Ahh, Dirty Dancing, such an ‘80s classic. It’s won two Academy Awards, a Grammy, and a loyal following that’s lasted decades. But what do we know about the age difference between the two lead stars?
Patrick Swayze was 35 years old when the cult classic Dirty Dancing was released in the United States, although he may have been 34 years old when they filmed. His costar, Jennifer Grey, was in her late 20s.
Let’s take a closer look at how Patrick landed the role, including a background on his career before and after the film.
Swayze was athletic from a young age, participating in ice skating and ballet at 20 years old. A football career could have been on the cards, but he suffered from a knee injury that ultimately ended that dream.
Instead, he made the move to New York City, where he finished formal dance training at Joffrey Ballet School and Harkness Ballet school.
His debut professional dance career began at the Disney Theatrical Group, which was followed by a main role as Danny Zuko in the Broadway production of Grease. The first film he starred in was called Skatetown, U.S.A., where he played a character called Ace.
While his first big break was arguable in North and South, a miniseries on TV in 1985, Swayze really cemented his place in the movie industry with Dirty Dancing. The film was actually a low-budget project and was planned to be released for only one week.
A Life-Changing Role
As well as showing off his dancing chops, Swayze co-composed and performed “She’s Like the Wind”, a song that was featured on the film’s soundtrack.
Considering the fact that he was born in 1952 on the 18th of August, Swayze was 35 years old at the time that the film was released, which was on August 21st, 1987 in the US.
Jennifer Grey, who portrayed Frances “Baby” Houseman, was 27 years old at the time. She was supposed to be portraying a 17-year-old, and Swayze was meant to be 25 years of age in the film.
Funnily enough, Swayze and Grey weren’t the original picks for the roles. Instead, the character of Johnny Castle was offered to Val Kilmer, and Baby was auditioned for by Sharon Stone and Sarah Jessica Parker.
Following the coming of age film, Swayze was bombarded with tons of new acting opportunities. He had roles in Steel Dawn (1987), Road House (1989), Next of Kin (1989), and of course his other massive hit, Ghost (1990) with Demi Moore.
In 1991 at 39 years old, he appeared in Point Break alongside Keanu Reeves, and the following year was nominated for an MTV Movie Award in the “Most Desirable Male” category.
Working With Grey
Despite what the beloved film portrays at its climax, the ‘80s lovebirds apparently weren’t too keen on each other in real life. A lot of the tension seen between the characters in the film is, in fact, real.
Grey and Swayze had worked together previously on Red Dawn, and things began feeling tense even then.
Since Grey was almost a decade younger than her seasoned costar, she had a different approach when it came to acting.
Linda Gottlieb, a producer on the set of Dirty Dancing, once shared a glimpse into the dynamics between the two:
“He felt like she was a wimp. She was genuine, naïve; you would do a take eight times and Jennifer would do it differently every time.”
She added, “Patrick was a pro; he would deliver the same thing again and again. She would cry easily, she was emotional and he sort of made fun of her. He was a macho guy.”
Speaking to the Hollywood Reporter in 2016, Grey reminisced on her time working with Swayze, emphasizing her youth at the time of filming:
“He smelled really good, his skin was really nice. He was really strong and he was very protective and his heart was very much in it,” she said. “It was our second movie we’d done together within a short time — we did Red Dawn first and then Dirty Dancing.”
She continued, “He was a great dancer and he was fearless. His fearlessness with my fearfulness — like his lack of Jewishness and my super Jewishness — together was like a marriage where you have two opposites. He’d do anything and I’d be scared to do anything.”
In the video below, watch Swayze share his experience with Grey before he sadly died in 2009 of pancreatic cancer.