Most people will remember the late Patrick Swayze for his role as Johnny Castle in Dirty Dancing, for those tight black jeans and that firm declaration that "nobody puts Baby in the corner." But the actor, who died last week after a brief but intense battle with pancreatic cancer, told Barbara Walters earlier this year that he would prefer to be remembered not for his acting career, but instead for his forest stewardship. Swayze told the Los Angeles Times in a 2004 interview that "We kind of get ruined in the Western world of thinking that the brass ring is what's important, when it's very simple things in life that are important -- like hanging on to faith and hope."
These simple values of faith and hope kept Swayze going through his battle with the illness. He told Walters that, given the choice between "get busy living or get busy dying," he wanted to really live. Swayze and his wife Lisa Niemi owned two ranches, one in California and one in New Mexico, where his ashes will be scattered later this month. Their land, in many ways a wildlife preserve, allowed the actor to live a private life away from the public eye for the most part. He used the space to raise rare Egyptian Arabian horses, peacocks, dogs and cats. Swayze, who grew up in Texas where he also studied ballet and classical music, always had a soft spot for the land around him and its inhabitants. The actor's love of animals earned him a reputation as a real-life cowboy and landed him roles in rugged films such as King Solomon's Mines -- experience shooting on location in South Africa that inspired him to take action.
The New York Times reported in 2004 that Swayze and Niemi began work on an unfinished wildlife conservation documentary showcasing the African bush. He also heavily supported the Galinas River Watershed Restoration Plan, donating large sums to help the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in conjunction with the New Mexico Environment Department to preserve the land near his property. In 2005, Swayze helped to successfully relocate the Galinas River, which had veered from its original course, and, according to the river Restoration Action Plan, vastly improved the habitat for fish and wildlife.
At about the 3:15 mark in the video below, Swayze talks about his forest stewardship work: