Patrick Swayze's widow Lisa Niemi opens up about his life and legacy (Exclusive)

Fans remember Patrick Swayze from his iconic roles: a dance instructor from the wrong side of the tracks in Dirty Dancing, a no-nonsense bouncer in Road House, a posthumous pottery thrower in Ghost and New York City's Drag Queen of the Year in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, among many others. 

But perhaps no one knew the real Swayze -- the man behind the brash and bold characters -- better than the late actor's wife, Lisa Niemi. Swayze's widow sat down with ET ahead of the release of a new documentary on the actor's life and legacy, I Am Patrick Swayze, to talk about his career and his untimely death in 2009 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

"It's the worst thing in the world to go through," Niemi says of Swayze's fight against the disease, which took his life at just 57 years old. "You spend every day fighting for that person's life. I know that he spent every day fighting for his own...He survived 22 months, which was miraculous with the diagnosis that he received."

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Patrick Swayze throughout his life
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Patrick Swayze throughout his life
American actor Patrick Swayze shares a laugh with his wife, dancer and actress Lisa Niemi (born Lisa Haapaniemi) at the premiere party for the movie 'Skatetown USA' at Flippers roller rink, Los Angeles, California, October 1979. (Photo by Frank Edwards/Fotos International/Getty Images)
Actors Patrick Swayze, Scott Baio, actress Maureen McCormick, actors Ron Palillo and Greg Bradford in a scene from the movie 'Skatetown, U.S.A.' circa 1979. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Actor and dancer Patrick Swayze poses for a portrait on July 27, 1982 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)
THE RENEGADES - Pilot episode 1982. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) 
THE RENEGADES - Cast gallery 1982. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) 
THE RENEGADES - Pilot episode 1982. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) 
Actor Patrick Swayze attends the premiere of 'Grandview, U.S.A.' on July 9, 1984 at the Writer's Guild Theater in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo: Getty Images)
Actor Patrick Swayze and actress Brooke Shields attend the Party to Celebrate the Summer 1986 Issue of In Fashion Magazine on May 13, 1986 at Cafe Seiyoken in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
American actors Patrick Swayze (1952 - 2009) and Jennifer Grey star in the film 'Dirty Dancing', 1987. (Photo by /Getty Images)
Actors Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze attend the premiere of 'Dirty Dancing' at the Gemini Theater on August 17, 1987 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Smeal/WireImage)
Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze (Photo by Jim Smeal/WireImage)
Actor Patrick Swayze and wife Lisa Niemi attend the premiere of 'Steel Dawn' on November 5, 1987 at Jam's Restaurant in New York City. (Photo: Getty Images)
TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON -- Air Date 05/17/1989 -- Pictured: (l-r) Actor Patrick Swayze, host Johnny Carson -- Photo by: Gary Null/NBCU Photo Bank
American actor Patrick Swayze (1952 - 2009), circa 1990. (Photo by Tim Roney/Getty Images)
Actor Patrick Swayze, actress Whoopi Goldberg and actor Tom Selleck attend the Hollywood Women's Press Club's 50th Annual Golden Apple Awards on December 9, 1990 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 4 -- Pictured: (l-r) Dana Carvey as Hans, Patrick Swayze, Kevin Nealon as Franz during 'Pumping Up with Hans & Franz' skit on October 27, 1990 -- (Photo by: Al Levine/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 4 -- Aired 10/27/1990 -- Pictured: (l-r) Patrick Swayze as Adrian, Chris Farley as Barney during 'Chippendales Audition' skit (Photo by Al Levine/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Patrick Swayze attends the GRAMMY Awards on February 21, 1990 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
Actor Patrick Swayze looks on during the WBC, WBA, IBF heavyweight tittle fight between Larry Holmes and Evander Holyfield June 19, 1992 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
American actor Patrick Swayze poses in front of the US flag, October 1992. (Photo by Terry O'Neill/Getty Images)
Patrick Swayze playing the guitar circa 1995. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 733 -- Pictured: (l-r) Actor Patrick Swayze during an interview with host Jay Leno on July 20, 1995 (Photo by Margaret Norton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
John Leguizamo, Wesley Snipes and Patrick Swayze in a car in a scene from the film 'To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar', 1995. (Photo by Universal/Getty Images)
American actor Patrick Swayze attends a press conference to promote his new film 'To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar' on January 29, 1996 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Peter Carrette Archive/Getty Images)
Actor Patrick Swayze attends Patrick Swayze Receives Hollywood Walk-of-Fame Star on August 18, 1997 at the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood, California. (Photo: Getty Images)
Patrick Swayze and Forest Whitaker (Photo by Randall Michelson/WireImage)
Actor Patrick Swayze talks on his cell phone outside the William Morris Agency January 8, 2002 in Beverly Hills, CA. (Photo by Getty Images)
Lisa Niemi, Patrick Swayze and Greg Gorman during 'Dirty Dancing - Havana Nights' Premiere - After Party at ArcLight Theater in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by J. Vespa/WireImage for LIONSGATE)
Actors Patrick Swayze and his wife Lisa Niemi pose at Borders Bookstore as they sign copies of their new movie 'One Last Dance' August 24, 2005 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images)
Actor Patrick Swayze accepts the Independent Career Achievement Award at the Video Software Dealers Association's award show at the organization's annual home video convention at the Bellagio July 27, 2005 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Actor Patrick Swayze and his wife, actress Lisa Niemi, pose backstage after Swayze received the Independent Career Achievement Award at the Video Software Dealers Association's award show at the organization's annual home video convention at the Bellagio July 27, 2005 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Actors Patrick Swayze and Claire Sweeney attend photocall to promote latest version of West End musical 'Guys and Dolls' cast, on June 5, 2006 in London, England. Swayze is due to tread the boards for first time in London as Nathan Detroit, and Sweeney plays his girlfriend Miss Adelaide, Adam Cooper and Kelly Price will continue to star as 'Sky Masterson' and 'Sarah Brown'. (Photo by MJ Kim/Getty Images)
Patrick Swayze, Samantha Janus and Norman Bowman on stage during their first performance together in the stage production of ''Guys And Dolls'' at the Piccadilly Theatre on October 16, 2006 in London, England. (Photo by Dave Benett/Getty Images)
Lisa Niemi (L) and actor Patrick Swayze speak onstage during the 9th annual Costume Designers Guild Awards held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on February 17, 2007 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for CDG)
Actor Patrick Swayze attends Stand Up To Cancer at the Kodak Theatre on September 5, 2008 in Hollywood, California. (Michael Caulfield/Stand Up To Cancer via Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD - SEPTEMBER 15: Flowers are left on Patrick Swayze's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame after his death on September 15, 2009 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
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The actor and his wife met as teenagers, when Niemi was taking dance lessons from Swayze's mother. They married in 1975, four years before he made his feature film debut in the roller disco film Skatetown, U.S.A., and were together until his death in September 2009.

