Swayze and TammenThe past few months have taken a mind-boggling assortment of icons, pop and otherwise, from our midst. As a green media outlet, we face a challenge on these somber occasions: How to pay tribute to people whose departure is felt by so many, but who might not have strong environmental connections. We don’t want to be in the business of creating artificial “ecobits” in which we glom onto some one-off quote from five years ago and use it to claim that, say, Patrick Swayze was a conservationist. It also doesn’t feel quite right to fall back on our usual schtick, ridiculous humor. After all, a man has died, and in a most painful and public way.

On the other hand, we do want to pay tribute to people whose work has left an imprint on American culture. In this case, in the right crowd, you can say, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner,” and everyone will know exactly what you mean. And has a pottery wheel ever looked the same?

Patrick Swayze was an actor, a dancer, and sometimes even a singer. (Go ahead, indulge in the 3:51 of “She’s Like the Wind.” It’s so worth it.) He was a man’s man and a ladies’ man, all at once. He and his wife, dancer Lisa Niemi, owned two ranches, one in New Mexico and one in California, and according to various co-stars he was “an amazing horseman” and “a real cowboy with a tender heart.” He toyed with the idea of making wildlife documentaries. He supported Oceana and animal rescue organizations. And according to one rabid fan site, one of his goals beyond filmmaking was “to protect as much land as possible from being destroyed.”

But those are just tenuous ties to our green beat — not unlike the ones we affectionately floated in our department meeting this morning: “Um, well, Point Break was about oceans … Dirty Dancing had a lot of trees … ‘She’s Like the Wind — wind power?”

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What it really comes down to is that a handsome, amiable, self-effacing, studly actor has died. Not the world’s best actor, and not an actor who was trying to save the world. But a guy who made his mark, whether he was rescuing Baby from the corner or pounding the shit out of some guy on a truck. This inappropriate but loving tribute from one film blog seems to sum it up nicely: “Has anyone else ever been in so many bad movies that everyone loves?”

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