Sam Shepard

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Sam Shepard
Sam Shepard Stealth crop.jpg
Shepard in 2004
Born Samuel Shepard Rogers III
(1943-11-05)November 5, 1943
Fort Sheridan, Illinois, U.S.
Died July 27, 2017(2017-07-27) (aged 73)
Midway, Kentucky, U.S.
  • Actor
  • playwright
  • author
  • screenwriter
  • director
Years active 1962–2017
Spouse(s) O-Lan Jones (m. 1969; div. 1984)
Partner(s) Jessica Lange (c. 1982; sep. 2009)
Children 3
Sam SHEPARD signature.png

Samuel Shepard Rogers III[1] (November 5, 1943 – July 27, 2017), known professionally as Sam Shepard, was an American actor, playwright, author, screenwriter, and director whose body of work spanned half a century. He won 10 Obie Awards for writing and directing, the most given to any writer or director, he wrote 44 plays as well as several books of short stories, essays, and memoirs. Shepard received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979 for his play Buried Child, he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of pilot Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff (1983). Shepard received the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award as a master American dramatist in 2009. New York magazine described him as "the greatest American playwright of his generation."[2]

Shepard's plays are chiefly known for their bleak, poetic, often surrealist elements, black humor, and rootless characters living on the outskirts of American society,[3] his style evolved over the years, from the absurdism of his early Off-Off-Broadway work to the realism of Buried Child and Curse of the Starving Class (both 1978).[4]

Early life[edit]

Shepard was born on November 5, 1943, in Fort Sheridan, Illinois,[5] he was named Samuel Shepard Rogers III after his father, Samuel Shepard Rogers, Jr., but his nickname was "Steve Rogers".[6] His father was a teacher and farmer who served in the United States Army Air Forces as a bomber pilot during World War II; Shepard characterized him as "a drinking man, a dedicated alcoholic".[7] His mother, Jane Elaine (née Schook), was a teacher and a native of Chicago.[8]

Shepard worked on a ranch as a teenager, after graduating from Duarte High School in Duarte, California in 1961, he briefly studied animal husbandry[7] at nearby Mt. San Antonio College, where he became enamored of Samuel Beckett, jazz, and abstract expressionism. Shepard soon dropped out to join a touring repertory group, the Bishop's Company.



Shepard at age 21

After securing a position as a busboy at the Village Gate nightclub upon arriving in New York City, Shepard became involved in the Off-Off-Broadway theater scene in 1962 through Ralph Cook, the club's head waiter. At this time Samuel "Steve" Rogers adopted the professional name Sam Shepard,[6] although his plays would go on to be staged at several Off-Off-Broadway venues, he was most closely connected with Cook's Theatre Genesis, housed at St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery in Manhattan's East Village.[9] Most of his initial writing was for the stage,[10] after winning six Obie Awards between 1966 and 1968, Shepard emerged as a viable screenwriter with Robert Frank's Me and My Brother (1968) and Michelangelo Antonioni's Zabriskie Point (1970). Several of Shepard's early plays, including Red Cross (1966) and La Turista (1967), were directed by Jacques Levy. A habitué of the Chelsea Hotel scene of the era, he also contributed to Kenneth Tynan's ribald Oh! Calcutta! (1969) and drummed sporadically from 1967 through 1971 with the psychedelic folk band The Holy Modal Rounders, appearing on their albums Indian War Whoop (1967) and The Moray Eels Eat The Holy Modal Rounders (1968).

Shepard's early science fiction play The Unseen Hand (1969) would influence Richard O'Brien's stage musical The Rocky Horror Show. Cowboy Mouth — a collaboration with his then-lover Patti Smith — was staged at The American Place Theatre in April 1971, providing early exposure for the future punk rock singer. The story and characters were loosely inspired by their relationship, and after opening night, he abandoned the production and fled to New England without a word to anyone involved.[11]

Shortly thereafter, Shepard relocated with his wife and son to London; while there, he immersed himself in the study of G. I. Gurdjieff's Fourth Way, a recurring preoccupation for much of his life. Returning to the U.S. in 1975, he moved to the 20-acre Flying Y Ranch in Mill Valley, California, where he raised a young colt named Drum and used to ride double with his young son on an appaloosa named Cody.[citation needed] He continued to write plays out of his house and served for a semester as Regents' Professor of Drama at the University of California, Davis.

