Although Patrick Swayze was a sought-after leading man, there was one lucky lady who captured the heart of the Dirty Dancing star. Swayze and Lisa Niemi were married for 34 years before the Hollywood star tragically lost his battle with cancer on September 14, 2009. Almost a decade later, Niemi opened up about her late husband revealing the details of his childhood, their relationship, and her life since his death.
Lisa Niemi and Patrick Swayze's love story fittingly began at a dance school. Niemi developed a passion for dance from a young age, and the Texas native enrolled herself for dance lessons at the Houston Ballet Dance Company.
Swayze's mother, Patsy, ran the dance studio she had chosen. With Patsy as her ballet instructor, Niemi was soon introduced to Swayze when she was just 15 years old, Swayze was 19 at the time. Although Swayze's mother had a significant role in is life, she was not always the most positive light source in his life.
An Undeniable Connection
Despite meeting at a young age, both Swayze and Niemi felt a strong connection towards each other. Niemi recalled the time they first danced together at a school exhibition, saying" saying, "We walked out on stage. I looked in his eyes; it was like everything came alive."
Their connection was felt both ways, however. Swayze recalled to People magazine in 2007 saying, "I knew she was the smartest chick I'd ever met in my life. [Before Lisa], I had been meeting girls with names like Mimi and Angel." and while their connection was undeniable, it took some time for Swayze to win Niemi over.
A for Effort
It seems hard to imagine that a bachelor such as Swayze would have to try hard or even try at all, to win a woman over. As it turns out, Lisa Niemi was much harder to get than the other girls who threw themselves at the heartthrob.
Swayze pulled his moves on Niemi, but they didn't work, Swayze saying, "If I started putting on a pose or doing my Casanova routine, Lisa would turn around and not say anything." He added, "She didn't buy any of my nonsense. We spent half our dates in total silence as she wouldn't talk to me if she thought I was putting on an act." So how did the star manage to capture Niemi's heart in the same way he had captured the hearts of America.
The Start Of Something New
Patrick's goofiness and clowning around was not enough. In the end, according to Swayze, it took a good amount of serious conversations to get the dancer to start taking him seriously.
When talking to People magazine, Swayze recalled, "As soon as I opened up about what I wanted from life, she would answer me." The two would get married on June 12, 1975. Five years after their initial meeting. Swayze and Niemi exchanged their vows in Niemi's Houston backyard, and the reception was held at Patsy's dance studio, where the two first met. Throughout their 34 year marriage, Niemi proved to uphold her promise, "til death do us part" by sticking to Swayze's side through the good times and the bad times. Little could she have realized how much hardships the couple would go through.
A Tag Team
Not long after the two wed, the couple left their Houston home behind and moved to New York City, where they hoped to further their dancing careers. However, Swayze's success was hindered when an old football knee injury resurfaced. The couple relocated to Los Angeles and tried their hands at an acting career.
Niemi stayed at Swayze's side as his acting career began to take off. She helped him with his iconic dance scenes in Dirty Dancing and inspired his ballad, "She's Like the Wind." the two also starred in One Last Dance, a film written and directed by Niemi. In addition to this the two ran a construction company together and raised horses at their San Fernando Valley ranch. Although their fairy-tale romance seemed nothing but idyllic, they were soon thrown a curveball than nobody could have planned for.
A Bleak Prognosis
In March of 2008, Swayze was unfortunately diagnosed with aggressive stage four pancreatic cancer and his and Niemi's life was forever flipped upside down. Swayze's battle with cancer began in 2007 when he first recognized symptoms while he and Niemi were celebrating New Year's Eve together.
To welcome in the new year, Swayze popped a bottle of champagne and equated drinking it to "pouring acid, you know, on an open wound." He then realized his "indigestion got gigantic and constant," adding, "And then I started thinking, I'm getting skinny. I dropped 20 pounds in the blink of an eye." The star's declining health soon affected Niemi, who told ABC News her husband's diagnosis, "was like being in a nightmare you couldn't wake up from." Niemi, however, stayed true to Swayze and willingly took on the role as his caretaker.
