Swayze became one of Hollywood's top stars with 1987's Dirty Dancing, which defied Hollywood expectations to become one of the most-watched films of all time.
He earned three Golden Globe nominations - for Dirty Dancing, Ghost and 1995's To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.
Dirty Dancing, which was made for a modest budget and almost scrapped by its studio, became a huge box-office hit, earning Golden Globe nominations for both stars and spawning the Oscar-winning hit single (I've Had) The Time of My Life.
Producers did not have high hopes for the film but it reaped $64 million at the US box office and $214 million worldwide.
|After Dirty Dancing and Ghost, Swayze suffered several career setbacks [AFP]
Swayze co-wrote and performed the song She's Like the Wind for the film's soundtrack, which went to No 3 on the pop music charts.
The film remained widely popular more than two decades later and recently spawned a stage musical version.
In 1990, Ghost was an even bigger hit than Dirty Dancing, with a domestic box office take of more than $217 million and $505 million around the world.
Swayze starred as Demi Moore's deceased lover, Sam, in the tear-jerker romance, which was nominated for a best film Academy Award.
Whoopi Goldberg won an Oscar for her supporting role as a spiritual medium who helps Sam communicate with his girlfriend from beyond the grave.
Goldberg said it was Swayze who convinced Jerry Zucker, the film's director, to cast her.
Swayze was born in Houston on August 18, 1952, and was introduced to performing early. His father was a champion rodeo cowboy and his mother owned a ballet studio.
Swayze trained in dance from a young age and performed for New York City ballet companies before moving to Broadway.
"I've made a pretty decent mark so far – nothing to scoff at. But it does make you think: Wait a minute. There's more I want to do. Lots more. Get on with it"
His portrayal of Danny Zuko on Broadway in Grease caught the attention of Hollywood and he moved to the West Coast in the late 1970s, appearing in small TV and film parts.
His breakout roles came in 1983's boyhood drama The Outsiders and 1984's Red Dawn in which he and future Dirty Dancing co-star Grey played teenagers fighting invading Russians.
After Dirty Dancing and Ghost, Swayze suffered several career setbacks, including a battle with alcohol.
Attributing some of his problems with drinking to his sudden fame and the Hollywood lifestyle, he moved back to Texas with his wife of more than 30 years, Lisa Niemi, and worked in such films as The Green Dragon and Donnie Darko, both in 2001.
Fans of the actor were saddened to learn in January 2008 that Swayze was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, one of the most deadly forms of the disease.
He said at the time that the cancer had already spread to his liver.
But he vowed to fight the disease and had treatment with an experimental drug, surprising Hollywood by filming a new detective series for television called The Beast, in which he played the gruelling lead role.
|Swayze is survived by his wife of 34 years,
Lisa Niemi [AFP]
The series drew a respectable 1.3 million viewers when the 13 episodes ran in 2009.
"I think everybody thought I was out of my mind ... thinking I'm gonna pull off a TV show," Swayze said in an interview in January 2009.
He also said he was scared and angry at his diagnosis.
Swayze said he opted not to use pain-killing 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.
He worked earlier this year on a memoir with Niemi.
'Hell on wheels'
When Swayze 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.
In 2008, he told The New York Times that although chemotherapy had been "hell on wheels", he refused to quit fighting.
"There is probably that little bird that flies through your insides and says, 'I sure would like to make a mark in life,'" he said.
"I've made a pretty decent mark so far - nothing to scoff at. But it does make you think: Wait a minute. There's more I want to do. Lots more. Get on with it."