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BREAKING NEWS: Actor Patrick Swayze Dies At 57

Sep. 14 2009, Published 11:06 a.m. ET

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Actor Patrick Swayze has died at the age of 57 after a long, debilitating battle with pancreatic cancer, since he was diagnosed with the disease in January 2008.

Click here to take a look at Swayze's amazing career

"Patrick Swayze passed away peacefully today with family at his side after facing the challenges of his illness for the last 20 months," said a statement released Monday evening by his publicist, Annett Wolf. No other details were given.

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The Texas-born actor cemented his legacy with a pair of roles that made him a bankable heartthrob, and leading man on the silver screen: 1987's Dirty Dancing and 1990's Ghost. Other notable films in his catalogue included 1990's Road House, 1991's Point Break and 1992's City Of Joy.

Swayze's trail to show biz stardom began in a pair of dancing shoes for the handsome Houston boy, whose mother, Patsy, owned a studio where he learned his craft. It was there Swayze, then 19, first laid eyes on his future wife, actress Lisa Niemi, a then 15-year-old student at the studio. They would marry four years later in 1975, and stay together through highs and lows, from Houston to Hollywood.

Swayze, hoping for international fame on the strength of his fleet feet, continued perfecting his trade in the Big Apple at venerated institutions such as the Harkness Ballet School and Ballet School. The actor's early years as a professional saw him portray roles such as Prince Charming in Disney On Parade and Danny Joffrey Zuko in the Broadway production of Grease.

Click here to see photos of Swayze's couragous final days battling cancer

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In 1979, Swayze followed in the footsteps of distant relative, actor William Holden, in making his silver screen debut. He played the role of Ace in Skatetown, USA, as an opening volley as he trudged through years of projects in both movies and television. He would play in a variety of part in both movies and TV -- including a bit part on an episode of M*A*S*H -- until eventually landing the role his chiseled looks and dance pedigree made him a natural for.

Swayze morphed from up-and-coming to the hero of the day in late-1987, when he played the role of Johnny Castle in the summer film Dirty Dancing. Set in New York's Catskill Mountains, the coming-of-age film chronicled the love story between a virginal, blossoming girl of privilege falling in love with Castle, a dance instructor from the other side of the tracks. The film, with a worldwide intake of almost $243 million, was a major box office success -- and breakout performance for Swayze. He was rewarded with a Golden Globe nomination for his efforts.

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With his name now a bankable commodity, Swayze appeared in a few films before striking gold in another Hollywood smash, Ghost in the summer of 1990. Playing the ghost of a Sam Wheat, a New York bank exec murdered in a colleague's nefarious cash scheme, Swayze spends most of the film posthumously communicating with a psychic (Whoopi Goldberg) to warn his fiance (Demi Moore) of the dangers the killer still presents. In a Capra-esque ending (that will likely bring you to tears if you're reading this story in the first place), Swayze shares an inimitable, final reunion with his lost love.

Swayze's battle against the stage 4 pancreatic cancer showcased the fighting spirit that made him such a believable silver screen protagonist.

He made headlines with his blunt introspection regarding his grave condition when he told Barbara Walters, "I'd say five years is pretty wishful thinking -- two years seems likely if you're going to believe statistics. I want to last until they find a cure, which means I'd better get a fire under it."

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Click here to see a scene from Dirty Dancing

Niemi said she broke the news to her longtime love that he was diagnosed with the ailment, which doctors said usually claims its victims in six months.

"It was very surreal," she told ABC. "They were like 99 percent sure ... I waited until the next morning to tell him about it, and for the first few weeks it was like being in a nightmare you couldn't wake up from."

Click here to see a clip from Ghost

Swayze told Walters that, though he was going to fight the cancer, he wasn't going to chase staying alive. In addition to chemotherapy, he consumed some Chinese herbs as an alternative treatment.

He said chemotherapy -was simultaneously painful and inspiring. The painful side effects of the procedure, colitis and seriously inflamed bowels, he said, had him "laying on a bathroom mat curled up, going, 'You son of a -- you're not gonna beat me' -- you can bet that I'm going through hell."

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He told Walters that, in his final years, he still enjoyed his marriage like a newlywed, which included renewing his vows to Niemi.

"We did it very Prince Charming and Snow White. I rode in on a snorting steed, a white stallion" Swayze said. "It was like a fairy tale," Niemi said. "One of the happiest days ever."

"I have no greater respect for any other human being on this earth like I have for her," he said of his longtime spouse. "Part of me says I couldn't have made it through without her, but, of course, the other part of me says I could have, but not nearly as elegantly as I have."

In his battle, Swayze said he has pondered the possibility of an afterlife.

"I don't know what's on the other side," he said. "It tests everything I believe in and that here is something unique in all of us that does not, does not die."

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