Patrick Swayze Dirty Dancing ‘agony’ continued after Jennifer Grey tried to have him fired

Their bickering and love-hate relationship on screen is part of what makes the movie such an enduringly beloved romantic success. But by now it is also well-known that the two actors started off on the wrong foot and their relationship was often strained throughout the shoot, starting with her attempts to have him dropped from the film altogether. While neither was having the time of their life, Swayze was also battling extraordinary pain, even as he was delivering one of the all-time great on-screen actor-dancer performances.

Just before Dirty dancing was being cast, the pair had starred together in 1984’s action flick Red Dawn. Grey’s experience on set made her decide she never wanted to work with her co-star again.

She told The View: “Patrick was playing pranks on me and everybody, and late, and the boss of everybody. It was just, like, macho, and I just couldn’t take it. I was just like, ‘Please, this guy, that’s enough with him. So when they said, ‘What about Patrick for the (Dirty Dancing) movie?’  I said, ‘Oh no, no, no.'”

Earlier this year, Grey revealed that when Swayze was brought in to screen test with her, he apparently knew he needed to clear the air because she was stromgly opposed to him starring opposite her again.

Grey said: “He pulled me down the hall and said to me, ‘I love you, I love you, and I’m so sorry. And I know you don’t want me to do the movie.’

Swayze’s promising high school American Football career had been cut short by a catastrophic injury to his left leg. He turned to dance and gymnastics to strengthen the joints and swapped a promising sports career for dance, training with the Harkness and Joffrey Ballet companies in New York City before graduating to principal dancer with the Eliot Feld Ballet Company.

But disaster struck when he was 24 and doctors warned he had been close to having the same leg amputated. In 1976, a tooth abscess led to a severe staph infection in Swayze’s bloodstream and settled in his bad leg.

Doctors treating the dance star at the time said it had been touch and go, with urgent treatment needed to counter the infection otherwise his left leg would need to be amputated after a week before the situation became life-threatening. 

Swayze, typically laconically, said: “That was a miraculous one to make it through.”

When he shot Dirty Dancing a decade later, the star was still troubled by pain in his leg which was exacerbated by the strenuous choreography and the incredibly tight 43-day filming schedule.

Shooting the famous scene on the log was particularly gruelling. Swayze said: “We had to balance very carefully so we wouldn’t tumble onto the rocks below. It looks like fun in the movie but shooting that scene was dangerous and physically taxing… Because most of the cartilage in my knee was gone, the bones were just grinding painfully on each other.”

Swayze ended up in hospital having fluid drained from his hugely inflamed knee. He faced further agony preparing for the film’s centrepiece lift and the rehearsal montage in the lake.

Swayze said: “Despite the fact that Jennifer was very light, when you’re lifting someone in water, even the skinniest little girl can feel like 500 pounds.

“By the time we finished shooting that sequence my arms were like rubber, my temperature had plunged and my legs were a scraped-up mess.”

It’s no wonder the actor’s resume would have a strict ‘no dancing’ clause. 

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Stefan Kyriazis

By Stefan Kyriazis

Stefan Kyriazis is an Entertainment journalist, who has been Arts Editor of Express Online since 2013 and helped launch the site. Before that he worked at Heat, Grazia and Star magazines and contributed to Attitude magazine with a monthly column. His particular focus is Film and theatre, with a passion to promote the arts in the UK.

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