Driving home from an errand today, I heard “She’s Like the Wind” by Patrick Swayze on the car radio. Now, admittedly, it’s not a very good song. But I have a strict policy that I will not change the station whenever I hear it. Not for the reason you might think… that it was recorded by a talented actor whose life was cut tragically short at the age of 57, when he lost his battle against pancreatic cancer… but rather because of the four-year period when Patrick Swayze took over my life. Let me explain.
It all began in 1983, when Francis Ford Coppola directed and released The Outsiders, an adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s coming-of-age novel about rival groups of teens divided by their place in society. (It is incredible to note that Hinton wrote this book at the age of sixteen!) I was thirteen years old when the movie came out. The cast: Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Ralph Machio, C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Emilio Estevez, and Tom Cruise. One viewing and I was catapulted into puberty. My sisters and I taped the movie on our VCR and watched it every day for an entire summer. We memorized every line of dialogue and analyzed every nuance of the film. It wasn’t just the cute boys giving us our first taste of movie star crushes. It was the story itself… the drama, action, and conflict. We had never seen anything like it. Brothers Darry, Sodapop, and Ponyboy were supposed to be the “bad boys,” but they were a loving, loyal family with devoted friends. I’m ashamed to admit I never actually read the novel, but this movie will stay in my heart forever.
Two years later, Patrick Swayze starred in another project that grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go: North and South, the 1985 miniseries based on the Civil War trilogy by John Jakes. My life came to a standstill for a week as I soaked up every minute of this sweeping, epic, historical melodrama. It officially launched the “Civil War” period of my adolescence: this time I did read the John Jakes novels (all of them), and anything else I could get my hands on from this era. In North and South, Swayze played Orry Main, a plantation owner’s son from South Carolina who meets and befriends a young man from Pennsylvania on their way to the United States Military Academy at West Point. As expected, their friendship is tested during the tumultuous years leading up to the Civil War. For me, this will always remain Swayze’s best performance.
Another two years pass, and I head out to the movie theater with my mom and sisters to see a brand new film called Dirty Dancing. Critical reviews were decidedly critical, but it looked like fun, so we went. And fun it was! We were transfixed by the pulsing energy of this innocent and basically predictable movie. I should be embarrassed to say how much I loved it, but I’m not. For a 17-year-old girl, Dirty Dancing embodied everything that going to the movies should be about… getting caught up in the story, the music, the dancing, and the romance. The next evening my oldest sister pulled me aside and whispered, “Get your coat. We’re going back to see it again.” Only twice in my life have I gone to the movie theater two nights in a row to see the same film, and Dirty Dancing was one of them.
Patrick Swayze died a little over three years ago, but to me he will live on forever as Darry Curtis, Orry Main, and Johnny Castle. I will never forget the part he played in shaping my adolescent years. And I promise never to turn the dial when I hear “She’s Like the Wind.”