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Samuel Shepard Rogers III (November 5, 1943 – July 27, 2017) was an American actor, playwright, author, screenwriter, and director whose career spanned half a century. He won ten
Obie Award The Obie Awards or Off-Broadway Theater Awards are annual awards originally given by ''The Village Voice ''The Village Voice'' was an American news and culture paper, known for being the country's first alternative newsweekly. Founded in ...
s for writing and directing, the most by any writer or director. He wrote 58 plays as well as several books of short stories, essays, and memoirs. Shepard received the
Pulitzer Prize for Drama The Pulitzer Prize for Drama is one of the seven American Pulitzer Prizes#REDIRECT Pulitzer Prize The Pulitzer Prize () is an award for achievements in newspaper, magazine and online journalism, literature and musical composition within the Uni ...
in 1979 for his play ''
Buried Child ''Buried Child'' is a play written by Sam Shepard that was first presented in 1978. It won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and launched Shepard to national fame as a playwright. The play depicts the fragmentation of the American nuclear family in ...
'' and was nominated for an
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor The Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor is an award presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS, often pronounced ; also known as simply the Academy or the ...
for his portrayal of pilot
Chuck Yeager Brigadier General Charles Elwood Yeager ( , February 13, 1923December 7, 2020) was a United States Air Force officer, flying ace, and record-setting test pilot who in 1947 became the first pilot in history confirmed to have exceeded the speed o ...

Chuck Yeager
in the 1983 film ''The Right Stuff (film), The Right Stuff''. He received the PEN/Laura Pels Theater Award as a master American dramatist in 2009. ''New York'' magazine described Shepard as "the greatest American playwright of his generation." Shepard's plays are known for their bleak, poetic, surrealist elements, black comedy, and rootless characters living on the outskirts of American society. His style evolved from the absurdism of his early Off-Off-Broadway, off-off-Broadway work to the realism of later plays like ''Buried Child'' and ''Curse of the Starving Class''.


Early life

Sam Shepard was born on November 5, 1943 in the Chicago suburb of Fort Sheridan, Illinois. He was named Samuel Shepard Rogers III after his father, Samuel Shepard Rogers Jr. (1917–1984), but was called Steve Rogers. 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 his father as "a drinking man, a dedicated alcoholic". His mother, Jane Elaine (''née'' Schook; 1917–1994), was a teacher and a native of Chicago. Shepard worked on a ranch as a teenager. After graduating from Duarte High School in Duarte, California in 1961, he briefly studied animal husbandry at nearby Mt. San Antonio College. While at college, Shepard became enamored of Samuel Beckett, jazz, and abstract expressionism. He dropped out to join the Bishop's Company, a touring Repertory theatre, repertory group.


