Patrick Swayze, the dancer-turned-actor whose good looks and physical grace made him a popular lead in both romances and action films in the late 1980s and early ’90s, died today at age 57 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Swayze was one of several young stars-to-be whom Francis Ford Coppola introduced to the public in 1983’s The Outsiders. But he became one of movie fans’ most beloved leading men with his starring role as a resort dance instructor who sweeps Jennifer Grey off her feet in 1987’s Dirty Dancing, an independent film that became an enormous hit and spawned a popular soundtrack that featured a song sung by Swayze, “She’s Like the Wind.” He cemented his status as a romantic icon with his lead role in 1990’s smash Ghost, as the specter who tries to protect bereaved girlfriend Demi Moore from his killer. At the same time, he became a two-fisted action star in movies like Road House and Point Break.

Swayze’s career waned in the late ’90s; for a long time, his most notable screen appearance was in the 2001 cult favorite Donnie Darko. In March 2008, he announced he had pancreatic cancer. Nonetheless, by July of that year, he was in sufficiently good health to begin working 12-hour days (while still undergoing chemotherapy) on a TV series, starring as a world-weary undercover FBI agent in the A&E crime drama The Beast, which premiered in January to 2.4 million viewers. The show ran for 13 episodes, but the cable network chose not to renew it for a second season. Early this year, Swayze told ABC’s Barbara Walters that he hoped to live long enough “until they find a cure,” but he was “not going to chase [the idea of] staying alive….I’ll be here, or I won’t.” —Gary Susman

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