Patrick Swayze's Widow Lisa Niemi Opens Up About His Life and Legacy (Exclusive)
By Meredith B. Kile
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Fans remember Patrick Swayze from his iconic roles: a dance instructor from the wrong side of the tracks in Dirty Dancing, a no-nonsense bouncer in Road House, a posthumous pottery thrower in Ghost and New York City's Drag Queen of the Year in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, among many others.
But perhaps no one knew the real Swayze -- the man behind the brash and bold characters -- better than the late actor's wife, Lisa Niemi. Swayze's widow sat down with ET ahead of the release of a new documentary on the actor's life and legacy, I Am Patrick Swayze, to talk about his career and his untimely death in 2009 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
"It's the worst thing in the world to go through," Niemi says of Swayze's fight against the disease, which took his life at just 57 years old. "You spend every day fighting for that person's life. I know that he spent every day fighting for his own...He survived 22 months, which was miraculous with the diagnosis that he received."
The actor and his wife met as teenagers, when Niemi was taking dance lessons from Swayze's mother. They married in 1975, four years before he made his feature film debut in the roller disco film Skatetown, U.S.A., and were together until his death in September 2009.
"The first time Buddy and I danced together was at a school exhibition," Niemi emotionally recalls in the documentary, using her nickname for her late husband. "We walked out on stage.. I looked in his eyes, it was like everything came alive."
However, it wasn't always smooth sailing. I Am Patrick Swayze gives a candid look at the actor's struggles with his own "demons" and alcohol abuse, and the couple separated for a time prior to Swayze's cancer diagnosis. But Niemi was with him until the end, and told ET that she still feels his presence and talks to him "every day."
"When you lose someone, you never stop loving them and it's-- I feel like I have a different relationship with him now," she explains. "It's just, he's not physically present, you know what I mean?"
The documentary, which debuts on Aug. 18 -- what would have been the actor's 67th birthday -- also features interviews with some of Swayze's friends and former co-stars, like Demi Moore, Rob Lowe and Dirty Dancing'sJennifer Grey, who opened up about why the two made such a great pair in the now-classic film.
"Patrick was super hungry for connection," the actress remembers. "His heart and my heart got along really well."
Not to mention, Swayze got to show off his longtime dance skills while having the "time of his life."
"He knew going into Dirty Dancing, he goes, 'This is it,'" Niemi says in the documentary. "'This is where I pull out the dance card and do this.'"
See more on Swayze's most iconic roles in the video below. I Am Patrick Swayze premieres Aug. 18 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the Paramount Network.