Despite being a sought after leading man, one lucky lady managed to capture the heart of Dirty Dancing star, Patrick Swayze. The Hollywood icon and Lisa Niemi were married for 34 years before the actor tragically lost his battle to cancer on September 14, 2009. Nearly a decade later, Niemi has opened up about Swayze’s childhood, their relationship, and her life after his death. Has she been able to heal her broken heart with another man?
How fitting is it that Lisa Niemi’s love story with Dirty Dancing leading man, Patrick Swayze began at a dance school? Having developed a passion for dance at a young age, Texas native Lisa Niemi enrolled in dance lessons at the Houston Ballet Dance Company.
The dance studio was run by none other than Swayze’s mother, Patsy. With Patsy as her ballet teacher, Niemi was introduced to Swayze when she was just 15 years old and he was just 19 years old. Though Swayze’s mother proved to play a significant role in the actor’s life, having basically played cupid for him, she wasn’t always the most positive source of light.
Despite meeting at such a young age, both Swayze and Niemi knew there was something special about the other. Niemi recalled the first time they danced together at a school exhibition, saying, “We walked out on stage. I looked in his eyes, it was like everything came alive.”
Their undeniable connection wasn’t one-sided, however. Recalling some of their first moments together, Swayze told People magazine in 2007, “I knew she was the smartest chick I’d ever met in my life. [Before Lisa], I had been meeting girls with names like Mimi and Angel.” But while their connection was immediate, it took time for Swayze to win Niemi over.
It’s hard to imagine an eligible bachelor like Patrick Swayze having to try hard – or even try at all, for that matter – to win a woman over. But as it turns out, Lisa Niemi wasn’t like the other girls who threw themselves at the heart throb.
Swayze’s tricks didn’t work on Niemi, and he said, “If I started putting on a pose or doing my Casanova routine, Lisa would turn around and not say anything.” He added, “She didn’t buy any of my nonsense. We spent half our dates in total silence as she wouldn’t talk to me if she thought I was putting on an act.” How, then, was the Dirty Dancing star able to capture Niemi’s heart in the same way he captured all of America’s hearts?
It wasn’t Swayze’s goofiness – or even his swoon-worthy moves on the dance floor – that won over Niemi in the end. As Swayze admitted to People magazine, it took having serious conversations to get the ballet dancer to take him seriously.
Swayze recalled, “As soon as I opened up about what I wanted from life, she would answer me.” Soon enough, five years after their initial meeting, the two wed on June 12, 1975. Swayze and Niemi exchanged vows in Niemi’s Houston backyard and held the reception at Patsy’s dance studio, where they first met. Throughout their marriage, Niemi would prove to uphold her promise, “til death do us part” by remaining by her husband’s side through thick and thin. But little did she know just how much turmoil they’d actually have to endure.
Shortly after they wed, the couple left their Houston homes and moved to New York City, where they hoped to grow their careers as dancers. But after Swayze’s success was hindered thanks to an old football knee injury that resurfaced, they relocated to Los Angeles and gave acting a shot.
Niemi stuck by Swayze’s side as his acting career took off, helping him with his iconic dance scenes in Dirty Dancing and inspiring his ballad, “She’s Like The Wind.” Together, they also starred in One Last Dance, a film written and directed by Niemi. In addition, they ran a construction company together and raised horses on their San Fernando Valley ranch. But while their fairy-tale romance seemed idyllic, they would be thrown a curve ball that they could have never planned for.
In March of 2008, Swayze was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer and both his and Niemi’s life was flipped upside down. His battle with the life-threatening disease began in 2007, when he first recognized symptoms while celebrating New Years Eve with his wife.
To ring in the new year, the actor popped open a bottle of champagne and compared drinking it to “pouring acid, you know, on an open wound.” He then realized his “indigestion got gigantic and constant,” adding, “And then I started thinking, I’m getting skinny. I dropped 20 pounds in the blink of an eye.” Swayze’s declining health also affected Niemi, who told ABC News that her husband’s diagnosis “was like being in a nightmare you couldn’t wake up from.” But as his wife, she willfully took on the role of caretaker, though it wouldn’t be an easy task.
Lisa Niemi admitted to feeling fearful over Swayze’s bleak prognosis but said, “Because we were in a fight for his life, I always said to myself, ‘I can cry; I can fall apart; I can panic – later. But not now.’ I made a decision that I was going to be who he needed me to be so that he could get better.”
To her, that meant being there for Swayze in any way he needed: holding his hand, taking him to doctor’s appointments, giving him his medication, and even educating herself about his cancer and the medical system. In an interview with Cancer Connect, she said, “I kept copious notes on everything because I knew that while he had fabulous doctors, he was not the only patient they had, and I was willing to contribute to his health – to dedicate myself – in a way nobody else could.” Although she did everything in her power to help Swayze, the worst was only yet to come.
On the fateful day of September 14, 2009, Swayze passed away next to Niemi in their home. Opening up at a Women’s Conference shortly after, Niemi said, “I thought during the 22 months of my husband’s illness that it gave me time to get used to the idea of losing him.” But when it actually happened, she lamented, “the actual loss – it’s like an animal all on its own.”