Taking Care Of The Caretaking
Niemi admitted to feeling fearful when she heard Swayze's bleak prognosis but said, "Because we were in a fight for his life, I always said to myself, 'I can cry; I can fall apart; I can panic – later. But not now.' I made a decision that I was going to be who he needed me to be so that he could get better."
To Niemi, that meant being there for Swayze in any way she could: taking him to doctor's appointments, giving him his medication, educating herself about his cancer and the medical system, and holding his hand. In an interview with Cancer Connect, she said "I kept copious notes on everything because I knew that while he had fabulous doctors, he was not the only patient they had, and I was willing to contribute to his health – to dedicate myself – in a way nobody else could." even though she did everything she could to help Swayze, the worst had yet to come.
'Til Death Do Us Part'
Swayze passed away next to Niemi in their home on September 14, 2009. Shortly after, Niemi opened up at a Women's Conference saying, "I thought during the 22 months of my husband's illness that it gave me time to get used to the idea of losing him." going on to add, "the actual loss – it's like an animal all on its own."
Later in an interview with Fox, Niemi told of the heavy toll her husband's death had had on her, saying, "After he died, a girlfriend said [to me], 'You're a pretty woman but one that looks like she's been hit by a truck.'" Niemi added, "and I felt like that." Swayze and Niemi's last words would forever leave an indelible mark on her, and would forever affect her future relationships.
Their Final Words
In her heartbreaking 2011 memoir, Worth Fighting For, Niemi wrote that her Hollywood actor husband spoke his final words with her on a Friday evening. As is often the case with final words, there was no way to plan or predict which moment will be the last memory and what matters most.
Swayze took his final breath the following Monday morning. There was a heavy silence over Saturday and Sunday which stood almost as loud as any other sounds could. Niemi tried to hold strongly to the last words Swayze had told her: "I love you." Although she shared this last special moment with her husband, Niemi harbored deep regrets.
Her Greatest Regret
Losing a loved one is hard enough as it is. But losing a loved one while feeling regretful over things you wish you had said or done differently just furthers the deep-seated pain. This is exactly what Niemi experienced following her husband's death.
When speaking to an audience of over 14,000 women at a Woman's Conference, Niemi admitted she wished she had told Swayze she loved him even more. Saying, "We told each other we loved each other over and over again. I never left the room without telling him," she felt that this still wasn't enough adding, "My regret is that I didn't tell him that I loved him enough over that entire 34 years." This regret was not the only thing she would come to reveal following Swayze's death.
Swayze's multimillion fortune was bequeathed entirely Lisa. Before he passed, Patrick had gifted his mother, Patsy, a house and gave her a monthly allowance, which Lisa continued to provide until Patsy's death in 2013. However, the family complained that Nieme, had personally cut them off, with Lisa's close friend saying, "It appears that her connection with the Swayze family ended with Patrick."
The feud got even worse, when Lisa decided to sell Swayze's ranch in California. The family strongly opposed, becuase the wanted to convert the property into a museum dedicated to Swayze. Despite their objections, She proceeded with the sale and even auctioned off some of Swayze's belongings on eBay, including his iconic leather jacket from Dirty Dancing. Swayze's niece pleaded with her to stop, saying that she was selling cherished remnants of their family's history.
A Family Secret
Almost ten years after Swayze's death, Niemi has revealed the more intimate details of the star's family life. One thing that stood out was revealed in Paramount Pictures' documentary, "I Am Patrick Swayze," and that was that Swayze had endured years of abuse as a child.
Niemi stated that Swayze's mother, Patsy, had a violent streak. She was so aggressive towards Swayze that on his 18th birthday, Patrick's father, Jesse threatened to divorce Patsy if she ever put a hand on their son again. So would his parent's marriage end in divorce, or would Swayze and his mother manage to mend their broken relationship before he passed?
