The Greatest Actor That Ever Lived

Wednesday 16 September 2009

Patrick Swayze died this week. He’d been sick for a some time but it looked like he was going to get better, even though the odds were well stacked against him. Even so he was gonna do everything he could to fight and keep going, and he did. When questioned about why he took on the series The Beast (which is pretty good as cops shows go) he said:

How do you nurture a positive attitude when all the statistics say you’re a dead man? You go to work.

You’ve gotta admire an attitude like that.

I found out, like most people I suppose, about Patrick’s death on Tuesday morning while reading the online papers. It caught me completely guard. I suddenly felt hollow as if my insides removed. I was miserable all day, and today I would every now and then become all sad. I been a surprise to realise that Patrick met that much to me.

He is, of course, the star of one of my favourite ever movies. Dirty Dancing – I love that film. I am guaranteed, every time, to weep for joy when he says that immortal line: “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.” Ah – my heart swoons just typing it! Usually, by this late stage in the film, I am leaping for joy, hugging my pillow, and feeling such happiness for Johnny Castle – he stood up for what he believed in! Usually, I pour myself another glass and sit back, with the biggest smile, and overwhelm myself with Johnny and Baby’s wonderful dance, a routine that is has been described as “the most goose bump-inducing dance scene in movie history”. When she leaps into his arms and he lifts her into the air I can’t see the screen for the tears.

I’ve seen most of his movies; I own a few. Ghost is another great tissue box film, a joyous lovey-dove murder movie (when Molly at the end replies “Ditto” – guaranteed water works). There’s such a fine line in making films like that – too smaltzy and it turns off the fellers, not enough and it backs away the dames. But who could not love this:

Ghost could just about be the perfect date movie. I mean, it’s got Patrick Swayze in it – how can a bloke not like it! He’s tough, he’s a fighter. He was in Road House for goodness sake!

Ah, Road House.

Now is this a guilty delight! Nominated in the 1989 Razzie Awards for Worst Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, Director, and Screenplay, loosing to Star Trek V and William Shatner (both as director and actor) in 3 of the 5 categories, Road House was once named the Cheesiest Movie of All Time. What can you think of a film that begins with a man stitching his own arm injury up (a scene blatently stolen from Rambo’s First Blood) and ends with the baddy being shot down by a barrage of his former employees, throwing him backwards and shattering a glass coffee table? This cinematic pleasure is a pure colour-by-numbers movie where the bad guys are soooooo obviously the bad guys, the good guys are honest hard-working guys just trying to make it in this life, and the women are honest hard-working women just trying to make it in this life without having to resort to prostitution. it is loud, violent and pointless – how can you not LOVE a movie like that!?

Sometimes, on a weekend night, I take the phone off the hook, turn off all the lights, order a family sized pizza, crack open a six pack, pull the doona over my head, and settle in for a night of Patrick Swayze playing heart-of-gold Dalton – the character doesn’t even have a first name, how fucking cool is that!

I could go on and discuss why every Patrick film is a great film. To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar is, believe it, a pretty good film and more a victim of bad timing coming out a year after The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I remember once reading that Wong Foo was actually made and was in the can before Priscilla but was delayed for whatever reason. Be that as it may, Patrick Swayze is fun as a drag queen and has two of the best pins ever to grace celluloid. In Donnie Darko (though a film I dislike immensely) he is pure self-righteous ooze – the clothes in the “Cunning Visions” informercial were his left overs from his 80’s days, the house was his too. Going way back to the beginning of his film career he was beautiful in The Outsiders, not that I remember too much. While it was a constantly-watched film in my tepid school years, all I recall is Patrick holding C Thomas Howell in a head lock… Patrick had great guns. I think that’s when I fell in love with him.

“Yes, thank you Clyde,” I hear you say, “All very good, but to call Patrick Swayze the Greatest Actor That Ever Lived? Seriously?

The thing that I love so much about Patrick is, well, he really wasn’t that good an actor, but I want you to think of it this way: Consider those that are considered the great actors, Laurence Olivier, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Steven Seagal, Maggie Smith, Meryl Streep, the list goes on. All of these actors are great, I mean, really great actors. What they have created in their times are characters you can truthfully believe in and journey with. They have continued to create some of the most powerful performances in cinema history. BUT, and here’s the but, now consider when these actors – how you say? – don’t perform so well.

Brando waddling about in The Island of Dr. Moreau. Pacino chewing the scenery in Dick Tracy. De Niro hamming it up so much that vegetarians feel naucious in, well, everything he has done for the last 10 years. Maggie and Laurence both have/had the tendancy to scene steal (perhaps a hangover from the stage days?). Meryl, on the other hand, while absolutely perfect, does do some strange things with her mouth.

My point is, and I do have one, is that all of these actors, as great as they are, have done bad work, and that, in my opinion, lessons they wattage, bringing them down the grimy levels of everyone else. Patrick, on the other hand, a man with a limited range (having the gamut of emotions from Earnest Put Upon Outsider, to Earnest System Fighting Outsider) made his crappy lines and truck-sized hole filled storylines work. He got in there and gave it a red hot go and made it happen, and, every now and then, he shone above them all. His performance – his last performance – in the TV show The Beast is phenomenal.

He could dance, he could sing. He did Broadway (both Grease and Chicago), he did the West End (Guys and Dolls). He knew when to fight for a part (, and he knew when to decline (he turned down $6M for a Dirty Dancing 2). Patrick knew what he had and pushed it to create classic characters that are powerful and iconic.

And that’s why he was the greatest actor that ever lived.

Patrick Swayze was great. That’s the only way to describe him: great. So, thank you Patrick, I’ve had the time of my life.

I think others would agree. If you’re not one of the 6 and a half million people who have already seen this, enjoy, then go here and see the feel-good moment of 2008. This is the magic of Patrick.