Shepard accompanied Bob Dylan on the Rolling Thunder Revue of 1975 as the ostensible screenwriter of the surrealist Renaldo and Clara (1978) that emerged from the tour; however, because much of the film was improvised, Shepard's services were seldom used. His diary of the tour, Rolling Thunder Logbook, was published in 1978. A decade later, Dylan and Shepard co-wrote the 11-minute "Brownsville Girl", included on Dylan's Knocked Out Loaded album (1986) and later compilations.

In 1975, Shepard was named playwright-in-residence at the Magic Theatre, where he created many of his notable works, including his Family Trilogy. One of the plays in the trilogy, Buried Child (1978), won the Pulitzer Prize, and was nominated for five Tony Awards,[12] it also marked a major turning point in his career, heralding some of his best-known work, including True West (1980), Fool for Love (1983), and A Lie of the Mind (1985). A darkly comic tale of abortive reunion, in which a young man drops in on his grandfather's Illinois farmstead only to be greeted with devastating indifference by his relations, Buried Child saw Shepard stake a claim to the psychological terrain of classic American theater. True West and Fool for Love were subsequently nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.[13][14] Some critics have expanded this trio to a quintet, incorporating Fool for Love and A Lie of the Mind. Shepard also won a record-setting 10 Obie Awards for writing and directing between 1966 and 1984.

In 2010, a revival of A Lie of the Mind was staged in New York at the same time as Shepard's new play Ages of the Moon opened there.[15] Reflecting on the two plays, Shepard said that, to him, the older play felt "awkward", adding, "All of the characters are in a fractured place, broken into pieces, and the pieces don't really fit together," while the newer play "is like a Porsche. It's sleek, it does exactly what you want it to do, and it can speed up but also shows off great brakes."[16] The revival and new play also coincided with the publication of Shepard's collection Day out of Days: Stories (the title echoes a filmmaking term),[17] the book includes "short stories, poems and narrative sketches... that developed from dozens of leather-bound notebooks [Shepard] carried with him over the years."[16]


Shepard began his acting career in earnest when cast in a major role as the land baron in Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven (1978), opposite Richard Gere and Brooke Adams.[13] This led to other important film roles, including that of Cal, Ellen Burstyn's character's love interest in Resurrection (1980), and, most notably, Shepard's portrayal of Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff (1983). The latter performance earned Shepard an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. By 1986, his play Fool for Love was getting a film adaptation directed by Robert Altman, with Shepard in the lead role; his play A Lie of the Mind was being performed Off-Broadway with an all-star cast (including Harvey Keitel and Geraldine Page); and Shepard was subsequently working steadily as a film actor. These achievements, together, put him on the cover of Newsweek.

Over the years, Shepard taught extensively on play-writing and other aspects of theater, he gave classes and seminars at various theater workshops, festivals, and universities. Shepard was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1986, and was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1986.[18] In 2000, Shepard decided to repay a debt of gratitude to the Magic Theatre by staging his play The Late Henry Moss as a benefit in San Francisco, the cast included Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, Woody Harrelson, and Cheech Marin. The limited, three-month run was sold out; in 2001, Shepard played General William F. Garrison in the box office hit Black Hawk Down. Although he was cast only in a supporting role, Shepard enjoyed renewed interest in his talent for screen acting.

Shepard performed Spalding Gray's final monologue, Life Interrupted, for the audiobook version, released in 2006; in 2007, Shepard contributed banjo to Patti Smith's cover of Nirvana's song "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on her album Twelve. Although many artists had an influence on Shepard's work, one of the most significant was actor-director Joseph Chaikin, a veteran of The Living Theatre and founder of a group called the Open Theatre,[19] the two often worked together on various projects, and Shepard acknowledged that Chaikin was a valuable mentor.

In 2011, Shepard starred in the film Blackthorn. Shepard's most recent movie appearance is Never Here; it premiered in June 2017 but had been filmed in the fall of 2014. Shepard also appeared in Bloodline between 2014-2017.[20][21]


At the beginning of his playwriting career, Shepard did not direct his own plays, his earliest plays had a number of different directors, but were most frequently directed by Ralph Cook, the founder of Theatre Genesis. Later, while living at the Flying Y Ranch in Mill Valley, just north of San Francisco, Shepard formed a successful playwright-director relationship with Robert Woodruff, who directed the premiere of Buried Child (1982), among other plays, during the 1970s, though, Shepard decided that his vision of his plays required him to direct them himself. He consequently directed many of his own plays from that point on; with only a few exceptions, he did not direct plays by other playwrights. He also directed two films, but reportedly did not see film directing as a major interest.

