Like millions of other fans around the world, I was saddened to learn of Patrick Swayze’s recent passing from pancreatic cancer. He fought hard up until the very end, living up to the legendary strength and passion so many of us ascribed to him.
Though we only knew him as sensitive, loyal Sam Wheat (Ghost) or hardscrabble, dewy-chested Johnny Castle (Dirty Dancing), Swayze had an impact on his female viewers that transcended the actual films he starred in and wound its way into our psyches. I’ve probably seen Dirty Dancing 20 times, and remember watching, a slack-jawed and impressionable 11-year-old girl in 1987, as Johnny fell in love, against the odds, with Baby. Jennifer Grey was not the prettiest girl in the movie. She had a big nose. She was goofy and Jewish and had curly, kinky hair. She was an outsider. But Johnny saw the kindness and heart behind the schnoz and their resulting love story boosted the hopes of ugly ducklings everywhere. “WE could marry our own Patrick Swayze!” we thought. “WE don’t need to change our looks to find true love! That could be US lying, sweaty and content, in his steamy bunkhouse after a romantic dip in the lake!” (Alas, in the ultimate case of Do As I Say, Not As I Do, we all know what happened to Jennifer Grey when a real-life nose job rendered her virtually unrecognizable…)
In Ghost, Swayze’s Sam Wheat played an eternally-dedicated husband to Demi Moore. Now, I’m not about to argue that Demi Moore is not conventionally beautiful, because she is, clearly, stunning. But in Ghost, Moore rocked a super-short, almost boyish hairdo. This was important in terms of opening viewers’ eyes to new standards of gorgeousness, told us that we don’t have to grow our hair long or dye it blond to be gorgeous and sexy and feminine. Not to make a mountain out of a molehill, as Ghost was about everlasting love, not short hair, but just like Christina Hendricks on Mad Men is helping curvy women feel sexier, so too did Moore’s Molly Jensen and her pixie cut.
In To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, Swayze played a drag queen by the name of Vida Boheme. Again, I know this sounds like a major stretch, but manly man Swayze took a risk dressing in drag, as did his costars Noxeema Jackson (Wesley Snipes) and Chi-Chi Rodriguez (John Leguizamo). His character was a man in woman’s clothing who handily convinced other fellas that he was all-lady. Faced with one town's small-mindedness, Swayze and Co. give women in town fabulous makeovers, then take their mission even further by helping a local woman escape an abusive marriage. The role showed that there’s more to being a true lady than having a vagina, that ALL women need to stick together…and that a nearly 6-foot tall man with major quads and biceps can rock a pencil skirt.