Lisa Niemi Swayze and others close to the star open up in the film I Am Patrick Swayze
Ten years after his death, Patrick Swayze is being remembered for his remarkable life and legacy.
Both a classically trained ballet dancer and a rugged cowboy, Swayze captured hearts in 1987’s Dirty Dancing and 1990’s Ghost—but he also grappled with demons including alcoholism and the lingering effects of a sometimes-difficult childhood.
In the end, Swayze “showed himself to be a true hero in how he approached his disease,” his widow Lisa Niemi Swayze, 63, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “The amount of lovingness and kindness, I saw wisdom in him that was beyond anything I’d seen before.”
For more about Swayze, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday.
Growing up in Houston, Swayze was constantly pushed by his mom, Patsy, a choreographer who founded the Houston Jazz Ballet Company. While he would later credit her for his strong work ethic, her demand for perfectionism at times veered into physical abuse.
The actor’s mom “was really an example of what happens in families in a cycle of abuse,” Lisa says in the film. “She could be very violent, but it was nothing compared to what she endured growing up and the stories I heard about what she went through with her own mother.”
Swayze often privately recounted the story of his 18th birthday, when Patsy was “laying into him” before his father told his wife that he would divorce her if she touched their son again. “She never hit him after that,” Lisa tells PEOPLE.
When Swayze moved out on his own, “he became very aware of the positive and the negative aspects of how he was raised,” says Lisa, who met her husband when she was 15 at his mom’s dance studio and married him in 1975. “But you know what, if somebody pushes you that hard, like his mom did, it could make some people cave, but it made him fight harder.”
Over the years, he and Patsy “came to have a much better relationship,” adds Lisa. “Patsy could be extremely critical and negative. But she figured out that if she was going to be around us, she needed to be a little nicer, and that’s what she did.”
Swayze and his mother stayed close until his death—Patsy died four years after him in 2013 at the age of 86—but they never spoke of the abuse. “I think she would say, ‘Well, you know, sometimes I could be strict, I’m that kind of a teacher,’ ” Lisa recalls. “She was a complicated woman, intense and an amazing life force. Patrick absolutely loved and respected her.”
I Am Patrick Swayze, produced by Derik Murray of Network Entertainment and directed by Adrian Buitenhuis, premieres on Aug. 18, which would have been Swayze’s 67th birthday, on Paramount Network.