ACTOR CRAVES RUSH OF EXCITEMENT IN FALLING FROM SKY.
Actor Don Swayze says he is an ``adrenalin junkie.''
The character actor, a resident of Simi Valley, is playing two generals - Forrest and Beauregard - in the recently opened Civil War play ``Shiloh'' at the Civic Arts Plaza Forum Theatre, weekends through March 29.
When he's not actively engaged in a film or television role, Don likes to jump off tall buildings and towers - using a parachute, of course. The sport, he says, is ``sort of a subculture.''
In eight years, he's performed about 2,000 jumps off ``radio antennas, almost every building in L.A.,'' and Bob Stupak's 900-foot tower in Las Vegas at various stages of its construction. He's snowshoed up the gully of Yosemite's El Capitan and jumped off, and done the same with Half Dome.
Three years ago his jumping hobby backfired, but now that Don's back on his feet, he hasn't let the accident dampen his enthusiasm, and he continues to jump.
In 1995 he meticulously planned a jump off a Navy radio tower at an abandoned naval base in San Diego. He had three parachutes packed and wasn't worried; he'd jumped this tower 80 times already. It took 45 minutes to climb the 600 feet, but at 3 a.m., with no one around, he jumped off.
His square parachute opened the wrong way, and despite his desperate attempts to correct the error, he hit the ground at 80 mph and then ``bounced back up.''
``I had my cell phone, but I had to call 911 twice,'' Don recalled. ``I guess I was in shock, because they didn't believe me at first. They took an hour to find me.''
Don suffered 50 fractures, 40 of them in his left foot. He broke his left femur and his pelvis. But he didn't even have any bruises until his second day in the hospital, he said.
Fighting back from the debilitating injuries wasn't easy - he was told he wouldn't walk again - but Don was determined. He was out of the hospital in a month, and instead of painkillers, ``I growled for two years.'' He endured 12 surgeries, a bone infection and metal hardware placed in his body.
Besides the help from his family and especially his 9-year-old daughter, Don found inspiration in an expensive bicycle he'd bought that he determined would help him recuperate. Although still on crutches, he finally managed to get on the bike using his garage washing machine as a launching pad. Then he was out pedaling for three hours, which not long after turned into five and six hours of riding.
``The pain was excruciating the first 30 minutes,'' Don recalled. But he persisted.
He parachuted again while he was still in a cast by having friends stick his crutches in the ground where he aimed to land, and he was right on target.
``How can I not do it?'' he said. ``I'm scared, yes, but more afraid not to do the things I do.''
In early 1997 he was ready to return to his career. Although it's not as active as he'd like, Don's been on ``Babylon 5,'' can be seen in an upcoming episode of TV's ``Magnificent Seven,'' and played in the soon-to-be-released film ``Evasive Action'' with Roy Scheider, a sort of ``Con Rail.''
His athletic prowess comes naturally as the son of Patsy Swayze, a dancer and choreographer (the film ``Urban Cowboy''), and founder and artistic director of the Houston Jazz Ballet. Don was once her lead dancer, and when he first came to Los Angeles from Texas at the insistence of his brother Patrick Swayze, he taught country-western dancing at California State University, Northridge.
A role on ``Days of Our Lives'' in 1982 was Don's first acting job. He was nominated for an Emmy for his portrayal of a retarded man in a 1989 episode of ``Matlock.'' He says he has played lots of ``villains, thugs and bikers.''
Although he admits with a smile that ``I'm not quite as graceful as I used to be,'' he wants to dance again. He's self-conscious about his walking, but his co-stars in ``Shiloh'' haven't even noticed.
Don's accident has made him more focused on acting, and he wants to keep ``being a good dad. I'm getting better and better at that.''