Personal life[edit]

When Shepard first arrived in New York City, he roomed with Charlie Mingus, Jr., a friend from his high school days and the son of jazz musician Charles Mingus. He then lived with actress Joyce Aaron, from 1969 to 1984, he was married to actress O-Lan Jones, with whom he had one son, Jesse Mojo Shepard (born 1970). From 1970 to 1971, Shepard was involved in an extramarital affair with musician Patti Smith, who remained unaware of Shepard's identity as a multiple Obie Award-winning playwright until it was divulged to her by Jackie Curtis. According to Smith, "Me and his wife still even liked each other. I mean, it wasn't like committing adultery in the suburbs or something."[22]

Shepard met Academy Award-winning actress Jessica Lange on the set of the film Frances, in which they were both acting, he moved in with her in 1983, and they were together for nearly 30 years; they separated in 2009.[23] They had two children, Hannah Jane (born 1985) and Samuel Walker Shepard (born 1987); in 2003, his elder son, Jesse, wrote a book of short stories that was published in San Francisco; Shepard appeared with him at a reading to introduce the book.[24]

Despite having a longstanding aversion to flying, Shepard allowed the real Chuck Yeager to take him up in a jet plane in 1982, while preparing to play the test pilot in The Right Stuff.[25][26] Shepard described his fear of flying as a source for a character in his 1966 play Icarus's Mother,[27] he went through an airliner crash in the film Voyager, and according to one account, he vowed never to fly again after a very rocky trip on an airliner coming back from Mexico in the 1960s.[28]

In the early morning hours of January 3, 2009, Shepard was arrested and charged with speeding and drunken driving in Normal, Illinois,[29] he pled guilty to both charges on February 11, 2009, and was sentenced to 24 months probation, alcohol education classes, and 100 hours of community service.[30] On May 25, 2015, Shepard was arrested again, this time in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for aggravated drunk driving.[31]

His 50-year friendship with Johnny Dark (stepfather to O-Lan Jones) was the subject of the documentary Shepard & Dark (2013) by Treva Wurmfeld.[32] A collection of Shepard and Dark's correspondence, Two Prospectors,[33] was also published that year.


Shepard died on July 27, 2017, at his home in Kentucky, aged 73, from complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.[5][34][35] Patti Smith paid homage in The New Yorker to their long collaboration.[36]


Sam Shepard's Papers are split between the Wittliff collections of Southwestern Writers, Texas State University, comprising 27 boxes (13 linear feet),[37] and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, comprising 30 document boxes (12.6 linear feet).[38]




