Sam Shepard, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of plays, screenplays, stories and memoirs, whose rugged good looks and laconic style made for a memorable screen presence as an actor, has died. He was 73.
It had not been previously disclosed that Shepard suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Immediately, his many admirers took to Twitter to mourn the news.
“May he rest in love,” tweeted director Ava DuVernay.
“R.I.P. Sam Shepard – cowboy poet dramatist of the American family shadow. A legend,” tweeted Rainn Wilson
Shepard was one of those rarities: an award-winning stage dramatist and a movie star, screenwriter and director.
He won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979 for his play Buried Child, which launched his career as a playwright. Later, he was nominated for other drama Pulitzers, in 1983 for the playTrue West and in 1984 for the play Fool for Love.
He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of pilot Chuck Yeager in 1983’s The Right Stuff, a role that seemed to embody Shepard’s own laconic personality.
The author of nearly 50 plays, according to his website, Shepard’s work firmly established him in the canon of American theater (he’s in the American Theater Hall of Fame). It also made him one of America’s most famous playwrights, regularly anthologized and taught in universities and drama schools across the country.
His personal life, including marriages and liaisons with some of Hollywood’s most interesting and beautiful women, also contributed to his fame: From 1969 to 1984, he was married to O-Lan Jones, with whom he has a son, Jesse Mojo Shepard, born in 1970, also an author.
Shepard met two-time Oscar winner Jessica Lange on the set of the 1982 film Frances, in which they both appeared (Lange was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, her first nomination). He moved in with her in 1983, and they were together for nearly 30 years; they separated in 2009. They have two children, Hannah Jane, born in 1985, and Samuel Walker Shepard, born in 1987.
Besides his children, Shepard also is survived by two sisters, Sandy and Roxanne Rogers. His family was with him when he died.
The family statement said funeral arrangements will be private. Plans for a public memorial have not yet been determined.
Shepard’s personal life also included two arrests for drunk driving, in 2009 in Normal, Ill, when he pleaded guilty to speeding and driving under the influence. He was sentenced to 24 months probation, alcohol education classes, and 100 hours of community service. Six years later, he was arrested in Santa Fe, N.M., for aggravated drunk driving.
Shepard’s last movie, according to his IMDb page, is Never Here, a psychological thriller starring Mireille Enos that premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June. It’s due for a theatrical release later this year, followed by a pay-TV debut on Starz in early 2018, according to Deadline.
His most recent book, published in February, is The One Inside, touted by publisher Alfred Knopf as a work of fiction and a “tour de force of memory, mystery, death, and life.” The book has a foreward by Shepard’s longtime close friend Patti Smith.,
Born Samuel Shepard Rogers IV in Fort Sheridan, Ill., Shepard grew up on military bases in a dysfunctional family, which provided grist for recurrent dark themes in his writing and a preoccupation with the myth of the vanishing West.
After settling in Duarte, Calif., Shepard began acting and writing in high school, then spent a year studying agriculture with the idea of becoming a vet. In 1962, a touring theater company visited town and he joined up, spending nearly two years touring with the company. Eventually, he moved to New York where he began writing plays, first performing with an obscure off-off-Broadway group but eventually gaining recognition for his writing and winning prestigious OBIE awards.
Shepard also played in rock bands, including with Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, in the mid-1970s. He was hired to write a movie about the tour but instead produced a book later called The Rolling Thunder Logbook.
Soon after, he got his first lead role in a movie in Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven in 1978. Eventually, he had more than 60 movie credits, according to IMDb.