An Uncertain Future
Patrick Swayze (nicknamed "Buddy") would dance in his mother Patsy's class. And she was tough on him, sometimes "very violent," Niemi says in the film. Niemi claimed that Patsy's abusive behavior accurately reflected the patterns of what goes on in families trapped in a cycle of abuse. Patsy's own mother was abusive to her and so treated Swayze in the only way she knew how, with her warped example of how to raise a child. Niemi recalls one incident in particular in "I Am Patrick Swayze" that Patrick told her about from his 18th birthday: Patsy "was laying into" Patrick when his dad Jesse "came downstairs, pulled her off of Buddy, and slammed her against the wall." Niemi doesn't explicitly say whether that abuse was physical or verbal but says that Jesse threatened to divorce Patsy if she harmed Patrick again.
This abuse thankfully came to an end. Patsy took her husband's warning to heart and as Niemie has said, "she never hit [Swayze] after that." In the following years, Swayze managed to rekindle a healthy relationship with his mother, but in order to reach this point, Swayze was faced with a tough decision.
A Difficult Choice
As is usually the case, Patsy's violent behavior had had a big effect on Swayze's self-image and well being. He realized that his whole outlook on life had been formed around the way he was raised by his mother. He ultimately decided that enough was enough and something had to change.
Swayze eventually made the difficult decision to move out of his family home. Niemi commented on how Swayze refused to allow his difficult upbringing defeat him, saying, "If somebody pushes you that hard as his mom did, it could make people cave, but it made him fight harder." Moving out of his house alone would not fix all the problems between Swayze and his mother; she needed to make changes in herself as well.
A Friendly Change
Unlearning decades of abusive behavior would not be an easy task. Patsy slowly came round to the idea. Niemi described Patsy as "extremely critical and negative," saying that Patsy eventually "figured out that if she was going to be around us, she needed to be a little nicer, and that's what she did."
From that point onwards, Swayze and his mother built a close relationship. Mentioning how Patsy addressed Swayze's abuse, Niemi said, "I think she would say [to Patrick], 'Well, you know, sometimes I could be strict, I'm that kind of a teacher.'" Even though Swayze fixed his broken relationship with his mother, the struggle with her would not be his only challenge in life.
A Long List Of Hardships
It's realistic to say that no relationship is perfect, and Swayze and Niemi's was no different. Around the time of Swayze solidifying his role in Hollywood with a Golden Globe nomination for Ghost, in 1990; Swayze and Niemi received some devastating news.
Tragically, Niemi had miscarried their baby. Frank Whiteley, Swayze's bodyguard, commented on the stars heavy loss, saying, "It broke his heart. He wanted to be a dad more than anything." unbeknown to them, this would be the start of a long list of hardships in Swayze and Niemi's relationship.
Niemi's miscarriage happened between two big tragedies in the stars family life. Swayze's father passed away in 1982 after a heart attack. Seeing his father as the only one who protected Swayze from his mother's abusive hands, His death destroyed Swayze.
Twelve years later, Swayze's sister, Vicky committed suicide. Swayze said in the wake of her death, "It was hard not to feel responsible." With so much tragedy in a short while, and amidst the grief of his wife's miscarriage and the death of his father followed by his sister; Swayze admitted, "I started to feel like I was cursed." struggling to cope with his losses, Swayze sought solace in hopeless places.
A Hopeless Place To Search
To fill the empty void in his heart following his wife's miscarriage and the loss of close family members, Swayze turned to alcohol. The actor's attempt to drink away his pain inevitably impacted both his professional life and his personal life.
Swayze Hollywood spotlight was sidelined during his struggle with alcohol abuse. As Swayze admitted, "alcohol and the craft of acting is not a smart combination." and as you would expect, it also took a significant toll on his and Niemi's relationship. It became such a big problem in their relationship that in 2003, Swayze and Niemi separated. Finally the two, on the verge of divorce, sought help from an unlikely source.
An Unlikely Source Of Help
In his memoir, Time of My Life, Swayze recounted how he and Niemi fixed their broken relationship. Faced with no way of rewriting the past or undoing the damage Swayze's relationship with alcohol had caused, the pair needed help.
