TODAY   |  September 15, 2009

A look back at Swayze’s memorable roles

Sept. 15: TODAY’s Matt Lauer talks to People magazine’s Larry Hackett about Patrick Swayze’s most memorable movie roles and his mark on American pop culture. The actor died Monday after losing his battle with pancreatic cancer.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> we begin with more on the tragic death of actor patrick swayze and his two roles that will be forever tied to american pop culture. * had the time of my life * and i owe it all to you * * i've been waiting for so long * * now i've finally found someone * *

>> swayze's " dirty dancing " co-star jennifer grey released this statement, patrick was a rare and beautiful combination of raw masculinity and amazing grace . when i think of him, i think of being in his arms when we were kids, dancing, practicing the lift in the freezing lake having a blast doing this tiny little movie we thought no one would ever see. my heart goes out to his wife and childhood sweetheart, lisa niemi , to his mom, patsy, and to the rest of her family. for more on the life and career of patrick swayze , let's bring in larry hackett, "people's" managing editor. good morning to you.

>> morning, matt.

>> we've been following this story on and off for the last 20 months. i would imagine you folks at "people" have been following the events of the last several weeks. what have you been hearing?

>> as some people may know, he was planning on having an autobiography coming out. and in the last week or so there was an abrupt change in those plans. the reporting last night is that his condition had worsened, he had been taking new chemo treatments. some of the folks on "the beast" had seen him at one of his ranches and said clearly the chemo was taking an effect. he remained vital and forward thinking and positive but things were really starting to turn.

>> let's talk about his career for a second. if he had only done " dirty dancing " and "ghost," it would have cemented his place in hollywood history. what was it about his performance that made such an impact?

>> he's like gene kelly , an incredible mixture of grace and amazing athleticism. the people we've been speaking to said he could have been a professional kickboxing from the work they saw him doing on " road house ." he was the son of a champion rodeo man and also the son of a dancing coach. i mean, he had an amazing neatly american mix of virility and grace. he seemed authentic in these roles. there was never embarrassment. in someone's hands, they may have been self-conscious.

>> "people's" sexiest man alive in 1991 .

>> there was something about him that was completely real at all times.

>> what i liked is he had a sense of humor, playfulness, a self-depp indicrecating sense of humor. we saw him playing the chippendales dancer on "saturday night live." there aren't a lot of actors that allow themselves to have fun poked at.

>> he had that great sense of tone at all times to be authentic in those pictures and then to be able to make fun of himself. you know, people love that. they love that accepts of who he -- that says more about who he was than anything else.

>> he had some troubles.

>> yep.

>> let's not brush over them, some drinking problems. he was a heavy smoker.

>> right.

>> i think he attributed some of it to fame at an early age.

>> right. and, again, he had a struggle with it his whole life. there was an issue of when he was flying the plane, alcohol and things like that. so he had some tough times. but he was also very candid about it and talked about the challenges that he had. and i think the third part about his life was his marriage. you talk to anybody in hollywood , it was a 30-plus-year marriage. they met as teens at his mom's dance studio . they were legendary in hollywood , a couple that were there for each other.

>> what will we learn about the memoir? will that be released?

>> they're planning to. it's going to be a lot about his treatment and remaining positive and things like that. we'll see whether or not any of that changes. but i think what you'll get from him is a spirit of who this guy was and how optimistic he was and how he lived a full a life as he could.

>> did he manage to also raise some awareness over these last 20 months?

>> i think so. he was very reluctant, stage 4 pancreatic cancer . 75% of the people who get it die in the first year. he was reluctant to take the treatments because like a lot of celebrities, it's your individual choice. but i think in terms of struggling with what pancreatic cancer is and how devastating it can be and the work that needs to be, it goes without saying.

>> he'll be on the cover of "people" this week.

>> yes.