.
YouTube screen shot
Ever see someone get his throat ripped out in a movie? That happened in 1989's Road House, which Swayze has said was a movie he prepared for his whole career. You see balletic violence in that movie, you see The Swayze take Kelly Lynch against the wall in that movie, and The Swayze did a lot of his own stunts, making sure the flick has a realistic flow, all the body shots he said in an interview were the real thing.

While Road House had Swayze playing a bouncer-lover, one of his earliest movies, Red Dawn, had The Swayze pulling triggers on some huge guns. He was all fury as a survival leader waging war against the Russians in that movie, not yet the seasoned actor at that point. The fact there were no ballet kicks to the head makes Red Dawn slightly unimpressive when strictly speaking on The Swayze canon. But it’s overall a good flick to bring to your next Conservative-movie watch party.
Next of Kin vs. Steel Dawn

In his post-Dirty Dancing days, it seemed like The Swayze could get anything greenlit in Hollywood. That’s why one year you'd see him killing postapocalyptic mutants with the finest of swordplay and the next he was using some backcountry methods to dispatch a bunch of Chicago mafia types with Liam Neeson in Next of Kin.

Both movies feature that Swayze glare that said, “I might just tap-dance on your face if you keep pushing me.”
Uncommon Valor vs. The Outsiders

The Swayze had barely acted in action movies when he did Uncommon Valor, a 1983 Gene Hackman war movie. In it he takes a decent butt-kicking, but also shows off some sweet martial-arts moves. His technique would serve him well years later when he shot Road House, all legit action hero-style.

In The Outsiders, a collection of some of the kindest-looking young actors in Hollywood at the time, Swayze’s job was to play big brother. While The Swayze wasn’t the young buck that Charlie Sheen or Tom Cruise were in the film, he was perfect playing against them as the authority figure.
Pabst Blue Ribbon commercial vs. Swayze Dancing instructional video

The Swayze was all about his family; that’s why his mom, wife and sister were featured in this instructional video that came out in 1988, a year after he was megafamous and basically set for life. It’s still the definitive Dirty Dancing instructional video.
Prior to showcasing his self-defense skills (as well as his comedy), The Swayze had to pay the bills. He was already a classically trained dancer on Broadway, and by the 1970s he was in a national commercial for Pabst Blue Ribbon.

"She’s Like the Wind" vs. "Raising Heaven (In Hell Tonight)"
A lot of people may not know that The Swayze had the voice of an angel. It’s his versatility as an entertainer that really solidified his GOAT status. He not only made hit movies, but also hit records. How long can the list be for people who have their own songs playing in movies they are starring in? The Swayze accomplished that a long time ago.

“She’s Like the Wind,” which plays on a car radio during one of those sappy quiet scenes in Dirty Dancing, was his biggest musical hit. He followed it up by singing songs for his other big 1980s movies. "Raising Heaven (In Hell Tonight)" was on the Road House soundtrack. Yes, the Swayze was a man whose cup overflowed with all of his talents.

And on this 30th anniversary of his first big hit movie, let’s not remember him just for knocking his Johnny Castle role out of the park. Let’s also remember him as being one of Houston’s greatest performers of all time.

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Camilo Hannibal Smith started writing for the Houston Press in 2014. A former copy editor, he was inspired to focus on writing about pop culture and entertainment after a colleague wrote a story about Paul Wall's grills. His work has been published in the Los Angeles Times and the Source magazine.