Sam Shepard, the award-winning playwright and Oscar-nominated actor, died at home in Kentucky on July 27 due to complications from ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was 73.
The Fort Sheridan, Ill. native launched his celebrated career Off-Broadway in the 1960s with early plays that were often absurdist and surreal in style. But he is also known for more realistic dramas that reveal the dark side of the American life.
Among them is the well-known “Buried Child,” for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1979. Shepard wrote the work, he has said, “to destroy the idea of the American family drama.”
Other plays with dark streaks and a strong influence on other writers and artists include “Curse of the Starving Class” and “A Lie of the Mind.”
Shepard mined a similar vein in “Fool for Love,” about a desperate — and a desperately inappropriate — couple, and “True West,” about brawling brothers. Both plays were nominated for a Pulitzer and are frequently revived.
“Sam Shepard was not only a brilliant and truly original American voice, but for me he was the first playwright to make theater feel like rock and roll,” said Neil Pepe, artistic director of the Atlantic Theater Company, which presented the author’s “Ages of the Moon” in 2010.
“My experience of working with Sam was of his belief and true commitment to theater as one of the greatest of all art forms,” Pepe told the Daily News. “His passion for plays and brave subversive theater was infectious and bad ass. We lost one of the great ones and he will be missed by all of us in the New York theater community.”
Manhattan Theatre Club head Lynne Meadow, who worked with Shepard on three productions, including the 2015 Broadway run of “Fool for Love,” recalled him as a “daring and poetic writer, who created iconic and bold American dramas inspired by the western landscape of his youth and of his imagination. His work was passionate, searing, darkly comedic and highly theatrical,” she told the News.
“Sam was the American theater’s id, ego and superego,” said Scott Elliott, artistic director of the New Group, which staged “Buried Child” last year. “He told us things about ourselves we never knew. We may not have always liked what he was telling us, but I think he was right.”
In 1986, Shepard was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1994, he was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame.
In addition to being a prolific writer, Shepard was also a busy film actor who made nearly 70 movies. He left memorable marks in high-profile films like “Days of Heaven,” “Paris, Texas,” and “Country,” which starred his partner of nearly 30 years Jessica Lange.
Shepard earned a 1983 supporting actor Academy Award nomination for playing pilot Chuck Yeager in “The Right Stuff.”
His most recent acting work was in the Netflix TV series “Bloodline.”
From 1969 to 1984, he was married to actress O-Lan Jones, with whom he had one son. He also had two children with Lange.
He is survived by three children, Jesse, Hannah and Walker; and two sisters.