Dirty Dancing star Patrick Swayze lost his battle with pancreatic cancer in 2009, leaving behind his beloved wife of 34 years, Lisa Niemi. In the aftermath of her husband’s death, Niemi struggled with the idea of moving on, but she eventually found happiness – and love – once again.
Finland natives Edmond and Karin Haapaniemi welcomed into the world their only daughter, Elisabeth Anne, on May 26, 1956, in Houston, Texas. After training in ballet and pursuing a career on stage, Elisabeth would eventually shorten her stage name to Lisa Niemi.
It was Niemi’s ballet training that would lead her to meet her future husband, too. Her teacher, named Patsy, had a son called Patrick Swayze. And as soon as he met Niemi, Swayze knew that she was different from the girls he’d usually date.
In a 2007 interview, Swayze told People magazine, “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. And for a long time I didn’t feel like I deserved her.”
To that end, Swayze also noticed Niemi wasn’t quick to fall for his typical flirtations, according to Fabiosa.com. “If I started putting on a pose or doing my Casanova routine, Lisa would turn away and not say anything,” he said. “We had a lot of dates in silence.”
Nonetheless, Swayze did note that Niemi’s demeanor changed when he began showing her his true colors. “As soon as I opened up about what I wanted from life, she would answer me,” he explained. Swayze quickly realized that there was something else that he needed to have in his future: Niemi by his side.
And on June 12, 1975, a 19-year-old Niemi said “I do” to Swayze, who was then 22. She donned a handcrafted dress for their nuptials, which took place in her family’s backyard. They then held their wedding reception at the Swayzes’ dance studio.
Of course, both Niemi and Swayze were performers: she was a dancer and actress; he was an actor, dancer and singer. And the pair continued to pursue these passions post-nuptials – although it wouldn’t be until a dozen years after their wedding that Swayze was to have his big break in a low-budget film called Dirty Dancing.
In fact, Dirty Dancing was only meant to stay in theaters for a single weekend prior to a video release. Instead, though, the picture skyrocketed Swayze to fame and eventually raked in more than $214 million across the world. And, in addition, the actor earned a Golden Globe nomination for his role in the feature.
Swayze also had the opportunity to include a song that he’d co-written, “She’s Like the Wind,” on the movie’s soundtrack. And while penning the track, he’d drawn inspiration from his go-to source: Niemi. He later told People, “I just felt at that time that I’m very, very lucky to have a woman who thinks I hung the moon.”
On top of that, Swayze was able to parlay his Dirty Dancing buzz into further roles in flicks such as Point Break and Road House. And in 1990 he nabbed another once-in-a-lifetime part in the movie Ghost, which co-starred Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg.
Swayze’s newfound fame thankfully didn’t seem to affect his bond with Niemi. Kelly Lynch, Swayze’s co-star in the 1989 movie Road House, said of the couple, “They’re like a single organism… They love each other, and it’s apparent. The partnership is for life.”
Like all couples, though, Swayze and Niemi faced hardships along with their triumphs. In the same year that Ghost came out, for instance, Niemi had a miscarriage. And around the same time, Swayze lost his father and his sister.
As a result of his grief, the Golden Globe nominee began turning to alcohol, which eventually led Swayze to complete a stint in rehab for addiction. And after that, he spent some time out of the spotlight on the ranches that he and Niemi owned in New Mexico and California.
Through this tough period and other difficult times, though, the pair always remained steadfast. Swayze revealed the secret to their long marriage in 2007. “We’re big believers in, arguments are okay…, but it’s about a mutual goal – trying to create something special,” he said.
And, of course, over the years other people also noticed how special Swayze and Niemi’s bond was. After filming her TV special Patrick Swayze: The Truth in 2008, Barbara Walters declared, “That marriage is extraordinary.”
Walters went on to say, “The way he looked at her, the way he held on to her, the way she smiled, I can’t really imagine one without the other.” And the couple collaborated professionally as well, with Niemi directing them both in the 2003 movie One Last Dance.
In 2008, however, the pair would face their biggest challenge of all when Swayze received a devastating diagnosis. First, the actor had suffered from a series of painful symptoms that, as he later told ABC News in January 2009, he could trace all the way back to New Year’s Eve 2007.