Swayze and Niemi sought the help of a psychic to fix their relationship, which he described as, "poisoned by mistrust and bitterness." A part of their counseling was to take a piece of paper and write out, "I will forget the past." ten times. They then buried them underneath an avocado tree. Swayze and Niemi reunited in 2004, showing that they were there for each other and could overcome a difficult situation if you stay strong. Niemi would face these same lesson years later.
A Possible Love Child
Though Swayze and Niemi never had children together, Swayze might have had a child with a woman named Bonnie Kay. Born in 1975, Jason Whittle is supposedly their son, who resulted from a one-night stand. Can you see a resemblance?
After a career playing in the NFL, Whittle moved into real estate. But there's a chance he could move on something else: Swayze's $40M inheritance, currently left all to Lisa Niemi. According to Whittle, his mother told him the truth about his heritage before she passed away of cancer in 2012, and he did a DNA test to prove it. Niemi, however, denies the possibility and the chance Whittle is actually Swayze's son.
Keeping Her Head Up
It was only four years after Swayze and Niemi got back together that Swayze was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. Even though Niemi lost her husband of 34 years to the disease, she managed to stay strong, fight through the pain, and remain positive.
In the years following Swayze's untimely death, Niemi passed the time practicing yoga, riding horses, and redecorating her house. She leaned on her friends for support through the difficult period, and even though it was an extremely testing time for her, a year later she told People magazine, "I know I'm stronger now. The fact that I've had some good days definitely gives me hope that I can have more." Despite all her positivity, Niemi believed finding love once again was not a part of her future.
An Uncertain Future
The loss of a spouse leaves a void that is very difficult to fill. For many widows, the thought of entertaining another romantic relationship is both uneasy and painful. Niemi was no different following Swayze's death.
In the wake of her husband's passing, Niemi stated that she felt unsure of whether it would be possible for her to find romance in her future. She told People magazine, "I hope I'm not one of these women who never want to have another relationship. But who knows; that's another bridge I'll cross when I come to it. I may get there and go, 'I don't know.' But I like to think that I can." so would Niemi be able to find romance once again.
There Is Hope On The Horizon
It would turn out that Niemi had hope on the horizon. In 2012 the former ballerina met Albert DePrisco, a jeweler, through a mutual friend at a party.
This meeting marked a new phase in Niemi's life. The two soon started dating, taking part in a long-distance relationship between Niemi's Los Angeles ranch and DePrisco's home in south Florida. After one and a half years of dating, DePrisco dropped to one knee and asked Niemi for her hand in marriage. Niemi, however, had two major things to consider.
A Tough Decision
Niemi was happy in her new relationship; however, when DePrisco proposed to her, she was confronted with a tough decision. She was unsure whether or not she wanted to walk down the aisle again, due to the fact her 34-year relationship with Swayze had only ended a few years prior.
Recalling her thoughts on getting remarried, Niemi said, "I found myself grappling with my feelings of having been married to Patrick for 34 years! Privately, I flipped, I flopped. Yes, get married, no, don't get married." To reach her answer, Niemi first had to consider what this new marriage would mean for her. She still loved Swayze saying, "When you lose someone, you never stop loving them and it's… I feel like I have a different relationship with him now… It's just, he's not physically present." Niemi ultimately decided her love "for Patrick was never in conflict or competition with [her] feelings for Albert," with this being said, she still had one consideration to make.
For Niemi, her most important consideration was what Swayze would have wanted for her. Giving this a lot of thought, she arrived at her conclusion, at the end of the day, she said, "I know he wouldn't want me to hurt anymore… he wouldn't want me to cry anymore. He wanted me to be happy."
DePrisco's acknowledgment of Niemi's past helped Niemi make her choice. She explained, "Albert knew I still loved Patrick and would always love him and told me, 'And I know you love me, and I love you.' How could I not marry this man?" the thing that really convinced her to move on came from a very unexpected place.
