Patrick Swayze’s widow recalls star’s tumultuous relationship with his mother in new doc
Patrick Swayze’s Wife on Love and Loss
Lisa Niemi Swayze shares her story
Patrick Swayze’s widow, Lisa Niemi Swayze, is speaking out about the beloved actor nearly 10 years after his death.
Swayze, best known for appearing in iconic films such as “Ghost,” “Dirty Dancing,” “Point Break” and “Road House” – just to name a few – passed away on September 2009 at age 57 from pancreatic cancer.
In honor of Swayze’s life and legacy, Paramount Network is launching a new documentary titled “I Am Patrick Swayze,” which features candid interviews with the star’s friends, castmates and loved ones.
Lisa, along with Swayze’s brother Don, participated in the film set to debut on Aug. 18 — Swayze’s 67th birthday.
“’I Am Patrick Swayze’ is a loving tribute to the prolific actor that showcases his life and career through untold stories, exclusive interviews, heartfelt home movies, and family photos featuring those who knew him best,” states a release sent to Fox News about the film.
“[He] showed himself to be a true hero in how he approached his disease," Lisa, 64, told People magazine in this week’s issue. “The amount of lovingness and kindness, I saw wisdom in him that was beyond anything I’d seen before.”
According to the outlet, Swayze was constantly pushed by his mother Patsy, a choreographer who founded the Houston Jazz Ballet Company. In the documentary, Lisa said Patsy “was really an example of what happens in families in a cycle of abuse.”
The late Patrick Swayze and his wife Lisa Niemi on Nov. 5, 2005. (Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images for AFI)
Lisa met a then-teenage Swayze when she was just 15 years old at Patsy’s dance studio. They married in 1975 and remained together until his death.
“[Patsy] could be very violent, but it was nothing compared to what she endured growing up and the stories I heard about what she went through with her own mother,” Lisa continued.
Swayze frequently recounted the story of his 18th birthday when Patsy was “laying into him” before his father declared he would divorce Patsy if she touched their son again.
“She never hit him after that,” Lisa told the magazine.
Patrick Swayze’s mom Patsy Swayze poses for a portrait holding a headshot of her son circa 1988. (Photo by Michael Montfort/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Swayze ultimately moved out when he began to learn how his upbringing shaped his outlook on life.
“He became very aware of the positive and the negative aspects of how he was raised,” Lisa explained. “But you know what, if somebody pushes you that hard as his mom did, it could make people cave, but it made him fight harder."
Lisa added that over the years, Swayze and Patsy “came to have a much better relationship.”
"Patsy could be extremely critical and negative,” said Lisa. “But she figured out that if she was going to be around us, she needed to be a little nicer, and that’s what she did.”
Swayze and Patsy remained close until his death. Patsy died in 2013, four years after her son, at age 86.
As for the abuse, Lisa said her husband and mother-in-law never discussed it.
Patrick Swayze and wife Lisa Niemi on Nov. 17, 2007, just weeks before he first felt stomach pain during a New Year’s Eve party.
“I think she would say, ‘Well, you know, sometimes I could be strict, I’m that kind of a teacher,’” said Lisa. “She was a complicated woman, intense and an amazing life force. Patrick absolutely loved and respected her.”
At the time of Swayze’s death, the New York Times reported his cancer was originally diagnosed in 2008. Six months later, he had already outlived his prognosis and was filmed smiling at photographers at an airport where he called himself “a miracle dude.”
While undergoing his final treatment, Swayze moved forward to star on A&E’s drama series “The Beast” and filmed a complete season.
“How do you nurture a positive attitude when all the statistics say you’re a dead man?” Swayze told the newspaper. “You go to work.”
A week before “The Beast” began, Swayze spoke about his illness to Barbara Walters.
“I keep my heart and my soul and my spirit open to miracles,” he declared, adding that if he were to “spend so much time chasing staying alive,” that he wouldn’t be able to enjoy the time he had left.
Patrick Swayze and his wife Lisa Niemi at his California ranch on Dec. 6, 2008. Swayze and Niemi have been married since 1975.
“I want to live,” he said.
Back in 2012, Lisa told Fox News that when Swayze first received the diagnosis of stage IV pancreatic cancer, he told his wife that he knew a rough road lied ahead.
“When the doctors had left the room, he turned to me and said, ‘I’m a dead man,’” Lisa said at the time. “I didn’t know much about pancreatic cancer, but he did. He said anytime he heard someone had the condition, he thought, ‘He’s out of there.’”
According to Lisa, Swayze was determined to stay positive and active up until the end.
Actor Patrick Swayze and his wife Lisa Niemi pose as they arrive at the party following the premiere of the comedy film "Dan in Real Life" in Hollywood, Calif.
From the very beginning, Lisa and Patrick Swayze were a team. The couple met in Houston, Texas, when Swayze was 18 years old. He had been taking dance lessons from Lisa’s mother and became taken with his dance instructor’s daughter, who was just 15 years old at the time. The two developed a friendship and then became inseparable ever since.
And their bond became even stronger once Swayze was diagnosed, as they worked together to fight his disease. After he was given just weeks to live, Swayze started chemotherapy and began an experimental drug called vatalanib — an inhibitor meant to cut off blood supply to the tumor in his pancreas. Lisa felt this was the best route for her husband after becoming discouraged with the other options that were available to him.
“Generally the things you use to treat pancreatic cancer [were] things that were developed for other cancers," Lisa said. "They’re really not aggressive enough, or there are people who react differently. We wanted Patrick to have his best shot, but we had to think outside the box. So we started him on this experimental drug. We felt like that was his best shot.”
The novel therapy seemingly worked for a number of months, while Swayze continued to shoot “The Beast,” determined not to let cancer dictate his life. But after about a year, the treatment stopped having an effect — a development that Lisa described as “terrifying.”
Lisa Niemi speaks at a PANCAN event.
“It means that you’re going on to the next treatment option — so it means your options are running out,” Lisa said. “And that’s kind of what happened over the course of the next year, and none worked quite as well. So we pretty much took him off.”
While Swayze’s story has a tragic end, Lisa is determined to turn his struggle into a positive and proactive force for change. During the course of his treatment, Lisa met numerous individuals suffering from the same debilitating cancer as her husband, many of whom were told by their doctors to simply go home and get their affairs in order. Seeing these patients — and the little options they had available to them — ultimately inspired Niemi to take on the voice of her husband.
“This is going to change,” Niemi said. “We are doing our best to make it change this year. My husband died almost three years ago, and the statistics are staying the same. More people are being diagnosed and more are dying every year — and it needs to stop.”
Lisa Niemi, the wife of the late Patrick Swayze, speaks at the Women’s Conference 2009 in Long Beach, California.
That same year, Lisa told Fox News she had zero regrets about staying by her husband's side during the most difficult battle of his life.
"It was a privilege to be there, but the caregiver position takes a heavy toll," she said. "After he died, a girlfriend said, ‘You’re a pretty woman but one that looks like she’s been hit by a truck,’ and I felt like that. And still, I would have given my last breath to help him. I would have thrown myself in front of that truck if that would have helped save his life."
Fox News’ Loren Grush and Nicki Gostin contributed to this report.
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