Life After Patrick: Remembering My Husband, Patrick Swayze

Patrick Swayze died of pancreatic cancer more than two years ago. Now his widow, Lisa Niemi, talks honestly to LHJ about the agonies -- and the surprising joys -- of caring for her dying husband.
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By any measure, Lisa Niemi and Patrick Swayze had an exceptionally close marriage. By Hollywood standards, its endurance was astounding. The pair met as teenagers in Houston, at his mother's dance studio, and wed four years later. They cheered each other on as struggling actors and survived the stresses of celebrity couplehood after Swayze shot to fame in the 1987 blockbuster Dirty Dancing. They raised horses together, copiloted planes and costarred in two movies (Steel Dawn and One Last Dance, which Niemi also directed). They sometimes veered toward the rocks, propelled by Swayze's bouts of depression-fueled drinking, but somehow they always managed to regain their bearings.

Then, shortly before their 33rd wedding anniversary, Swayze was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. Doctors gave him a few weeks to live. Yet he survived for nearly two years, shooting a TV series (The Beast) and renewing his vows to Niemi in a joyful ceremony at their Los Angeles ranch before his strength failed. She nursed him to the end and held him as he took his last breath, in September 2009, at age 57. Her moving memoir of their final struggle, Worth Fighting For, was just released. Niemi, 55, spoke with LHJ on the ranch's sunny patio.

LHJ You started writing your book just months after Patrick's death. What drove you to tell your story?

LN There are plenty of books about divorce, but nobody ever talks about what happens when a marriage actually works. In the wedding vows, it's "till death do you part." It's so hard to wrap your mind around that parting, but at some point, we're all faced with it. And nobody's prepared for it.

Continued on page 2:  Keeping It Together


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