Sam Shepard, playwright and actor,
dies age 73
The Pulitzer prize winning writer and star of stage and screen, known for performances in The Right Stuff and Bloodline, died at his home in Kentucky
Playwright, director and actor Sam Shepard has died at the age of 73.
The Pulitzer prize winner died of complications from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as motor neurone disease) at his home in Kentucky on 30 July surrounded by family. Shepard had written 44 plays including Buried Child, which won him the Pulitzer prize for drama in 1979. He also received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor for his role in The Right Stuff.
Shepard started writing plays in the 60s. “Back then, there was a dearth of American theatre,” he told the Observer in 2014. “There was nothing going on. American art was starving.”
His work included Angel City, Cowboy Mouth (in collaboration with Patti Smith that was written in just two nights) and a screenplay for Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas. He received Tony nominations for both Buried Child and a 2000 revival of True West.
Shepard also directed many of his plays but with rare exceptions, he refrained from directing work of others. He directed two films: 1988’s Far North with then-partner Jessica Lange and 1993’s Silent Tongue, which starred Richard Harris and River Phoenix.
He also collaborated with Bob Dylan for the song Brownsville Girl which featured on his 1986 album Knocked Out Loaded.
As an actor, his first notable role was in Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven in 1978. He went on to star in Baby Boom, Steel Magnolias, The Pelican Brief, Black Hawk Down, The Notebook and August: Osage County. He was most recently seen in the Netflix drama Bloodline, alongside Sissy Spacek.
He was known as an acclaimed character actor rather than an A-lister, a route he chose early in his career. “I had all kinds of wild offers at that time to be a movie star and I panicked,” he later said. “I was turning down things like Warren Beatty’s Reds, that part of Eugene O’Neill [played by Jack Nicholson]. My agent was going crazy. I hadn’t realized what the experience of it would be like – to be on the verge of being a movie star. Because it’s like you are the hottest whore in town. Everybody wants you.”
When asked about his performances on stage, he said he wasn’t quite as comfortable as on screen. “You don’t have to do anything in the movies,” he said in an interview with the New York Times. “You just sit there. Well, that’s not entirely true. You do less. I find the whole situation of confronting an audience terrifying.”
Before his death, he completed a role in the psychological thriller Never Here with Mireille Enos. This year also saw the release of his book The One Inside, a series of conversations with himself. He is survived by three children.
Figures from both stage and screen have paid tribute to Shepard on Twitter. Writer Beau Willimon referred to him as “fearless” and “one of the greats” while Harlan Coben tweeted: “How special was he? Even when you didn’t like something he’d done, you were glad you saw it.”