"Patrick Swayze passed away peacefully today with family at his side after facing the challenges of his illness for the last 20 months," said a statement released Monday evening by his publicist, Annett Wolf. No other details were given.
Fans of the actor were saddened to learn in March 2008 that Swayze was suffering from a particularly deadly form of cancer.
He had kept working despite the diagnosis, putting together a memoir with his wife and shooting "The Beast," an A&E drama series for which he had already made the pilot. It drew a respectable 1.3 million viewers when the 13 episodes ran on the cable television station in 2009, but A&E said it had reluctantly decided not to renew it for a second season.
Swayze said he opted not to use painkilling drugs while making "The Beast" because they would have taken the edge off his performance. He acknowledged that time might be running out given the grim nature of the disease.
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.
"I'd say five years is pretty wishful thinking," Swayze told ABC'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."
A three-time Golden Globe nominee, Swayze became a star with his performance as the misunderstood bad-boy Johnny Castle in "Dirty Dancing." As the son of a choreographer who began his career in musical theater, he seemed a natural to play the role.
A coming-of-age romance starring Jennifer Grey as an idealistic young woman on vacation with her family and Swayze as the Catskills resort's sexy (and much older) dance instructor, the film made great use of both his grace on his feet and his muscular physique.
It became an international phenomenon in the summer of 1987, spawning albums, an Oscar-winning hit song in "(I've Had) the Time of My Life," stage productions and a sequel, 2004's "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights," in which he made a cameo.
Swayze performed and co-wrote a song on the soundtrack, the ballad "She's Like the Wind," inspired by his wife, Lisa Niemi. The film also gave him the chance to utter the now-classic line, "Nobody puts Baby in a corner."
And it allowed him to poke fun at himself on a "Saturday Night Live" episode, in which he played a would-be Chippendales exotic dancer alongside the corpulent — and frighteningly shirtless — Chris Farley.
A major crowdpleaser, "Dirty Dancing" drew only mixed reviews from critics, though Vincent Canby wrote in The New York Times, "Given the limitations of his role, that of a poor but handsome sex-object abused by the rich women at Kellerman's Mountain House, Mr. Swayze is also good. ... He's at his best — as is the movie — when he's dancing."
Swayze followed that up with the 1989 action film "Road House," in which he played a bouncer at a rowdy bar. But it was his performance in 1990's "Ghost" that showed his vulnerable, sensitive side. He starred as a murdered man trying to communicate with his fiancee (Demi Moore) — with great frustration and longing — through a psychic played by Whoopi Goldberg.
Swayze said at the time that he fought for the role of Sam Wheat (director Jerry Zucker wanted Kevin Kline) but once he went in for an audition and read six scenes, he got it.
Why did he want the part so badly? "It made me cry four or five times," he said of Bruce Joel Rubin's Oscar-winning script in an AP interview.