Film

In Praise of Patrick Swayze, Our All-American Alpha Male

Swayze was, for a while there, our contemporary sacred clown. But more than that, he was real.

That’s our man.

And by our, I mean men.

The rest of you can have this guy.

And by you, I mean women.

The wonderful thing is, it’s the same dude. That is the unprecedented, impossibly perfect Tao of Patrick Swayze. He had something for everyone, and while there are a handful of superstars who have straddled the line between man’s man and preening peacock for the ladies, usually the actor in question becomes tougher, or gentler, as he ages. Swayze could incorporate both extremes at the same time, starring in two of the penultimate chick flicks and, quite possibly, the mother of all male bonding films, all in a three year window. Guys watch — and cherish — trash like Point Break and Road House because they are hilarious, and Swayze is both alpha male and court jester, rolled into one.

In the rumble, on the ice or during the cold war apocalypse, this was the bro you wanted to have your back.

Remember The Outsiders? (For the full effect, you had to be target audience age when it first came out, which means you were over ten and under twenty). Nobody knew who Patrick Swayze was, then, so that experience is alien to a younger person watching a younger Swayze, now. You could not have shoehorned more pretty young things onto that screen: Dillon, Cruise, Estevez, Lowe, Macchio and C. Thomas Howell (the only one requiring a full name since no one heard from him again, unless you are one of the five people who saw Soul Man) and –for the boys– Diane Lane. That was a lot of Gen X eye candy. And then there was this brawny, unknown badass. He was, obviously, the leader of the brat pack; indeed, he was the only one in that group who looked like he actually could (and did) throw down if the situation required it. He was, in short, intimidating. He was perfectly cast, although he did seem old enough (even as the “older” brother) to strain credulity. He was also, arguably, the only star on that crowded billing not set to explode into immediate stardom. In fact, it would take Swayze, already 30 years old, another four years to become the man.

Everyone remembers how that happened. In the film that shall remain nameless, Swayze made his sweetheart swoon and took half of America with him. He had arrived, and from then on out nobody could put Swayze in the corner. Maybe it’s a guy thing, but the movies he starred in alongside Jennifer Grey and Demi Moore are unspeakable. They are sentimental, melodramatic schlock from the fetid heart of Hollywood. In other words, these commercial grand slams were just what the evil doctor ordered. Two things few men will ever understand (or profit from arguing about): Oprah, and those two movies. But Swayze was easily forgiven. After all, he had saved us from the Russians (or at least softened them up for Rocky IV), and helped the Greasers stomp the rich kids. He also dropped the gloves alongside Rob Lowe in what turned out, unbelievably, to be only the third most homoerotic flick in his oeuvre. With little left to prove, he dedicated himself to the dangerous task of making wonderfully awful films.

He would redeem himself, not only in the subsequent Point Break (clocking in at number two on the homoerichter scale), but in the masterwork that men are genetically incapable of turning off while channel surfing. I am referring, quite obviously, to Road House.

Every man has seen this movie and any man who hasn’t is not a man, so that about covers it. I won’t insult its integrity by trying to analyze anything, I’ll just savor some of the moments that make it so…seminal:

Doc: Do you always carry your medical records around with you?

Dalton: Saves time.

Dalton: I want you to be nice until it’s time to not be nice.

Doc: How’s a guy like you end up a bouncer?

Dalton: Just lucky I guess.

(Everyone): I thought you’d be bigger!

Dalton: Pain don’t hurt.

Jimmy: I used to fuck guys like you in prison.

(Repeat: I. Used. To. Fuck. Guys. Like. You. In. Prison.)

He was, for a while there, our contemporary sacred clown. But more than that, he was real. As in: it only bolstered his appeal (and considerable street cred) when you realized he did his own stunts, married (and remained married) to his childhood sweetheart and, by any account, was a genuinely good person. One must remain wary about separating art from the artist for all the obvious reasons, but there are the occasional exceptions where the illusion is an extension of the actual.

It was refreshing to hear his family report that he passed away peacefully. Of course he did. It’s the least the world could do for him. Besides, death don’t hurt.

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