Once More Down The Aisle
Niemi had accepted DePrisco's proposal and was willing to walk down the aisle with him, and very soon. It was just a few weeks prior to the wedding that Niemi could finally let go, and her insecurities were laid to rest.
Niemi was confident with her decision to marry again after Swayze presented himself to her in a dream. "It was like he was giving me his blessing and letting me know it was okay. Again, it can be hard sometimes to take those steps forward, but it doesn't change the way we feel about someone. He was letting me know that." with Swayze's blessing and almost five years since his passing, Niemi put on her wedding dress and walked the aisle once more.
Happily Ever After, After
With 50 of their closest family and friends present, Niemi and DePrisco exchanged their vows. The wedding was held at The Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida. It took place on a sunny Sunday in the late afternoon, and Niemi was very happy about getting remarried, calling it "a leap of faith."
Niemi was given her second chance at a loving marriage at the age of 58. Telling People magazine in an interview after her wedding she said, "I was willing to step into that future" With her new husband, Albert DePrisco standing by her she has shown so many people there is hope for finding love when faced with tragedy.
Dirty Dancing: Eye-Opening Behind-The-Scenes Facts
The Real Person Behind Baby
Though the story of Dirty Dancing seems to be something that Hollywood scriptwriters dreamed up, a lot of it is actually true. The film was written by Eleanor Bergstein, who created the story around her own personal anecdotes and memories of growing up.
Bergstein was a Jewish girl from Brooklyn who would holiday in the Catskills with her family. She would attend secret dance parties on these trips, and it’s even where she got the name for the film – someone complained while they were tangoing by saying, “They’re dancing dirty!”
1963 Was Chosen for a Reason
It's no coincidence that the movie is set in 1963. It wasn’t just a big year for the real-life Baby, it was a big year for America and for the world. It was the year of the first Beatles record, and it was the year that 250,000 people arrived in Washington DC to hear Martin Luther King Jr deliver his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
But it was also a year filled with tragedy. The Vietnam War was in full swing overseas and nearly 16,000 American troops had been deployed. And in November that year, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated as he drove through the streets of Dallas, Texas.
Sending Out the Script
While it’s true that many movies go on to have great soundtracks, the music for Dirty Dancing was an integral part of the film from the beginning. Bergstein had it planned even when writing the script and sent a cassette tape out with each copy.
But she found that the film execs just weren’t connecting with the story. “They couldn’t really envision it. So I would get up on a table in a very short skirt and do all the dirty dancing steps for a lot of men sitting with cigars.” But even with this extra attention to detail, every Hollywood studio turned the movie down.
The Unknown Studio
When Bergstein eventually found a studio to take on her film, it wasn't one that anyone had heard of. Vestron Pictures was originally a distribution company but started making movies in the mid-'80s. Many of these, such as Slaughter High and Cat Chaser are largely forgotten.
When they took on the script from this unknown writer, they had little idea that they had one of the biggest hits of the 1980s on their hands. Apparently, the producer who took it only did so because he had fond memories of similar summer vacations. With this stroke of luck, Bergstein was given a budget of $5 million.
The Unknown Director
It wasn’t just an unknown studio that the film was faced with, but an unknown director as well. Bergstein wasn’t given a choice of director, but she was allocated one by the studio, a man named Emile Ardolino who had actually never directed a feature film before.
He did, however, have plenty of experience filming dancers. He had made plenty of documentaries and television features about dance, and it was his love of the art that led him to take on the project. Though he might not have had the Hollywood experience, without his touch Dirty Dancing wouldn’t be the same.
The Terrible Title That Almost Was
When Bergstein was taking part in her dance competitions back in those summers of the 1960s, the dances they did were very risqué for the time. Though they’re obviously not as suggestive as things we have today (like twerking), Latin dances, in particular, were considered very racy.
Her particular favorite was the mambo, which almost ended up as part of the movie title. The producers were concerned that ‘Dirty Dancing’ was too provocative and wanted to go with ‘I Was a Teenage Mambo Queen’. Fortunately, they saw the light and we ended up with the iconic title that we know today.
