For a good long stretch in the late '80s and early '90s, Patrick Swayze was the go-to guy for Hollywood casting agents looking for a rugged action hero with heart and soul—deep, but not too deep. Whole websites and mini-cults have sprung up around Swayze's Road House character, a philosophy major with a Zen-like understanding of when to fight and when to "be nice." But Road House is just one tile in Swayze's mosaic of manhood. Below are some key quotes that outline how anyone can become the dancin'-est, truckin'-est, surfin'-est tough guy on the block. How to be, in essence, "The Swayze."
"I'm not going to be a lawyer or a doctor—hell, I didn't even finish high school—but I can play the game."
That's what Swayze the hockey stud says in 1986's Youngblood, establishing an aw-shucks humility that would carry on throughout his career, whether he's playing a gigolo dancer who "comes from the streets" in Dirty Dancing or a burned-out screenwriter not talented enough to be a real writer in Forever Lulu. In Ghost, Swayze goes to see a production of Macbeth to keep Demi Moore happy, but then jokes with his buddy that the only reason she wants to go is because "she likes the guys in tights." (Not because she, you know, enjoys culture or anything.) Even in his 1981 appearance as a leukemia-stricken soldier on M*A*S*H, Swayze scoffs at eggheads and their wimpy "research." "Fat lot of good that'll do me," he snarls at the 4077th's doctors. The Swayze isn't opposed to education or self-improvement, he just isn't into all that backslapping intelligentsia hoo-hah. When his Road House bouncer is asked what his philosophy degree from NYU is all about, he just shrugs. "Man's search for faith… that sort of shit."
"Ain't nothin' like a Caterpillar engine."
In 1998's truck-driving white-knuckler Black Dog, Swayze demonstrates one of the hallmarks of his character: expertise in the manly arts, whether working with a wrench or socking bad guys in the jaw. That trait dates back at least to 1984's Red Dawn, in which he helps his high-school classmates survive a Soviet invasion by showing them how to hunt deer and urinate in a jeep's radiator to keep it running when there's no water around. Tapped to play Pecos Bill in Disney's little-seen Tall Tale, Swayze lives up to the legend of the ultimate cowboy, a "ringtail roarer" who rides cyclones. The Swayze is a dude who knows how to do things.
"I'm not cashing it in over some hill with a number on it."
Back to M*A*S*H for this quote, which exemplifies The Swayze's thick anti-authoritarian streak. It gets his Forever Lulu character in trouble when he insists on writing a show about an oncologist when his studio bosses want something lighter, and it keeps his Youngblood hockey star from immediately bonding with fellow scoring leader Rob Lowe, who has the audacity to suggest he should pass the puck. Even in Tall Tale, when Pecos Bill offends Paul Bunyan and Babe, he refuses to apologize. Like Swayze's gun-toting surfer in Point Break says, "Why be a servant to the law when you can be its master?"
"You want the ultimate, you've got to pay the ultimate price."
The Swayze doesn't back down from a challenge, because he knows nothing comes easy. In Red Dawn, he could easily give up on staging guerrilla attacks on the Soviets, and just head to a safe enclave for ex-Americans. Instead, when his makeshift troop wants to vote on surrendering, he shuts down the democratic process before it even gets started. The corollary to Swayze's "ultimate price" quote in Point Break comes in the same movie, when he says, "Fear causes hesitation, and hesitation will cause your worst fears to come true."
"Feel what the wave is doing, then accept its energy."
More Point Break philosophizing, illustrating what's either The Swayze's greatest strength, or his greatest weakness: his touchy-feely spirituality. In Dirty Dancing, Swayze teaches Jennifer Grey to stay in her "dance space" and not "break frame." In Road House, we're meant to believe that he's basically a good person because horses like him. In Tall Tale, he sighs that watching a field of butterflies flutter away "kind of makes it all worthwhile." There's an appealing kind of crypto-naturalism in The Swayze's worldview, though it bottoms out in Donnie Darko, where he plays a motivational speaker whose reduction of life to expressions of fear and love is a way of masking his depraved secret life. In a way, that part was typecast.
"I want you to be nice until it's time to not be nice."
Swayze's Road House morality can be boiled down to this quote, which defines him as an easygoing sort unafraid to answer the call when the clock strikes "ass-kick." In Point Break, he's a sweetheart who robs banks to fund his surfing expeditions, thought he switches from buddy to badass in a heartbeat. He comes to the aid of Keanu Reeves once he sees that Reeves is making an earnest effort to stand up to a gaggle of bullying surf Nazis; later, he inspires Reeves to man up and jump out of an airplane without a parachute. But while Swayze honors men of action, he also understands that there's a time for inaction. When one of his Road House bouncer disciples asks what he should do if a customer calls him a cocksucker, Swayze tells him to do nothing, because the word is just "two nouns combined to elicit a response." The Swayze won't let anyone goad him. He goes his own way.
"Never kill a man on Sunday."
This is Pecos Bill's code, and it also reflects The Swayze's fundamental respect for religion. Heck, in M*A*S*H, Swayze's noble fight against disease inspires Father Mulcahy to step up to the pulpit and give his greatest sermon ever, on the Sunday when the bishop is visiting the camp. The Swayze will give you the space you need to find your spiritual center.
"Nobody ever wins a fight."
Another Road House aphorism, and one that speaks to the hard truth of being The Swayze. He has work to do, but he knows it isn't always clean work. In Red Dawn, he coldly executes traitors within his own army, even though he knows that makes him no better than the enemy. In Tall Tale, he shoots off the bad guys' trigger fingers, so they can't do to him what he can do to them. And in Youngblood, Swayze tries to stop the cycle of violence after a dirty check knocks him off the ice permanently, by urging Lowe to forget about revenge and just play the best damn hockey of his life.
"Nobody puts Baby in the corner."
In Dirty Dancing, Swayze stands up to defend his new girlfriend, but he'd be just as loyal if she were just a chum. He backs up John Henry in Tall Tale by putting his money on the line in a steel-driving competition, and in Black Dog, he drives cross-country like a demon so he can make it home in time for his daughter's soccer game. And in the obscure 2003 indie 11:14, he goes a step further on behalf of his character's daughter by covering up a murder he mistakenly thinks she committed. The Swayze is loyal.
The Swayze isn't afraid to cry over a woman, as he does in Ghost and Forever Lulu, but he's no sap, either. When Demi Moore tells him she loves him in Ghost, his response is curt, but sweeter than it seems. At the end of the movie, Moore says "ditto" back to him, not as a joke, but because she understands now what he always meant. When you're The Swayze, you don't have to spend a lot of words telling people you love them. Love is just there, in everything you do. It's the way of The Swayze.