Sam Shepard, 1943-2017
Monday, July 31st, 2017
Pulitzer prize-winning playwright, actor, and writer Sam Shepard has died.
Shepard was born Samuel Shepard Rogers on November 5th, 1943, in Fort Sheridan, Illinois. His father was an Army officer and former Air Force pilot, so the family moved frequently from military base to military base across the country. By the time Shepard graduated from high school, he was living in California. Having worked on a ranch as a teenager, he briefly studied agriculture at Mount Antonio Junior College, but dropped out to pursue acting and writing.
Before long, Shepard had found his place in the Off-Off-Broadway scene in New York City and adopted the name he would use professionally. His first plays were staged in 1964, and soon after his work began to receive critical acclaim. He won three Obie Awards for his one act plays "Chicago," "Icarus' Mother," and "Red Cross," all in 1966, and a fourth Obie in 1967 for "La Turista," his first full-length dramatic work.
Though Shepard continued to produce award-winning stage plays at a rapid pace, including his Pulitzer-winning "Buried Child," he was by no means limited to this one art form. He was also a musician, playing with the band The Holy Modal Rounders and Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Review. He began acting in films in 1978, when he was cast as the lead in Terrence Malick's "Days of Heaven" and quickly found himself in demand as an actor as well as a playwright. He was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Chuck Yeager in "The Right Stuff" and appeared in more than 60 films all told. He was also a screenwriter, stage actor, and director, most often of his own plays. He published several volumes of short fiction, including Cruising Paradise: Tales, and a novel: The One Inside.
Though his career was spread across several fields, Shepard's primary contribution was to theater. He was the author of more than 50 plays, twelve of which won Obie Awards and which earned him two Pulitzer nominations in addition to his Pulitzer Prize. His works have been staged all over the country and have been performed by major talents of both stage and screen. In addition to his great success in creating his own body of work, Shepard also passed along his passion for writing and theatre to the next generation of artists. He offered a multitude of seminars, classes, and other learning opportunities for students across the country and his influence has been felt in film, theatre, music, and beyond.
Shepard passed away on July 27th following complications of ALS. He was 73.