By Chris Nashawaty
September 15, 2009 at 08:08 PM EDT

Just because we all knew that his death was imminent, it didn’t make it any less painful when Patrick Swayze finally lost his battle with pancreatic cancer yesterday at age 57. Today, you’ll no doubt read a slew of tributes to the tough-but-tender Texan’s 30-year career, ticking off his steely star turn in 1983’s The Outsiders, the smoldering, Astaire-like grace he wielded on the dance floor in 1987’s Dirty Dancing, and the heart-breaking longing from beyond that he brought to 1990’s Ghost. And don’t get me wrong, those are all great films. Any actor would love to have just one film resonate in the culture like any of those did. But to me his career was always more interesting than that trio of hit films suggested. If you dig a little deeper and look beyond the obvious, you’ll find several more indelible moments (sometimes serious, sometimes self-deprecating, sometimes deliciously cheesy) that helped Swayze forge a significant and singular career over the past 30 years. Because if there’s anything we learned from a certain fiery Catskills dance instructor who could be both balletic and bareknuckle, it was this: You don’t put anyone in a corner.

Here’s a video tribute to some of our favorite Swayze moments:

In 1979, Swayze landed his first major film role in the unspectacular Skatetown, U.S.A. opposite a strange star-studded cast that included Scott Baio, Flip Wilson, Billy Barty, Marcia from The Brady Bunch, and Welcome Back, Kotter‘s Horshack. Looking way younger than his 27 years, Swayze delighted in the chance to show off his dance moves long before Dirty Dancing in this roller-disco number.

After a few TV movies and a memorable guest-star turn on M*A*S*H, Swayze got his big break by joining Francis Ford Coppola and a Who’s Who cast of young Hollywood up-and-comers in 1983’s The Outsiders.

Swayze parlayed his early success as the elder statesman of the Brat Pack into the 1984 Cold War cult classic, Red Dawn, which is currently being remade in Hollywood. Take a look at this clip and see why. Wolverines!

1987, of course, brought the biggest hit of Swayze’s career, Dirty Dancing, and its infectious “Time of My Life” finale. Even if you’ve watched the scene a million times, watch it again. Seriously. You won’t be disappointed.

Swayze followed Dirty Dancing with a string of action movies like 1989’s post-apocalyptic Steel Dawn and the always-welcome-on-cable-at-2-a.m. classic Road House. Nowadays, it seems odd that anyone in Hollywood thought that it would be a good idea to bankroll a film about a philosophical brute bar bouncer. But Swayze’s zen badass Dalton was iconic — mythic — delivering such brawny bon mots as “pain don’t hurt”.

In 1990, of course, we all loved him in Ghost. But for my money, his best performance that year was in this send-up of his own soon-to-be-Sexiest Man Alive persona from his guest-hosting stint on Saturday Night Live.

Charismatic bad guys? Swayze could do that too, of course. Exhibit A: 1991’s Point Break, as the surfing, skydiving bank robber, Bodhi.

Swayze could be fearless off screen, too. Especially when it came to the projects he chose. Again, bucking against his tough guy-ladykiller image, he memorably went drag in 1995’s To Wong Foo Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar (and looked pretty good while he was at it).

After a brief dry spell at the box office, Swayze rebounded in 2001 with a small, but scene-stealing turn as an infomercial spiritual huckster in the indie sensation, Donnie Darko.

Finaly, earlier this year, after he received his grim diagnosis, Swayze was battled to continue acting. And the result was both brave and riveting in the A&E series, The Beast. As anyone who followed Swayze’s long and brilliant career already knew, he was a fighter with grace and humility — traits that his final role reinforced for his fans one last time.

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