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Dirty Dancing and Ghost star Patrick Swayze dies after cancer battle

Actor Patrick Swayze has died after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer.

Swayze's publicist Annett Wolf said the 57-year-old Dirty Dancing actor died yesterday with family at his side. He came forward about his illness last spring, but continued working as he underwent treatments.

It was 1987 when Swayze became a star with his performance in Dirty Dancing, a coming-of-age story set in a Catskills resort in New York. The 1990 film Ghost cemented his status as a screen favourite.

Swayze played a murdered man trying to communicate with his fiancee through a spirit played by Whoopi Goldberg.

He kept on working even after it was disclosed in March 2008 that he had a particularly deadly form of cancer.

He starred in The Beast, an A&E drama series, and said he and his wife were working on a memoir.

Ms Wolf said in a statement: "Patrick Swayze passed away peacefully with family at his side after facing the challenges of his illness for the last 20 months."

Swayze said he opted not to use painkilling drugs while making The Beast because they would have taken the edge off his performance.

When he first went public with the illness, some reports gave him only weeks to live, but his doctor said his situation was "considerably more optimistic" than that. Swayze acknowledged that time might be running out given the grim nature of the disease.

"I'd say five years is pretty wishful thinking," Swayze told ABC television's Barbara Walters in early 2009. "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."

Swayze was born in 1952 in Houston, the son of Jesse Swayze and choreographer Patsy Swayze, whose films include Urban Cowboy.

He played football but also was drawn to dance and theatre, performing with the Feld, Joffrey and Harkness Ballets and appearing on Broadway as Danny Zuko in Grease. But he turned to acting in 1978 after a series of injuries.

Within a couple years of moving to Los Angeles, he made his debut in the roller-disco movie Skatetown, USA. The eclectic cast included Scott Baio, Flip Wilson, Maureen McCormack and Billy Barty.

Off-screen, he was an avid conservationist who was moved by his time in Africa to shine a light on "man's greed and absolute unwillingness to operate according to Mother Nature's laws," he told the Associated Press in 2004.

Swayze was married since 1975 to Lisa Niemi, a fellow dancer who took lessons with his mother; they met when he was 19 and she was 15. A licensed pilot, Niemi would fly her husband from Los Angeles to Northern California for treatment at Stanford University Medical Centre.

In February, Swayze wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post titled, I'm Battling Cancer. How About Some Help, Congress? in which he urged senators and representatives to vote for the maximum funding for the National Institutes of Health to fight cancer as part of the economic stimulus package.

He also appeared in the September 2008 live television event Stand Up to Cancer, where he made this moving plea: "I keep dreaming of a future, a future with a long and healthy life, a life not lived in the shadow of cancer, but in the light. ... I dream that the word 'cure' will no longer be followed by the words 'is impossible."'

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