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WINNER: San Diego Press Club, Arts & Entertainment Feature Story, Honorable Mention, 2004

{ BY JONATHAN YOUNG } If you were to ask the entertainment critics about Patrick Swayze, they would say he is preparing to launch his comeback. Ask Patrick the same question, however, and you'll get a different answer. "I didn't know I went away," he says.

After several early career hits -- including The Outsiders, Red Dawn and the infamous Dirty Dancing -- Patrick became a true movie heartthrob in the 1980s. He followed those mega-hits with even more memorable flicks in the 1990s -- like Road House, Ghost, Point Break and the controversial To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.

This decade, he hasn't grabbed the headlines, as in the previous 20 years of his career -- but that's all about to change. He's been hard at work on several projects. From movies, music to the stage, everyone is going to get a huge dose of Patrick Swayze.

"With all the things I have going on, it is looking like people are keying into a 'Crazy Swayze' comeback. I don't know why they are saying that, because I really didn't go anywhere," Patrick tells Buzz, adding, "I'm going to be everywhere for a little bit. I just feel like I have a sense of purpose now, being in my prime. I decided to have a giant, out-there push for what I want to accomplish in my life."

And on the top of his list of accomplishments is his return to the theatrical stage. Patrick has joined the Broadway cast of Chicago as the manipulating lawyer, Billy Flynn. He then connects with the touring company, with his first performance in San Diego during New Year's week.

"I've been wanting to get back to Broadway for quite some time, and I've been offered stuff for years. But it's hard to find the time to commit to a Broadway production with a movie career," Patrick says. "Plus, I wanted to come to Broadway in something more cutting edge, something that was more sensual and dangerous. Chicago gives me that chance."

Patrick is having a blast with the role, bringing his own sense of flair to the character. "I really stir things up as Billy Flynn," he explains almost with a laugh. "I like playing with the concept of reality presented in a vaudeville-style show. I come from a place where comedy is based on reality; I have an irreverent, spontaneous wit, which makes for an interesting dynamic on stage."

Patrick is also having fun in Chicago because he gets to sing and dance. Choreographer Ann Reinkin came back to re-choreograph Billy Flynn's big number, "Razzle Dazzle," just for Patrick.

But Chicago is just one of many projects you'll see Patrick in. He can be seen in several movies, including The Last Dance, alongside his wife (who also wrote and directed the movie). "People are saying we may have the best dance movie of all time," he says about the film. Plus, George and the Dragon, 11:14 with Hilary Swank, and a sequel to Dirty Dancing (where he makes an impressive cameo) are all in final production. He's also just completed filming of a King Solomon's Mines remake, where he plays the lead role of hunter Alan Quartermain. To top it off, he's planning to release a new music CD with songs from Dirty Dancing and The Last Dance.

"I love challenging myself," he says. "I love to see how far I can take my craft."

It's quite an eclectic collection of projects. He's taken his career to opposite ends of the performance spectrum, playing everything from a rugged hunter, cool surfer and renegade teen to a loving spirit, erotic dancer and sophisticated drag queen.

"I think both sides exist in all of us," he says about his rugged and sensitive characters. "I play with both realms that exist in me. My father was a cowboy who married a choreographer. I was just born into these two different worlds -- I was raised on the ranch and in the ballet studio."

That upbringing is why he sought one of his most controversial, yet personally rewarding shows: To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar. He played the lead roll of Vida Boheme, a respectable and motherly drag queen.

"Right off the bat, just the concept blew me away," Patrick recalls. "Being raised in the dance and theatre worlds, most of my friends have been gay. On a certain level, I did To Wong Foo to honor my friends that had died."

The show was criticized for featuring straight men (Wesley Snipes, John Leguizamo and Patrick) in gay roles. "They chose the actors for not who they were sexually, but who they were as an actor," Patrick responds. "They originally wouldn't even let me audition because they saw me as the Road House, kick-ass kind of guy."

Yet once cast, he admits it was a difficult role. "I was trying to snap this, and snap that," and he realized the show was not to be treated as a fun lark. "It wasn't until I, as Patrick Swayze, woke up and realized that I was nothing special until I became a woman."

Patrick's performance earned him a Golden Globe nomination for best actor. He has received several nominations in his career, but this one really meant a lot to the versatile actor. "I've never cared about awards or anything like that, but I did care about that one," he says. "John Travolta won it for Pulp Fiction that year, and that one pissed me off. I was just so proud of Ms. Vida and what it took emotionally for me to pull it off."

Another show that Patrick holds dear in his heart is the 1987 phenomenon, Dirty Dancing. Yet when Miramax asked him to make a cameo appearance in its sequel, Dirty Dancing, Havana Nights, he hesitated.

"Since that show has such a dear place in my heart, I didn't want to do a gratuitous cameo. I would do the part as long as I can come in and do whatever I do as Johnny Castle." He says he ended up with a more substantial role, being the major inspiration to the new dancing sensation played by Romola Garai. "And I got to dance this little girl's butt off," he jokes.

Patrick's forthcoming musical album will include "She's Like the Wind," his No. 1 hit from the first Dirty Dancing movie. The song has actually made it to the top spot five different times. "Maybe with the sequel coming out, it'll be No. 1 a sixth time," Patrick says. Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights debuts nationwide in February.

You don't have to wait till his album comes out to hear -- and see -- Patrick sing. Chicago opens Dec. 30 for a one-week run at the San Diego Civic Theatre. For tickets and more information, log on to broadwaysd.com or call 619-220-7496.

"All these things I've got a level of ability and passion for," Patrick concludes, "so I've decided to do them all."

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{ CONTACT JONATHAN }