Sam Shepard, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who became a movie star by his Oscar-nominated portrayal of pilot Chuck Yeager in “The Right Stuff,” died at his home in Kentucky. He was 73.
Shepard died Thursday of complications from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) “and was with his family at the time of his death,” his agent Chris Boneau said Monday.
Shepard is best remembered for writing plays like the Pulitzer Prize-winning Buried Child, True West, and Fool for Love, as well as a film career that included acclaimed performances in The Right Stuff, Days of Heaven, Black Hawk Down, and a lot more.
Born in Fort Sheridan, Illinois, in 1943, Shepard worked on a ranch in his teenage years and attended high school in California, later dropping out of college to join a touring group called The Bishop’s Company Repertory Players.
He quickly found himself in New York’s thriving Off-Off-Broadway scene in the early ’60s, when it was a hive of experimentation, psychedelia, and exciting young talent.
He won several Obie Awards (given to non-Broadway theater in New York) and quickly distinguished himself as a major voice, writing screenplays for art films like Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point and collaborating with artists like Bob Dylan and Patti Smith (with whom he was romantically involved, a relationship he fictionalized in the play Cowboy Mouth).
In his later years, Shepard mostly contributed supporting performances on-screen; his last major work was in the Netflix TV show Bloodline, where he played the patriarch of a rich Florida family that descends into recrimination and assassination.
He married the actress O-Lan Jones (with whom he had a son, Jesse) in 1969 and they divorced in 1984; he also had a long relationship with the actress Jessica Lange, who he met on the set of the film Frances in 1982. They never married, but had two children (Hannah and Samuel), and eventually separated in 2009.