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

Sam Shepard Dead

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.


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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).


Sam Shepard dead

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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.”


Sam Shepard Dead

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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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  1. cowgirldiva says:

    Plain and simple, SAM SHEPHERD was HOT…!! R.I.P. We lost a good actor and a real, decent human being..!

  2. SHARON says:

    Sam Shepard!!!!!!!!! What can one say about such a great talent. He should have been better recognized for all his fine work. He was so good in The Right Stuff….you could fall in love with him.
    RIP…..see you on the other side.

  3. Hearing the loss of 2 greats Jeanne Moreau and Sam Shepard in one sitting I feel the impact of a the space and the quiet that these two leave behind.

  4. Jeffery A Rittenour says:

    RIP. Always on point. There goes ANOTHER one…This is and will continue to be a crummy decade for older fans of…well let’s just entertainment when it was good.

  5. gamersa2000 says:

    A fine actor who was in a number of excellent films and two that I think are great “DAYS OF HEAVEN” and “THE RIGHT STUFF”. However, he was an even better playwright, and responsible for the one of the finest and most underrated film scripts, “PARIS, TEXAS”. RIP to a giant.

  6. Lori C says:

    He also starred in “Purgatory” as Wild Bill Hickock. Wonderful movie BTW..RIP sir, great actor.

    • jp486533 says:

      Yes, Lori, I think Sam was at his best, playing in westerns! and I think westerns was what he loved doing the most! One of my favorite Shepard, films, was the 1989 “Lonesome Dove” sequel” Streets of Laredo” Regards! R.I.P Sam! You will truly be missed!

  7. loco73 says:

    Rest In Peace! A great talent passed on and will be missed!

  8. Spider says:

    Such a huge loss. He always elevated the quality of the films he was in. He was fantastic as the quietly nefarious Federal Agent Frank Coutelle in 1992’s “Thunderheart” opposite Val Kilmer, where they are sent to investigate a homicide in a Native American reservation. Great underrated flick!…..To think I just saw him in “Swordfish” (2001) just a couple of nights ago and wondered why I haven’t seen him in anything recent….. His legacy will live on! I extend my deepest condolences to his family!

  9. Mick says:

    Buried child is a really really good play. Didn’t know he was sick and never thought I’d read this, he always seemed invincible.

  10. chris says:

    ALWAYS has been one of my favorite actors. So sorry
    :( RIP

  11. Sam Shepard a true ‘Renaissance Man’. You will be sorely missed.

  12. Dammit, I’ll miss Sam. And it scares the hell out of me, cuz I’ll be 75 next week….

  13. Patrick says:

    He will be missed. One of my favourite actors. RIP.

  14. chaps says:

    Brilliant playwright. Powerful.
    Truth at core.

  15. Mindy says:

    Loved this actor/writer…..I have to differ with one thing…he was not in Steal Magnolias….that was Tom Skerrit? I think.

  16. Donna F. says:

    Brilliant man, incredible talent. Far too young to be lost. He brought us outside the box to see what was actually contained within. Thank you Mr. Shepard, for all of it. Sincere sadness he is gone and deep sorrow for his family and friends.

  17. Tommy Drew says:

    One of my favorite actors!

  18. Alex Meyer says:


  19. Helen Prater says:

    So sad. He will be missed

    • Ken says:

      Absolutely shocked. What a huge loss for the American theater as well as film. His screenplay for “Paris, Texas” is still one of the best ever conceived and written.

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