It Was a Surprise Hit
With an unknown writer, a little-known studio, and an inexperienced director behind it, no one had much hope for the success of Dirty Dancing. It even performed so poorly in test screenings that it was only planned to screen for one weekend before going straight to video.
It was a surprise to everyone then, when it was a hit with audiences. Some moviegoers even claimed to have bought another ticket immediately after leaving the cinema. The film went on to be not only one of the top releases of 1987 but was also the top video rental of 1988. From a budget of $5 million, it went on to gross $170 million.
The Unexpected Award
While the success at the box office was obviously a gamechanger for this humble film, there was something even more unexpected that would lift the film’s reputation forever: it won an Oscar for Best Original Song at the 1988 Academy Awards.
The film could now make the claim of being the “Academy Award Winner Dirty Dancing”, all thanks to the track ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.’ The song won the same award at the Golden Globes, and also picked up a Grammy for Best Duet.
Suitable for a Funeral?
Performed by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, '(I've Had) The Time of My Life' was not only an award winner but also went on to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It also left behind it something of a strange legacy.
In the UK, although it did also chart, it made an impact in another way. It's the third most popular song to be played at funerals. While images of people doing sexy dances probably aren't appropriate for the occasion, if you focus on the song, it is a beautiful way to remember someone you love.
The Voice for the Theme Song
Bill Medley of course performed one half of the duet that was the film’s theme song, but when first approached to take on the task, he wasn’t so sure. The title of the movie had apparently put him off, and he said it sounded like a “bad porno”.
He also wasn’t impressed by the fact that the lead actors weren’t so well known. He had every right to be picky, however. Medley was one of the Righteous Brothers, and his voice can be heard on the 1964 hit ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’.
Getting the Wrong Idea
Bill Medley wasn’t the only one who thought that the name Dirty Dancing conjured up images of something much more risqué. At the time of filming, the producers had a run-in with Canadian customs who had seen the title written on the film reels.
The customs officers had assumed it was porn, and seized some of the daily footage. One producer was even strip-searched. These days, of course, the film is so well known that you'd have trouble finding someone, even a customs officer, who hasn't seen it.
The Film’s Bad Guy
If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s the most hated character in the film. Neil Kellerman was the grandson of the hotel owner where the dances were taking place. He tried to impress Baby with his status, but she only had eyes for Johnny.
Lonny Price, who played Kellerman, was happy enough to take on the part of the movie’s bad guy. He later explained, “They hated me, but in a good way.” Since then Price has made his name as a Broadway director, with more than 14 credits to his name.
The Fan’s Favorite Quotes
The most famous quote from Dirty Dancing has got to be 'Nobody puts Baby in a corner,' but what are some of the other lines that die-hard fans love to bring out at any given opportunity? Film site IBMD has a ranking of audience picks.
Also ranking highly was “Me? I’m scared of everything. I’m scared of what I saw, I’m scared of what I did, of who I am, and most of all I’m scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I’m with you.” And we can’t forget, “Look, spaghetti arms. This is my dance space. This is your dance space. I don’t go into yours, you don’t go into mine. You gotta hold the frame.”
Swayze Didn’t Want to Say the Line
Audiences might have loved the most famous line from the film, but Patrick Swayze certainly didn’t. He revealed in his 2009 biography, “I could hardly bring myself to say: ‘Nobody puts Baby in a corner.’ It sounded so corny.”
It might have sounded corny at the time, but history has gone on to show that it was a great line. It’s been quoted and referenced in television shows and songs, and was rated by the American Film Institute was being in the top 100.
The Famous Lift
One of the key scenes in the film is when Baby and Johnny, after many failed attempts, pull off the perfect lift. So you might be very surprised to hear that Jennifer Grey, who played Baby, never practiced the scene.
Earlier in the film, they are seen attempting the lift over and over but with no success, but when it came to getting it right, it was completely unrehearsed. In an interview in 2015, Grey revealed, "I only did it on the day I shot it. Never rehearsed it, never done it since."