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Sam Shepard, Pulitzer-Winning Playwright and Celebrated Actor, Dies at 73

Sam Shepard, the acclaimed playwright who was also praised as an actor, screenwriter, and director, has died. He was 73.

He died on Thursday at his home in Kentucky following complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a family spokesman confirmed to Variety.

Known for writing that suffused the fringes of American society with a surreal and brutal poetry, Shepard rose to fame when he won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979 for his play “Buried Child.” He was also nominated for an Academy Award in the supporting actor category for his part in the 1983 film “The Right Stuff.”

He wrote or co-wrote screenplays for Wim Wenders’ “Paris, Texas,” Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Zabriskie Point,” and Robert Altman’s “Fool for Love,” based on his play.

Shepard was one of the leading figures of the Off Off Broadway movement that flourished in downtown New York beginning in the early 1960s, and later wrote some of his best-known works as part of a residency at San Francisco’s Magic Theater in the 1970s and 80s. His often surreal early writings — including “Cowboy Mouth,” the 1971 work on which he collaborated with his romantic partner at the time, Patti Smith — eventually shifted toward an allusive not-quite-realism, beginning with “Buried Child” and continuing in plays like “Curse of the Starving Class” (1978), “True West”(1980) and “Fool for Love” (1983).

More recently, his stage work has included “The Late Henry Moss” (seen Off Broadway in 2001), “Heartless” (2012) and “A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations)” (2014).

As an actor, his breakout film role was in Terrence Malick’s 1978 film “Days of Heaven,” in which he starred opposite Richard Gere and Brooke Adams. Along with his Oscar-nominated turn in “Right Stuff,” he also appeared in movies including “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” “Crimes of the Heart,” “Steel Magnolias, “Black Hawk Down” and “August: Osage County.” He also recently acted in the first two seasons of Netflix series “Bloodline.”

He was Emmy and Golden Globe-nommed for his role as Dashiell Hammett in TV movie “Dash and Lilly.”

Shepard’s novel, “The One Inside,” was published in February.

Born Samuel Shepard Rogers III, in Fort Sheridan, Ill., he worked on a ranch as a teen and discovered Samuel Beckett — as well as jazz and abstract expressionism — at Mt. San Antonio College before he dropped out to join a touring theater repertory troupe. Later in life, he had a nearly 30 year relationship with Jessica Lange, whom he met when he collaborated with her on 1982 movie “Frances.”  They separated in 2009.

Shepard is survived by his children, Jesse, Hannah, and Walker Shepard, and his sisters, Sandy and Roxanne Rogers.

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