TODAY   |  September 15, 2009

Patrick Swayze loses cancer battle

Sept. 15: Actor Patrick Swayze, known for his roles in “Dirty Dancing” and “Ghost,” dies after a 20-month battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 57. NBC’s George Lewis looks back at his life and legacy.

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>>> generation.

>>> let's begin with the death of actor patrick swayze . here's nbc's george lewis . * and i owe it all to you

>> reporter: swayze leapt into hollywood stardom in 1987 with " dirty dancing ," a role of a lifetime that he had been preparing for since he was a kid in houston. his mother, patsy, is a famous dance choreographer who trained patrick for ballet at an early age. he met his wife of 33 years, lisa, when at age 15 she began taking lessons at his mother's studio. after his dancing ability led to broadway, swayze landed tv and movie roles, playing young, tough guys in "the outsiders" and " red dawn ." on the tv series "m.a.s.h.," he had a brief role as a dying soldier.

>> i don't know much about leukemia, but i know there's no cure.

>> reporter: then came his big break . in " dirty dancing ," swayze got to show off the moves he learned as a teenager and his acting chops as well.

>> nobody puts baby in a corner .

>> " dirty dancing " is a movie that really is a touchstone for a generation, so he's always be remembered for that.

>> reporter: it catapulted swayze onto hollywood's "a" list and the title of sexiest man alive in 1991 .

>> it's absolutely flattering to me. it makes me feel great and opens doors in my life and makes people keep coming to my movies.

>> reporter: he could still play the tough guy in movies like " road house ." but he was able to show his sensitive side in romantic roles like "ghost." * wait for me

>> reporter: and he wasn't afraid to make fun of himself. swayze 's chippendales skit with chris farley still ranks as one of the all-time funniest moments on "saturday night live." a self-described seeker, swayze was always looking for spiritual direction from catholicism to scientology and finally buddhism. as his star power faded in the '90s, swayze turned to his other fashion, training show horses. throughout his life he struggled with bouts of binge drinking and a heavy smoking habit.

>> and now please welcome patrick swayze .

>> reporter: in january of 2008 , he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and received a standing ovation on the stand-up to cancer live television special.

>> tonight i stand here, another individual living with cancer. if i leave this earth, i want to leave this earth just knowing i've tried to give something back and tried to do something worthwhile with myself. and that keeps me going.

>> reporter: after months of radiation and chemotherapy, swayze rallied through a grueling five-month shoot in chicago to play the lead in an a&e television series called "the beast."

>> you can trust your damn case file, and you can trust me. my work is my work. my work is what i do. it's my legacy.

>> reporter: it would be his last major role.

>> i'd love, by the time i die, to have a career like geep kelly, dustin rofman, robert deniro wrapped into one. * i had the time of my life *

>> reporter: and as patrick swayze was having the time of his life on the screen , he managed to light up the lives of his many fans. for "today," george lewis , nbc news, los angeles .

>> yeah, he was a good guy. and speaking of lighting up the lives of his many fans, he did that for a young lady on this program not long ago. we're going to show you a clip of that a little later in the show.

>> i think that the reaction really crosses generations, even my daughter was just -- when we heard last night the news -- oh, you know, because he was really great and such a sweet man.

>>> we've got other stories to