Patrick Swayze's widow reflects on 'Ghost' 30 years on: 'He had to fight for that role'

Ethan Alter
·Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
·4-min read

Watch: Patrick Swayze’s widow Lisa Niemi talks to Yahoo

Thanks to rock ‘em sock ‘em hits like Red Dawn and Road House, Patrick Swayze was one of the biggest action stars of the 1980s until a little movie called Ghost put him in touch with his sensitive side.

Jerry Zucker’s unlikely romantic blockbuster casts Swayze as Sam Wheat, whose life is tragically cut short by a mugger’s bullet. Fortunately, he’s able to delay his trip to the afterlife in order to protect his one true love, Molly (Demi Moore). Released in the summer of 1990, Ghost quickly became Swayze’s highest-grossing film, earning over $200 million. (The actor died of pancreatic cancer in 2009.)

But as the actor’s real-life true love, Lisa Niemi, tells Yahoo Entertainment, it wasn’t a movie he was destined to get. “He had to fight for that role,” she remembers. (Watch our interview above.)

As Niemi tells it, she had to fight for Swayze to read the Ghost script in the first place. “Patrick was always terrible about reading scripts,” she says. “I kept begging him! I said, ‘You have to read this. You’re gonna love it.’”

LOS ANGELES - JULY 13: The movie "Ghost", directed by Jerry Zucker and written by Bruce Joel Rubin. Seen here, Demi Moore as Molly Jensen at her potter's wheel and Patrick Swayze as Sam Wheat, while the song, 'Unchained Melody' by The Righteous Brothers plays in the background. Initial theatrical release July 13, 1990. Screen capture. Paramount Pictures. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
Demi Moore as Molly Jensen at her potter's wheel and Patrick Swayze as Sam Wheat in Ghost. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

Part of his reluctance may have been the fact that Ghost had already been rejected by a number of Hollywood’s A-list leading men. Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment earlier this year, Zucker revealed that Harrison Ford was at the top of his original list to play Sam.

Read more: Ghost star Tony Goldwyn on becoming the most hated man in New York

“The studio wanted Harrison Ford in this so badly, and I did, too. I loved Harrison Ford. They took him out to lunch, and he was very honest about it. He said, ‘Why are you making this? Is it a comedy? Is it a tragedy? It’s very weird.’ And a lot of people thought that, he was certainly not the only one that didn’t see how it was going to mix.”

But Niemi loved the weirdness of the script, and saw how it could bring together her husband’s mixture of steeliness and sensitivity. Eventually, he broke down and read the script... and then broke down emotionally. “He read it all in one sitting; he came out with tears in his eyes, and said ‘I have to do this movie.’”

Swayze wasn’t the only member of the Ghost cast who had to prove themselves to Zucker. The director was also reluctant to cast Whoopi Goldberg as psychic Oda Mae Brown, who becomes Sam’s link with the physical world during the course of the movie.

“My image of Whoopi was her comedian side,” he told us, adding that he seriously considered Tina Turner for the role instead. But Swayze felt that Goldberg — who he remembered seeing on stage in New York during his struggling actor days — was the perfect Oda Mae. “He was like, ‘We have to give her a shot at this,’” Niemi says.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 17:  *EXCLUSIVE ACCESS*  Actor Patrick Swayze (L) and wife Lisa Niemi pose backstage during the 9th annual Costume Designers Guild Awards held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on February 17, 2007 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images for CDG)
Patrick Swayze and Lisa Niemi pose backstage during the 9th annual Costume Designers Guild Awards in February 2007. (Photo: Mark Mainz/Getty Images for CDG)

Ultimately, Zucker relented when he saw Swayze and Goldberg read together. “You could just see it. For me, it’s so great to see someone just doing it. Ghost was my first drama, and I was terribly afraid of not getting it right. So I was really fortunate that Patrick and Whoopi were able to read together so that I could see it in front of me and go, ‘Yeah, that works.’” (Goldberg went on to win an Oscar for her performance, and thanked Swayze in her acceptance speech.)

LOS ANGELES - MARCH 25:  Actress Whoopi Goldberg attends 63rd Annual Academy Awards on March 25, 1991 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - MARCH 25: Actress Whoopi Goldberg attends 63rd Annual Academy Awards on March 25, 1991 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

According to Niemi, Ghost remained a career highlight for Swayze for the rest of his life, although he could never pick just one favorite movie from his filmography. “He loved all of them for different reasons,” she explains. “When Road House came up, he couldn’t wait to do it. He was very proud of how [Dirty Dancing] came out and the longevity it had. He always tried to make unusual choices and push the envelope on things, which is really great.”

Ghost is currently streaming on Netflix.