Patrick Swayze lost his battle with pancreatic cancer Monday. He was 57.
“Patrick Swayze passed away peacefully today with family at his side after facing the challenges of his illness for the last 20 months,” his rep tells PEOPLE in a statement.
A gifted dancer, a rugged outdoorsman, a romantic leading man and a loving husband, Swayze was also, as his brother Don put it, “a warrior” in his cancer fight. Appearing on Nightline, ABC’s Barbara Walters, who conducted one of the last in-depth interviews with the actor, reported that Swayze was with his wife, Lisa Niemi, and brother during his final hours at his ranch in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains near Los Angeles.
“Patrick was a really good man, a funny man and one to whom I owe much that I can’t ever repay,” says Whoopi Goldberg, who starred with Swayze in one of his biggest movies, Ghost. “I believe in Ghost‘s message, so he’ll always be near.”
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“Patrick lived a hundred lifetimes in one,” adds Rob Lowe, who appeared with Swayze in The Outsiders and Youngblood. “I will remember him for that, and I will remember him for how much he loved his wife Lisa. He was such an intense actor, so full of passion and vigor. He definitely made the most out of it. It’s a sad day.”
Swayze continued working on his A&E series The Beast even as he underwent chemotherapy – and never lost hope. About his prognosis, he did admit in the Barbara Walters interview that aired in January, “There’s a lot of fear here. Yeah, I’m scared. Yeah, I’m angry. Yeah, I’m [asking], ‘Why me?’ ”
A month before, Swayze had issued a statement to PEOPLE addressing speculation about his health, saying that such questions “cast a negative shadow on the positive and good fight I’m fighting.”
One of five children raised in Houston, Texas, by Patsy, a dance teacher, and Jesse, a champion rodeo cowboy, Swayze grew up dancing in his mom’s studio and met his future wife when the two teenagers were both students there.
It was the beginning of one of Hollywood’s most enduring romances: Swayze and Niemi, 53, were married 34 years.
Over the years, the couple – both pilots who often flew together and who shared a love of horseback riding and the outdoors – would see Swayze’s career take off.
Dirty Dancing and Ghost
After breaking through in 1983’s The Outsiders, he secured a spot in movie romance history with iconic turns in 1987’s Dirty Dancing and 1990’s Ghost. In all his roles, he cited Lisa as an inspiration.
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“Lisa and I have built just about every character I’ve done,” he told PEOPLE in 2007. “You have to understand, we have an ease. … We’ve been partners for a long time.”
It was Lisa who proved a “pillar of strength” during the trying past year, said her brother-in-law Don. United in their focus to overcome the awful odds – pancreatic cancer has just a 5 percent survival rate within five years of diagnosis – the couple maintained a fierce determination.
In fall 2008, he told The New York Times that although chemo had been “hell on wheels,” he refused to quit fighting.
“There is probably that little bird that flies through your insides and says, ‘I sure would like to make a mark in life,'” he said. “I’ve made a pretty decent mark so far – nothing to scoff at. But it does make you think: Wait a minute. There’s more I want to do. Lots more. Get on with it.”