In a later interview with Fox, Niemi spoke about the heavy toll her husband’s death took on her, saying, “After he died, a girlfriend said [to me], ‘You’re a pretty woman but one that looks like she’s been hit by a truck.'” Niemi added, “and I felt like that.” But it was the last words she and Swayze exchanged before he passed that would leave a more indelible mark on Niemi, and one which would also affect her future relationships.
As Lisa Niemi wrote in her heartbreaking 2011 memoir, Worth Fighting For, that her Hollywood actor husband spoke his final words to her on a Friday evening. And as is so often the case with last words, there’s no way to plan or predict which moment will be the one that matters most.
Swayze took his last breath the following Monday morning. And while the silence that ensued all day Saturday and Sunday was almost louder than any other sound in the world, Niemi tried to hold fast to those last words: “I love you.” Still, despite sharing this last tender moment with her husband, Niemi recalls harboring deep regrets.
It’s hard enough to lose a loved one – but losing a loved one and feeling regretful over what you wish you could have said or done differently – just drives the already deep-seated pain even deeper. And this is what Niemi experienced in the aftermath of her husband’s death.
Speaking to an audience of 14,000 women at a Women’s Conference, Niemi revealed that she wishes she told her husband she loved him more. Even though, she said, “We told each other we loved each other over and over again. I never left the room without telling him,” she felt it still wasn’t enough, adding, “My regret is that I didn’t tell him that I loved him enough over that entire 34 years.” Her regret wasn’t the only thing she revealed following her husband’s death, however.
Nearly ten years since Swayze’s passing, Niemi has spoken out about intimate details of the actor’s family life. In particular, she revealed in Paramount Pictures’ documentary, “I Am Patrick Swayze” that her late husband withstood years of abuse as a child.
Niemi claimed that Swayze’s mother, Patsy, had a tendency to be “‘very violent” – so violent, in fact, that on Swayze’s 18th birthday, his father, Jesse threatened to divorce his wife if she ever laid a hand on their son again. Would his parents’ marriage end in divorce or would Swayze manage to mend his relationship with his mother before he passed?
As Niemi claimed, Patsy’s abusive behavior was a perfect reflection of what goes on in families that that are caught in a cycle of abuse. Because Patsy’s own mother was abusive, Niemi said, she was given a distorted example of how to parent and ultimately treated Swayze in the only way she knew a parent to treat their child.
Thankfully, there was an end to the abuse. Patsy heeded her husband’s warnings and as Niemi said, “she never hit [Swayze] after that.” Over the years, Swayze managed to develop a healthy relationship with his mother, but to get there, the actor first needed to make a tough decision.
As to be expected, Patsy’s abusive nature had an effect on Swayze’s well-being. He came to the realization that his outlook on life was being shaped by the way his mother raised him and ultimately decided that enough was enough. Something had to change.
Swayze made the tough decision to move out of his house. Commenting on how the actor refused to let his upbringing crumble him, Niemi said, “If somebody pushes you that hard as his mom did, it could make people cave, but it made him fight harder.” Even though Swayze moved out of the house, it wouldn’t be enough to mend his relationship with his mother; something on her end needed to change as well.
Though it wasn’t easy to reverse decades of learned behavior, Patsy eventually came around. Initially describing her husband’s mother to be “extremely critical and negative,” Niemi said that in the end, Patsy “figured out that if she was going to be around us, she needed to be a little nicer, and that’s what she did.”
From then on, Swayze and his mother developed a close relationship. In speaking about how Patsy addressed the abuse years later, Niemi said, “I think she would say [to Patrick], ‘Well, you know, sometimes I could be strict, I’m that kind of a teacher.’” Although Swayze managed to mend the relationship he had with his mother, as it turned out, the hardships he faced with her wouldn’t be the only hardships he was confronted with in life.
The reality is, no relationship is perfect, and the one between Niemi and Swayze was no different. Around the same time Swayze cemented his role in Hollywood with a Golden Globe nomination for the 1990 drama film, Ghost, he and wife Niemi received devastating news.
The couple tragically found out that Niemi had miscarried their baby. Swayze’s bodyguard, Frank Whiteley commented on the actor’s heartbreak, saying, “It broke his heart. He wanted to be a dad more than anything.” Unfortunately, this would prove to be only the beginning of a long list of hardships in Swayze and Niemi’s life together.
Niemi’s miscarriage came in the middle of two big tragedies in Swayze’s family life. In 1982, the famed Dirty Dancing actor’s father passed away from a heart attack. Seeing as he was the one to protect Swayze from the hands of his mother’s abuse, his death left the actor absolutely shattered.
Then 12 years later, in 1994, Swayze’s sister, Vicky took her own life. Swayze said of her death, “It was hard not to feel responsible.” And with so much tragedy amidst his wife’s miscarriage and the deaths of his father and sister, the actor admitted, “I started to feel like I was cursed.” Unable to cope, Swayze searched for solace in hopeless places.