"The first time Buddy and I danced together was at a school exhibition," Niemi emotionally recalls in the documentary, using her nickname for her late husband. "We walked out on stage.. I looked in his eyes, it was like everything came alive."

However, it wasn't always smooth sailing. I Am Patrick Swayze gives a candid look at the actor's struggles with his own "demons" and alcohol abuse, and the couple separated for a time prior to Swayze's cancer diagnosis. But Niemi was with him until the end, and told ET that she still feels his presence and talks to him "every day."

"When you lose someone, you never stop loving them and it's-- I feel like I have a different relationship with him now," she explains. "It's just, he's not physically present, you know what I mean?"

The documentary, which debuts on Aug. 18 -- what would have been the actor's 67th birthday -- also features interviews with some of Swayze's friends and former co-stars, like Demi Moore, Rob Lowe and Dirty Dancing's Jennifer Grey, who opened up about why the two made such a great pair in the now-classic film. 

"Patrick was super hungry for connection," the actress remembers. "His heart and my heart got along really well."

Not to mention, Swayze got to show off his longtime dance skills while having the "time of his life."

"He knew going into Dirty Dancing, he goes, 'This is it,'" Niemi says in the documentary. "'This is where I pull out the dance card and do this.'"

See more on Swayze's most iconic roles in the video below. I Am Patrick Swayze premieres Aug. 18 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the Paramount Network.

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