On that December 2007 evening, Swayze tried to pop open a bottle of bubbly to celebrate. “It would be like pouring acid, you know, on an open wound,” he recalled. Next, he began suffering from indigestion and lost 20 pounds “in the blink of an eye,” Swayze later said.
“Then, when you see it in the mirror, when all of a sudden, you pull your eyes down, and the bottom of your eyes go yellow, and jaundice sets in – then you know something’s wrong,” Swayze added. His doctors subsequently handed him a devastating diagnosis.
Swayze in fact had stage four pancreatic cancer, which came with a bleak prognosis. At the time, according to Scientific American, only 20 percent of those diagnosed with the disease lived longer than a year.
Dealing with the initial shock of her husband’s diagnosis “was like being in a nightmare you couldn’t wake up from,” Niemi told ABC News. And as Swayze’s cancer had spread, he couldn’t have any surgical procedure to cut out his tumor. Instead, he underwent chemotherapy sessions and tried an experimental treatment to fight the disease.
Yet in spite of the odds he faced, Swayze still kept a positive outlook. “I keep dreaming of a future, a future with a long and healthy life, a life not lived in the shadow of cancer but in the light,” he said in September 2008 at a Stand Up 2 Cancer event.
However, Swayze did admit in January 2009 that the journey had been tough, to say the least. “You can bet that I’m going through hell. And I’ve only seen the beginning of it,” he told ABC News. Indeed, the actor waged an odds-defying battle against his diagnosis.
But on September 14, 2009, the 57-year-old Swayze lost his fight against pancreatic cancer – even though he had survived for almost two years post-diagnosis. A couple of months later, Niemi said she was “hanging in there,” although her grief came in devastating waves.
As a panel member at a Women’s Conference that year, 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, and I found for myself when I actually got to that point I said, no, no, no. That wasn’t the same at all; the actual loss is – it’s like an animal all on its own.”
However, one year on from Swayze’s death, Niemi told People that she was “stronger” than she had felt before. “The fact that I’ve had some good days definitely gives me hope that I can have more,” she added.
And by the end of 2012, that hope would be restored even more soundly. In October of that year, Niemi started dating Albert DePrisco, a jeweler whom she met through a mutual friend at a birthday party. Niemi’s rep said at the time, “It’s new, and they’re taking it slow.”
According to a source who spoke to the Daily Mail in October 2012, that type of news is something Swayze would have welcomed. “Patrick was adamant that Lisa go on with her life after he died. He told her he wanted her to live and do what she [does] best: give her greatest asset – her love – to another,” the source claimed.
To that end, Niemi told People in 2014 that she hadn’t struggled with the decision to date after losing her husband. “I have to say, that the love I have for Patrick was never in conflict or competition with my feelings for Albert,” she said.
However, that all changed when DePrisco asked Niemi for her hand in marriage. “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,” she recalled.
Ultimately, it was DePrisco’s acknowledgment of her past that led Niemi to make her decision. “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?” Niemi said.
“As I had time to process the change my life was going to take, my doubts became less and less, and I became more and more sure,” Niemi continued. In addition, she said that she received a little bit of reassurance from Swayze himself.
Six or seven weeks before her wedding to DePrisco, Niemi had had a dream that featured Swayze. “It was like he was giving me his blessing and letting me know it was okay,” she said. “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, in May 2014, nearly five years after she lost Swayze, Niemi walked down the aisle once again. She wed DePrisco in front of over 50 guests, and she couldn’t have been more sure about the decision when the time came to say “I do.”
“I could say that it’s Albert’s heart, his generosity, his personal strength and his sense of fun, as some of the reasons why I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him, and they would be true,” Niemi told People.
The couple’s feelings for each other would be apparent at their reception, where DePrisco shared in Niemi’s passion for dance. The newlyweds in fact performed a ballroom routine that had been choreographed by the groom’s sister.
Niemi said her new husband was worried that his role in the routine wouldn’t be up to par. “Albert was concerned about looking good in the dance, but he has natural rhythm and is a great mover – much more than he knows,” Niemi said.
And the wedding guests loved the performance too. Niemi said, “I knew… that if we just looked into each other’s eyes and danced with our hearts, all would be well. The dance was a blast. And we got quite a bit of applause!”
After the couple’s wedding, Niemi said she was looking forward to her future and the happiness that she knew they would share. “It’s probably the number one reason I married him. How could that be? But I’m willing to step into that future,” she said.