Society

Actor, Playwright Sam Shepard Dead At 73

| by Alex Scarr
Sam Shepard in 2004Sam Shepard in 2004

Playwright and actor Sam Shepard died at his Kentucky home on July 27 after a battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. He was 73.

Shepard was considered one of the most influential figures in the off-Broadway movement, contributing several well-known and critically acclaimed plays, according to The New York Times. Shepard won a Pulitzer Prize for "Buried Child" in 1979 for its stark and often tragic depiction of American home life.

Speaking with The New York Times about his long career in 2016, Shepard noted how many of his plays revolved around the American family dynamic, in large part due to his own upbringing. Shepard and his father had a "volatile" relationship, one that formed several of his opinions regarding life and home.

"I remember as a kid, going into other people’s houses," Shepard said. "Everything was different. The smells in the kitchen were different; the clothing was different. That bothered me. There’s something very mysterious about other families and the way they function."

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Shepard also wrote "True West" and "Fool For Love," earning Pulitzer nominations for both. They both remain enduring landmarks of how Shepard used bleak and honest portrayals of relationships among siblings and spouses, often also depicting the fragility of the American dream.

Shepard was also nominated for an Academy Award for his supporting role in "The Right Stuff," a 1983 film about the beginnings of the U.S. Space Program, notes IMdB. Shepard played the role of astronaut Chuck Yeager.

He recently starred in the Netflix original program "Bloodline," playing the family patriarch Robert Rayburn.

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His career also included stage appearances, something Shepard classified as far more "terrifying" than acting in films.

"You don’t have to do anything in the movies," Shepard said in 2016. "You just sit there. Well, that’s not entirely true. You do less. I find the whole situation of confronting an audience terrifying."

Shepard was remembered fondly by several colleagues and contemporaries, as they shared their condolences on Twitter.

"Sam Shepard was a beautifully savage writer who seemed to see an America (and, indeed, a world) others did not," wrote British playwright Jack Thorne. "He will be deeply missed."

"Sam Shepard was a towering figure in American theater and film," said actor George Takei. "He indeed had 'the right stuff.' His voice will truly be missed."

"A great man of the theater has passed," wrote actor Jason Alexander. "Thank you, Sam Shepard. RIP."

Shepard is survived by his three children --  Jesse, Hannah and Walker -- as well as two sisters, reports ABC News.

Sources: The New York Times (2), ABC News, IMdB / Photo credit: U.S. Navy photo/Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Tyler J. Clements//Wikimedia Commons, Chad Batka/New York Times, Sara Krulwich/New York Times

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