March 24th, 2013:

PATSY & DON SWAYZE, Mother and Son

During my long career in journalism, I interviewed hundreds of interesting people in many different walks of life, and that included a lot in the entertainment industry. Luckily, I saved many of the newspapers and magazines that contain my stories so I can share them again.

The Swayze family was a fascinating one. Most movie fans remember  Patrick Swayze and his wonderful movies, “Dirty Dancing,” and “Ghost.” I didn’t meet the famous Patrick, but I discovered the reason he was such a terrific dancer when I had a long talk with his mother Patsy. Then, a few years later, I interviewed his brother Don, also an actor. These stories were published in Southern California newspapers, long before Patrick passed away from cancer.

Patsy, Patrick and Lisa Swayze

Patsy, Patrick and Lisa Swayze

 

Dance was in Patsy’s blood and she passed that enthusiasm down to her five children. She was a dance instructor at the University of Houston and had her own Houston Jazz/Ballet Company. Patsy choreographed the John Travolta movie “Urban Cowboy” and all her children were in it. Don Swayze did some stand-in work in the film for Travolta. In 1980 the Swayze’s moved to Simi Valley, California, and Patsy started a dance studio there, and that’s where I interviewed her in 1989.

She was very congenial and reminded me a lot of my mother, who had always been into physical fitness and dancing. My mom taught exercise classes when my parents retired in San Antonio. What impressed me the most about Patsy was her passion for helping people. She was pleased with her children’s success and declared, “A mother’s reward is knowing things touch your kids, that they are sensitive to other people’s feelings and needs. That spells success more than stardom.”

I met Patsy’s son Don when I interviewed him while he was playing a Civil War general in a play in Thousand Oaks. After having met his mother, I wasn’t surprised he was charming and friendly. He called himself an “adrenaline junkie,” and after hearing about his adventures jumping off tall buildings and towers, I was amazed he was still in one piece. He had done about 2,000 jumps by that point in the late 1990s. At least he used a parachute. Some of his jumps included a 900-foot tower in Las Vegas, Yosemite’s El Capitan and Half Dome.

 

Don Swayze

Don Swayze

In 1995 he wasn’t that lucky when he jumped off a Navy radio tower in San Diego; he even had three parachutes packed and it was only 600 feet high. He jumped at 3 a.m. after taking 45 minutes to climb the tower (he’d jumped it 80 times already). The square parachute opened the wrong way and he hit the ground going 80 mph and then “bounced back up.” He had his cell phone but the 911 operator didn’t believe him at first and then they took an hour to find him.

He had to overcome 50 fractures, 40 of them in his left foot. He also broke his left femur and his pelvis. That wasn’t the end of the repercussions, which included a month in the hospital, 12 surgeries, a bone infection and metal hardware in his body.

Don, who’s the father of a daughter, didn’t let his injuries stop him; he was back to acting a couple of years later, and I believe he’s still acting on TV. He told me his horrible accident forced him “not to take things for granted.”

I wonder what Patsy thought of Don’s adventures!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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