To fill the empty void in his heart following his wife’s miscarriage and the loss of close family members, Swayze turned to alcohol. The actor’s attempt to drink away his pain inevitably impacted both his professional life and his personal life.
Swayze’s struggle with alcohol abuse sidelined him from Hollywood’s spotlight, as he admitted, “alcohol and the craft of acting is not a smart combination.” And as to be expected, it also took a toll on his relationship with Niemi. The relationship between the two became so tense that they separated in 2003. On the verge of divorce, Swayze and Niemi sought help from an unlikely source.
In Swayze’s memoir, Time of My Life, the actor recounts how he and Niemi managed to repair their broken relationship. With no way to rewrite the past and undo the damage that had been done at the hand of his alcoholism, the pair needed outside help.
Swayze and Niemi consulted the help of a psychic to fix what he claimed was a relationship “poisoned by mistrust and bitterness.” As part of their healing, the couple took a piece of paper, wrote out “I will forget the past” ten times, and buried it underneath an avocado tree. Swayze and Niemi ended up reuniting in 2004, showing that it’s possible to come out of difficult situations on top so long as you stay strong. Niemi would be taught the same lesson years later.
Just four years after Niemi and Swayze got back together, Swayze was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. And although Niemi unfortunately lost her husband of 34 years to the disease, she managed to fight through the pain and remain positive.
Following Swayze’s death, Niemi passed the time riding horses, redecorating her house, and practicing yoga. She also leaned on her friends for support. And even though it was an extremely trying time for her, she told People magazine a year later, “I know I’m stronger now. The fact that I’ve had some good days definitely gives me hope that I can have more.” Yet even despite this positivity, Niemi didn’t think finding love again would be in her future.
Losing a spouse leaves an emptiness that is difficult to fill. And for many widows, entertaining the thought of another romantic relationship is both uncomfortable and painful. It was no different for Niemi in the aftermath of Patrick Swayze’s death.
Following her husband’s passing, Niemi admitted to being unsure of whether she’d be able to find romance in her future again. She told People magazine, “I hope I’m not one of these women who never want to have another relationship. But who knows; that’s another bridge I’ll cross when I come to it. I may get there and go, ‘I don’t know.’ But I like to think that I can.” Would she be able to find love again in her future?
As it turned out, hope was on the horizon for Lisa Niemi. In 2012, just a few years after losing her beloved husband to cancer, the former ballerina met jeweler, Albert DePrisco through a mutual friend at a birthday party.
Their meeting marked a new chapter in Niemi’s life and they started dating shortly after, embarking on a long-distance relationship between DePrisco’s South Florida home and Niemi’s ranch outside of Los Angeles, which she had previously shared with Swayze. After dating for over a year and a half, DePrisco got down on one knee and asked for Niemi’s hand in marriage. But she had two major things to consider.
Although Niemi was happy in her new relationship with DePrisco, she was confronted with a difficult decision when he proposed. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to walk down the aisle again, given her lengthy marriage with Swayze that ended only a few years before.
Detailing her thoughts on getting remarried, Niemi said, “I found myself grappling with my feelings of having been married to Patrick for 34 years! Privately, I flipped, I flopped. Yes, get married, no, don’t get married.” To arrive at a decision, she first had to consider what this would mean for her, as she still loved Swayze. She said, “When you lose someone, you never stop loving them and it’s … I feel like I have a different relationship with him now… It’s just, he’s not physically present.” And while she ultimately decided that her love “for Patrick was never in conflict or competition with [her] feelings for Albert,” she still she had one more thing to consider.
Perhaps the most important thing for Niemi to consider was what Swayze would have wanted for her. She gave this lots of thought and finally arrived at a conclusion. Ultimately, she said, “I know he wouldn’t want me to hurt anymore… he wouldn’t want me to cry anymore. He wanted me to be happy.”
It was also DePrisco’s acknowledgment of her past that helped Niemi make her decision, explaining, “Albert knew I still loved Patrick and would always love him and told me, ‘And I know you love me, and I love you.’ How could I not marry this man?” But what really convinced her to move on would come from the most unexpected place.
Although Niemi had already accepted DePrisco’s proposal and had plans to walk down the aisle – and soon, for that matter – it was not until a few weeks before their wedding that her insecurities were finally put at bay.
Niemi became confident in her decision to marry DePrisco after Swayze appeared in her dream one fateful night. Detailing the supernatural coincidence, Niemi said of Swayze in her dream, “ It was like he was giving me his blessing and letting me know it was okay. Again, it can be hard sometimes to take those steps forward, but it doesn’t change the way we feel about someone. He was letting me know that.” So, on May 14, 2014, nearly five years after Swayze’s passing, Niemi walked down the aisle once more.
In front of more than 50 of their closest family and friends, Niemi and DePrisco said “I do.” They exchanged vows at The Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and Niemi was all smiles over getting re-married, which she called “a leap of faith.”
At 58 years old, Niemi was given a second shot at finding love in marriage. She told People magazine in an interview following her wedding that she was “willing to step into that future” with new husband, Albert DePrisco. And with that, she has given so many people hope of finding love amidst tragedy.
Sources: Fox News, Daily Mail, Cancer Connect