Actor and Pulitzer-winning playwright Sam Shepard has died from complications related to
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a representative for his family said on Monday.
Shepard, 73, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1979 for his play “Buried Child,” died last week at home in Kentucky on Thursday, surrounded by his family, spokesman Chris Boneau said in a statement to Reuters.
“Buried Child” was the story of a family’s dark secret and, like many of his works, touched on disillusionment and broken families. His other plays included the Tony-nominated “True West,” “Curse of the Starving Class” and “Fool for Love.”
Shepard’s stoic manner and rugged good looks made him a solid choice to play test pilot Chuck Yeager in the 1983 film “The Right Stuff” – a role that earned him an Oscar nomination. His other films included “Days of Heaven,” “August: Osage County,” “The
Notebook,” “Black Hawk Down” and “Steel Magnolias.”
Shepard also wrote the script for “Paris, Texas,” the 1984 film directed by Wim Wenders that won the grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1984, and Robert Altman’s screen version of “Fool for Love.”
Most recently, he played patriarch Robert Rayburn in Netflix’s thriller “Bloodline,” his final on-screen role, and released a novel, “The One Inside,” in February.
Shepard grew up in the West and Midwest with a father he described as a violent alcoholic. After dropping out of college, he spent a few months with a traveling theater company and in 1963 at age 19 moved to New York with little money and no connections. He fell into New York’s off-off-Broadway scene while working as a bus boy at the famous jazz club the Village Gate and his first plays were staged that year.
Shepard, who shortened his playwright name from Samuel Shepard Rogers Jr., wrote more than 40 plays.
Shepard also delved into the music world, spending part of the 1960s as the drummer in the eccentric folk band the Holy Modal Rounders, living with Patti Smith, who collaborated on the play “Cowboy Mouth” with him, and writing the song “Brownsville Girl” with Bob Dylan. Music often was incorporated into his plays and he said the key to writing them was to “find all the rhythms and the melody and the harmonies and take them as they come.”
Shepard was married to actress O-Lan Jones from 1969 to 1984 and they had one child. He had a relationship of nearly 30 years with Jessica Lange, who starred with him in the 1982 film “Frances,” that ended in 2009. They had two children.
Funeral arrangements remain private, and no plans have been made yet for a public memorial, Boneau said.