‘Ghost’: Patrick Swayze Said He Never Forgot ‘Sickening Feeling of Horror’ in Death Scene

Ghost still receives fan love as one of the best romantic films of the 20th century. Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore starred as Sam Wheat and Molly Jenson, a Manhattan couple whose love found a way to transcend death. The movie turned “Unchained Melody” into a symbolic anthem and in real life, it provided comfort to many learning to cope with their own grief.

Swayze was so involved with the film that he helped rewrite Sam’s character so he would be more than a silent observer. With that in mind, there were certain scenes that he found emotional, and one of them affected him so much he had to reshoot it.

Patrick Swayze as Sam Wheat in 'Ghost'
Patrick Swayze in ‘Ghost’ | CBS via Getty Images

Patrick Swayze found Sam’s death scene in ‘Ghost’ devastating

Witnessing a character’s death after they’ve endeared themselves to viewers can be one of the most heartbreaking moments in a story. In Ghost, fans felt Molly’s grief through the screen after she lost Sam. But for Patrick Swayze, filming Sam’s death left him physically shaken to his core.

Fans may recall how a mugger accosted the couple, and Sam chased after him. He turned to check on Molly and saw her cradling his bloodied body. Swayze described it in his memoir, The Time of My Life, which he wrote with his wife Lisa Niemi. He said that death scene tore him.

“I didn’t have any idea it would be so devastating, but I could hardly even get through it while the cameras rolled. The scene that broke my heart was when Sam looks down on his own bloody body in Molly’s arms and realizes he’s dead,” Swayze wrote.

“A lot of people assume that scene was done with a camera trick — that the body lying on the ground is me, and that we shot the scene twice. But Demi was actually holding an incredibly realistic life-size dummy of me. In the scene, Sam sprints after the guy who’s just killed him, then walks back slowly toward Molly, realizing as he draws near that he can see someone in her arms. As the cameras were rolling, I walked up to Demi holding the dummy, but when I looked down at the body a terrible chill shot right through me.”

Swayze said the dummy reminded him of his father’s funeral

Stunned and upset, Swayze had a hard time composing himself while shooting that sequence. But he also realized what triggered such a powerful emotional response. It reminded him of his father’s death — an event that happened eight years prior.

“I don’t look particularly like my dad, but somehow the dummy in Demi’s arms just became him right then,” he recalled. “My whole body started shaking, and my heart pounded. I felt as if I was having a panic attack. I couldn’t believe how strongly I felt my dad’s presence in that moment.”

Swayze remembered director Jerry Zucker kept filming, but the footage became unusable — too intense. So he had to redo it. “When Jerry finally yelled ‘Cut,’ I staggered away from Demi and tried to collect myself. We shot it again, and the second time I managed to play the scene. But I’ve never forgotten that sickening feeling of horror I felt.”

Getting fitted for the dummy was unnerving too

In his book, Swayze mentioned that the process of creating a dummy version of him “freaked him out.” When makeup artists applied the plaster to him, he had difficulty breathing and could feel the substance creeping into his esophagus. He felt claustrophobic and vowed to never go through another experience like it.

Fans can stream Ghost on Netflix or Paramount+.

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