Born in Houston, Texas to Edmund (Director of Water Safety Services at the Red Cross) and Karin (a registered nurse) Haapaniemi, Lisa had the distinction of being the only girl in a family of five boys (and no, she was not spoiled by them). As an athletic family, they excelled in swimming and diving. Lisa also expressed a keen interest in acting and began classes at Houston’s Alley Theater when she was ten years old, landing a role in a Paramount Pictures TV pilot titled “Two Boys.” From the Alley, she went to Houston Music Theater to continue acting, and performed in a series of children’s musicals called Prince Street Player Musicals for the next four years. Entering the High School For the Performing Arts, Lisa majored in dance, and in 1974, she moved to New York to train with the Harkness Ballet and Joffrey Ballet, performing guest appearances and dancing with the New York Contemporary Dancers. While in New York, she began acting again, studying with Warren Robertson, and was a featured performer in Broadway’s “Hellzapoppin” with Jerry Lewis, before packing up with her husband, and moving to Los Angeles, California.
In Los Angeles, Lisa held many film, television roles, and she also wrote, directed, and starred in the play Without a Word with her husband, Patrick, garnering six Drama Critics Awards including Best Play, Writing, Direction, and Performance. Some of her film credits include One Last Dance, Beat Angel, Younger and Younger, Slam Dance and Steel Dawn. She starred in the television series Super Force. And returning to Broadway in 1993, she starred in Will Rogers Follies, in addition to performing in the plays Love Letters, and an award-winning production of The Brick and the Rose.
It was early in 2000 that Lisa turned her talents to writing and directing after having produced and directed several promotional videos, and went on to direct, write, and produce the film One Last Dance in 2003/2004, in addition to pursuing other projects.
In 2009, Lisa and her husband, Patrick, co-wrote his memoir titled “The Time of My Life,” which became both a New York Times Best Seller as well as an international best seller. “The Time of My Life” is a behind-the-scenes look at their success in Hollywood and their remarkable love story, a memoir that is both entertaining and inspirational. A large part of the captivating story focuses on their private life and time divided between their ranches in New Mexico and just outside of Los Angeles, including their mutual passion for aviation and Arabian horses.
Lisa’s new book, “Worth Fighting For,” chronicles her last months with her husband of thirty-four years, as he bravely battled pancreatic cancer. It is an emotionally honest and unflinching depiction of battling illness and loss, but ultimately an incredible, life-affirming exploration of the power of the human spirit.
In 2011, Niemi Swayze was an AARP Inspire Awards Recipient, which “salutes outstanding individuals who are using their energy, creativity, and passion to make the world a better place.” She is the National Spokesperson for Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and works diligently to raise awareness and better research funding for this terribly neglected and deadly disease, and has received the Spirit of Hope Award from both Tower Cancer Research Foundation and Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from Michael Bolton Charities.
On July 16, 2011, at Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles, Lisa Niemi was honored with the title of Dame, and invested in the Royal Order of Francis I.
Niemi Swayze currently divides her time between Los Angeles and her ranch in New Mexico.