Patrick Swayze loses cancer battle

The Hollywood actor Patrick Swayze, best known for his roles in hit films Dirty Dancing and Ghost, dies after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

Patrick Swayze and his wife Lisa Niemi pose before attending a film premiere in London in 2005.
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The Hollywood actor Patrick Swayze, best known for his roles in hit films Dirty Dancing and Ghost, died yesterday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, his publicist said. The 57-year-old, whose other films included the surfing thriller Point Break, died after suffering complications from the illness, Swayze's publicist confirmed. "Patrick Swayze passed away peacefully today with family at his side after facing the challenges of his illness for the last 20 months," a statement said.

The California governor and former Hollywood action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger led the tributes to Swayze, describing him as a "talented and passionate artist who struck a memorable chord with audiences throughout the world". "He played a wide range of characters both on stage and in movies and his celebrated performances made the hard work of acting look effortless, which I know from experience is not easy," Schwarzenegger said.

Swayze was diagnosed with advanced stage-four pancreatic cancer in January 2008, leaving him with only a one per cent chance of surviving longer than five years, according to medical experts. He bravely fought the disease in the public eye, continuing to work on set despite gruelling cancer treatment and significant weight loss. In January he slammed tabloid reporting of his condition in an interview with ABC television's Barbara Walters, where he bullishly declared that he was determined to beat his condition.

He told Walters he had tried to keep his illness secret but went public to protect family and friends after tabloids reported he was close to death. "Hope is a very, very fragile thing in anyone's life and the people I love do not need to have that hope robbed from them when it's unjustified and it's untrue," Swayze said. Yet only a few months later, Swayze's representative was forced to issue a condemnation of "reckless" reports saying the actor had died.

A lanky Texan with a dancer's easy grace, Swayze ? the son of a dance teacher and an engineering drafter ? had a string of hit films in the 1980s and 1990s. As a young man, he moved to New York city in 1972 for more formal dance training at the prestigious Harkness Ballet and Joffrey ballet schools. He scored a small-screen success in the 1985 television mini-series North and South, which was set in the American Civil War.

Swayze shot to superstardom in 1987 with his film Dirty Dancing, a steamy international blockbuster in which he played a dancing teacher to a young wallflower who starts to bloom. His wallflower co-star, actress Jennifer Grey said "when I think of him, I think of being in his arms when we were kids, dancing, practicing the lift in the freezing lake, having a blast doing this tiny little movie we thought no one would ever see".

Grey, now 49, told People magazine Swayze was a "real cowboy with a tender heart," who was so fearless doing his own stunts that "it was not surprising to me that the war he waged on his cancer was so courageous and dignified". His next big hit came in 1990s Ghost, where he starred opposite Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg in a hit romantic drama that won Goldberg an Oscar. Swayze followed that up with a memorable performance in the fast-paced action-thriller Point Break in 1991, where he played the charismatic leader of a gang of surfing bank-robbers being hunted by Keanu Reeves.

Throughout his career Swayze's wife Lisa Niemi ? whom he married in 1975 ? remained a constant source of inspiration for many of his roles. "Lisa and I have built just about every character I've done," he told People magazine in 2007. "You have to understand, we have an ease.... We've been partners for a long time." Though ailing, Swayze, unbowed, recently acted for five months in the television series The Beast, in which he played an FBI agent.