Awards and nominations[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shewey, Don (1997). Sam Shepard. Perseus Books Group. ISBN 9780306807701. Archived from the original on April 14, 2017. Retrieved December 14, 2015. 
  2. ^ Wetzsteon, Ross (November 11, 1984). "The Genius of Sam Shepard". New York. Archived from the original on May 3, 2016. Retrieved December 9, 2015. 
  3. ^ (in French) Wim Wenders on Sam Shepard Archived August 19, 2017, at the Wayback Machine. (video), Institut National de l'Audiovisue|, 1984.
  4. ^ Bloom, Harold (2009). Harold Bloom's Major Dramatists: Sam Shepard. Infobase Publishing. ISBN 9781438116464. Archived from the original on July 30, 2017. Retrieved December 12, 2015. 
  5. ^ a b Deb, Sopan. "Sam Shepard, Pulitzer-Winning Playwright and Actor, Is Dead at 73". The New York Times (July 31, 2017). Archived from the original on July 31, 2017. Retrieved July 31, 2017. 
  6. ^ a b Harold Bloom, ed., Sam Shepard, p. 11 Archived June 30, 2016, at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved May 10, 2016
  7. ^ a b O'Mahony, John (October 11, 2003). "The write stuff". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on April 14, 2017. 
  8. ^ "Sam Shepard Biography". Archived from the original on December 2, 2008. Retrieved November 25, 2008. 
  9. ^ Gary Botting, The Theatre of Protest in America, p. 11
  10. ^ Botting, Gary (1972). The Theatre of Protest in America. Harden House. Archived from the original on July 30, 2017. Retrieved December 14, 2015. 
  11. ^ "Sam Shepard and Identity". Archived from the original on December 6, 2015. 
  12. ^ "Sam Shepard, playwright and actor, dead at 73". CNN. Archived from the original on August 2, 2017. 
  13. ^ a b "Sam Shepard: US actor and playwright dies aged 73". July 31, 2017. Archived from the original on August 2, 2017 – via 
  14. ^ "Broadway to Dim Lights in Memory of Sam Shepard". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on August 1, 2017. 
  15. ^ Brantley, Ben (February 19, 2010). "THEATER REVIEW: Home Is Where the Soul Aches". The New York Times. Archived from the original on February 25, 2010. 
  16. ^ a b Healy, Patrick (February 13, 2010). "Getting Faster With Age: Sam Shepard's New Velocity". The New York Times. Retrieved February 13, 2010. 
  17. ^ Kirn, Walter (January 17, 2010). "Sam Shepard: The Highwayman – Review of Day out of Days: Stories by Sam Shepard". The New York Times. Archived from the original on February 18, 2010. Retrieved February 13, 2010. 
  18. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter S" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on July 30, 2017. Retrieved April 22, 2011. 
  19. ^ Gary Botting, The Theatre of Protest in America (Edmonton: Harden House, 1972, pp. 7, 25, 28
  20. ^ "Feature Films: 'You Were Never Here'". Archived from the original on August 2, 2017. 
  21. ^ "The Sam Shepard Web Site". Archived from the original on February 25, 2017. 
  22. ^ "patti smith: affair w/ sam shepard". Archived from the original on March 16, 2017. 
  23. ^ Johnson, Zach (December 19, 2011). "Rep: Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard Have Separated". Us Weekly. Archived from the original on March 20, 2012. Retrieved May 22, 2012. 
  24. ^ Sullivan, James (April 26, 2003). "THE SCENE: Sam Shepard joins Jesse Shepard for a reading at City Lights". San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on December 2, 2013. Retrieved April 24, 2013. 
  25. ^ Kirn, Walter (May 13, 1996). "Tales of Two Hipsters". New York. Archived from the original on July 7, 2014. Retrieved April 24, 2013. 
  26. ^ Lang, Peter (2007). Dis/figuring Sam Shepard. Peter Lang. p. 42. ISBN 9789052013527. Archived from the original on December 17, 2014. Retrieved December 14, 2015. 
  27. ^ Bottoms, Stephen J. (1998). The Theatre of Sam Shepard: States of Crisis. Cambridge University Press. p. 41. ISBN 9780521587914. Archived from the original on December 9, 2014. Retrieved December 14, 2015. 
  28. ^ Callens, Mark (1998). Sam Shepard V8, Part 4. Taylor & Francis. p. 79. ISBN 9780203989890. Archived from the original on July 7, 2014. Retrieved December 14, 2015. 
  29. ^ "Sam Shepard Arrested – Blows It Big Time". TMZ. January 3, 2009. Archived from the original on February 17, 2009. Retrieved February 16, 2009. 
  30. ^ "Sam Shepard Guilty of Very Drunken Driving". TMZ. February 11, 2009. Archived from the original on February 13, 2009. 
  31. ^ Mackie, Drew (May 26, 2015). "Actor/Playwright Sam Shepard Arrested on Drunk Driving Charges in Santa Fe". People. Archived from the original on May 27, 2015. 
  32. ^ DeMara, Bruce (March 7, 2013). "Shepard & Dark, a testament to friendship: review". Toronto Star. Archived from the original on April 4, 2013. Retrieved April 24, 2013. 
  33. ^ ISBN 978-0-292-73582-8
  34. ^ Hill, Libby (July 31, 2017). "Sam Shepard, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Oscar-nominated actor, dies at 73". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on July 31, 2017. Retrieved August 1, 2017. 
  35. ^ Desta, Yohana (31 July 2017). "Sam Shepard, Prolific Playwright and Actor, Dies at 73". Vanity Fair. Condé Nast. Retrieved 17 May 2018. 
  36. ^ "My Buddy: Patti Smith Remembers Sam Shepard". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2017-09-03. 
  37. ^ "Sam Shepard Papers, 1972–1999". Wittliff Collections, Texas State University-San Marcos. Archived from the original on July 30, 2017. Retrieved August 2, 2017. 
  38. ^ "Sam Shepard: An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Center". Processed by: Liz Murray (2011), Daniela Lozano (2012). Retrieved 2017-09-04. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]