“Nobody puts baby in a corner.”
Is there anyone on the planet who doesn’t know the famous line uttered by Patrick Swayze’s character Johnny Castle in the 1987 film Dirty Dancing?
But the reality was that no one could corner Swayze. The star died in 2009 at the age of 57 from pancreatic cancer and to this day it is rare that one turns on the television and does not see one of his films or a TV special about him playing. (This month, ABC News’ “super starseries introduced the hit actor, dancer and action star, while in February Fox hosted a special celebrity dance competition series, The Real Dirty Dancing, which saw celebrities reliving the film’s memorable dance moments in hopes of having the next baby and become Johnny. )
Neal Fischer, host of the “Triviality” podcast and lifelong Swayze fan, has spent the last five to six years writing a tribute to Swayze’s cleverness. In “Being Patrick Swayze: Essential Lessons from the Master of the Mullet”, (posted Tuesday), the resident of the western suburb of LaGrange takes readers through the late actor’s personal and professional life with behind-the-scenes stories, Easter egg fun bits you didn’t know you missed, fashion tips, quizzes, an official Road House drinks menu, advice and wisdom drawn from Swayze’s roles and passion for the arts.
We spoke to Fischer about why Patrick Swayze has stayed in our hearts and minds to this day. The interview was shortened and edited for clarity.
Q: Was this more of a book for Swayze fans, or more of an introduction to his world for those who haven’t really delved into his repertoire?
A: It’s a bit of both. When I initially put it up, I assumed I was just a huge fan of his, a huge pop culture fan in general, and a movie nerd. When we were designing the book’s structure, we said it had to do two things: It should be something that die-hard Swayze fans will love. So there are a lot of references to his films and lines and even to the more obscure films. But it must also hopefully welcome a new generation of fans who may not know much about him. I tried to draw the line between these two.
The book was originally titled Feng Swayze. He was multifaceted, a renaissance man in terms of talent, and there aren’t many actors like him. I found it interesting in the 80’s and 90’s that he had all these talents and maybe he didn’t use them all to the best of his ability when it came to big projects. Whenever he did something popular, he always took a left turn so as not to be that guy. When he had “Dirty Dancing,” he could have done 100 other movies like this and made millions of dollars, but he’s like, “No, I’m going to do some different types of movies and different types of roles.” And have some of them didn’t work, but you have to respect that he tried something different each time and tried to stand out from every other teen idol or leading man trope.
Q: How did Swayze come into your life?
A: When I was maybe five or a little younger, my aunt took care of me in her apartment. And I remember she had a VHS of Youngblood with Swayze and Rob Lowe. I didn’t particularly like hockey for some reason, but I watched this movie over and over again. (Swayze) had this really dramatic turn – this guy whose only dream is to play pro hockey who gets badly injured and can’t play.
I knew him, but I didn’t know much about him. By elementary school, one of the girls I went to school with loved, “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.” I saw him in that film and what I really liked about Swayze was that he was a great athlete. I played baseball, basketball, soccer and Australian football throughout elementary school, but I also had this artistic urge. I started watching his movies and he played a really cool villain in Point Break, but then he dances in that movie and he’s not ashamed of it.
When I was a freshman in high school, I saw auditions for a play. And I thought, ‘Well, if he can be an athlete and then play these romantic roles or be a sex symbol or dance, then I’ll do it.’ I ended up auditioning for the play and from that moment on I was in plays and musicals; I was all about art and performing and I think he opened me up to this world which got me to where I am now which I’m grateful for.
Q: You got a quote from Swayze’s widow on the book cover, was it difficult to get her involved with the book idea?
A: Chronicle Books said: “We love this idea. We just want to make sure we live up to that, and if you can receive the blessing of his widow, Lisa Niemi Swayze, we’d love to go on this journey with you.” I sent her the outline and all the materials. She thought this was a really fun idea. Later drafts I sent to her and her sister in law who was a great help and they loved all the stuff in the book which was a great seal of approval. I wrote a heartfelt letter about how big a fan I was of his. I finally got in touch with her and her sister in law, they were just wonderful and lovely in everything.
In addition, Lisa is very involved Pancreatic Cancer Action Network that helps those suffering from pancreatic cancer or the family members trying to fight it. My sister-in-law lost her mother to pancreatic cancer just before I started writing the book. She had a really tough fight, but she fought for a really long time. And she was a big fan of Swayze in the way he fought the disease. I also wanted to do my part to help his legacy because I feel like he has been very inspirational to people suffering from cancer.
Q: Did you do your own Swayze tour around the country?
A: I hope to visit them (Swayze spots) this summer. Speaking of dirty dancing, you can stay at Mountain Lake Lodge in Virginia, and you can actually stay at Baby’s cabin where they filmed the movie. They have the pavilion there where Baby talks to her father and they have a memorial rock there with an inscription to Swayze near the pond where they made the dance procession in his honor. This is a place I want to go to.
There’s a huge community in Tulsa, Oklahoma where they filmed The Outsiders. you can go there It is a mini museum. You have a lot of memorabilia. They have a wall where everyone in town who has been in the film, including big stars like Rob Lowe and Matt Dillon, have all signed the wall and they have screenings of the films there. C. Thomas Howell will come and play country music. I’m really looking forward to going there because Tulsa has become sort of like SE Hinton’s expanded universe because she’s written a lot of books that are set in Tulsa and she’s still based there.
I accidentally found on Instagram when I typed in Patrick Swayze that there is a bar in Nashville called the Centennial Inn. They have a huge mural of Swayze on the side of their bar. I reached out to the bar owner who said ‘come down, you have to take a picture every August 18th, it’s Swayze’s birthday, we’re having a big Swayze Celebration at the bar with specialty drinks and all.”
Q: Were there any surprises or secrets you found out while walking the Swayze path?
A: The biggest thing I found really fascinating was his struggle with injuries… how many adversities he overcame with injuries. When he was in high school he had ambitions to be a football player and then he injured his knee horribly. Once he healed that, he thought I might want to do gymnastics if he hurts the same knee again. He had all these ambitions to be an athlete, but then he focused it all on the dance. The strict work schedule in New York, the different ballets he acted in, his knee had to be drained every day. You follow your dream and do everything you can to focus, your mind is sharp, you try your best and then your body fails you. Every movie he’s done, everyone we love, his knee has always bothered him or injured him in some way. In Dirty Dancing, his famous scene on the log, he talks about his knee having no cartilage, bone rubbing against bone. When they did the lift in the water his knee killed him but he had to keep going and it was freezing. That’s why there are no close-ups in this shot because her lips were blue. He escaped death many times throughout his career.
Later in his career he did a movie where he was on a horse going at full speed and it threw him into a tree where he probably should have died on impact but he was able to move his body and broke both of them his legs and ripping tendons in his shoulder. He had all of that and yet he kept going. Most people would put it on and say, “Okay, I’ll do something less intense or I’ll do something lighter,” but he kept pushing and trying to be the best at everything he did. The other was his relationship with his wife. They have been creative partners all their lives. They pushed each other to get better. I loved the parallel of him trying to make the best possible career. His wife was also super creative, and she was a dancer and an integral part of his process as an actor.
I saw this parallel with me and my partner Colleen – you can be in a relationship where both people are very ambitious or very creative and supportive of each other and it’s not a competition. This is how we can navigate this world together and help each other so that we can both be successful and make it together.
Q: Swayze’s secret recipe, if you could sum it up in three or four words. what would they be
A: Drive would be one because I think what sets him apart from everyone else was his relentless drive to succeed.
Passion would be another. He was so excited about so many different things. He was a musician. He wrote She’s Like the Wind: it took them ages to put it on an album, and he finally got it on Dirty Dancing when it was supposed to be on the Grandview, USA soundtrack. He is a passionate husband. He has a passion for animals, a passion for his career in art. So that would be the second word.
The third word would be humble. At the peak of his powers, he was always humble. He knew who he was. He was just a guy from Texas who was good at dancing, who loved acting but never had a big head about it.
The last words would be tender strength that really captures him. He could do films where he was the strong, muscular, tough guy, but he can also do films where he was tender, romantic and sentimental. That sets him apart from many other actors.