Career


Writing

Shepard moved to New York City in 1963 and found work as a busboy at the Village Gate nightclub. The following year, the Village Gate's head waiter, Ralph Cook, founded the experimental stage company Theatre Genesis, Theater Genesis, housed at St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery in Manhattan. Two of Shepard's earliest one-act plays, "The Rock Garden" and "Cowboys", debuted at Theater Genesis in October 1964. It was around this time that Steve Rogers adopted the professional name Sam Shepard. In 1965, Shepard's one-act plays ''Dog'' and ''The Rocking Chair'' were produced at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club. These were the first of many productions of Shepard's work at La MaMa during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. In 1967, Tom O'Horgan directed Shepard's ''Melodrama Play'' alongside Leonard Melfi, Leonard Melfi's ''Times Square'' and Rochelle Owens' ''Futz'' at La MaMa. In 1969, Jeff Bleckner directed Shepard's play ''The Unseen Hand'' at La MaMa. ''The Unseen Hand'' later influenced Richard O'Brien, Richard O'Brien's musical ''The Rocky Horror Show''. Bleckner then directed ''The Unseen Hand'' alongside ''Forensic and the Navigators'' at the nearby Astor Place Theatre, Astor Place Theater in 1970. Shepard's play ''Shaved Splits'' was directed at La MaMa in 1970 by Bill Hart. Seth Allen directed ''Melodrama Play'' at La MaMa the following year. In 1981, Tony Barsha directed ''The Unseen Hand'' at La MaMa. The production then transferred to the Provincetown Playhouse and ran for over 100 performances. Syracuse Stage co-produced ''The Tooth of Crime'' at La MaMa in 1983. Also in 1983, the Overtone Theatre and New Writers at the Westside co-produced Shepard's plays ''Superstitions'' and ''The Sad Lament of Pecos Bill on the Eve of Killing His Wife'' at La MaMa. John Densmore performed in his own play ''Skins'' and Shepard and Joseph Chaikin's play ''Tongues'', directed as a double bill by Tony Abatemarco, at La MaMa in 1984. Nicholas Swyrydenko directed a production of ''Geography of a Horse Dreamer'' at La MaMa in 1985. Several of Shepard's early plays, including ''Red Cross'' (1966) and ''La Turista'' (1967), were directed by Jacques Levy. A patron of the Hotel Chelsea, Chelsea Hotel scene, he also contributed to Kenneth Tynan's ''Oh! Calcutta!'' (1969) and drummed sporadically from 1967 through 1971 with the band The Holy Modal Rounders, appearing on their albums ''Indian War Whoop'' (1967) and ''The Moray Eels Eat The Holy Modal Rounders'' (1968). After winning six
Obie Award The Obie Awards or Off-Broadway Theater Awards are annual awards originally given by ''The Village Voice ''The Village Voice'' was an American news and culture paper, known for being the country's first alternative newsweekly. Founded in ...
s between 1966 and 1968, Shepard emerged as a screenwriter with Robert Frank, Robert Frank's ''Me and My Brother (film), Me and My Brother'' (1968) and Michelangelo Antonioni's ''Zabriskie Point (film), Zabriskie Point'' (1970). ''Cowboy Mouth (play), Cowboy Mouth'', a collaboration with his then-lover Patti Smith, was staged at The American Place Theatre in April 1971, providing early exposure for Smith, who became a well-known musician. The story and characters in ''Cowboy Mouth'' were inspired by Shepard and Smith's relationship. After opening night, he abandoned the production and fled to New England without a word to anyone involved. Shortly thereafter, Shepard relocated with his wife and son to London. While in London, he immersed himself in the study of G.I. Gurdjieff's Fourth Way, a recurring preoccupation for much of his life. Returning to the United States in 1975, he moved to the 20-acre Flying Y Ranch in Mill Valley, California, where he raised a young colt named Drum and rode double with his young son on an appaloosa named Cody. Shepard continued to write plays 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 screenwriter for ''Renaldo and Clara'' that emerged from the tour. However, because much of the film was improvised, Shepard's work was seldom used. ''Rolling Thunder Logbook'', his diary of the tour, was published in 1978. A decade later, Dylan and Shepard co-wrote the 11-minute song "Brownsville Girl", included on Dylan's 1986 album ''Knocked Out Loaded'' and on later compilations. In 1975, Shepard was named Artist-in-residence, playwright-in-residence at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco, where he created many of his notable works, including his Family Trilogy. One of the plays in the trilogy, ''
Buried Child ''Buried Child'' is a play written by Sam Shepard that was first presented in 1978. It won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and launched Shepard to national fame as a playwright. The play depicts the fragmentation of the American nuclear family in ...
'' (1978), won the Pulitzer Prize, and was nominated for five Tony Awards. This marked a major turning point in his career, heralding some of his best-known work, including ''True West (play), True West'' (1980), ''Fool for Love (play), Fool for Love'' (1983), and ''A Lie of the Mind'' (1985). A comic tale of reunion, in which a young man drops in on his grandfather's Illinois farmstead only to be greeted with 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 nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Some critics have expanded the trilogy to a quintet, including ''Fool for Love'' and ''A Lie of the Mind''. Shepard won a record-setting 10
Obie Award The Obie Awards or Off-Broadway Theater Awards are annual awards originally given by ''The Village Voice ''The Village Voice'' was an American news and culture paper, known for being the country's first alternative newsweekly. Founded in ...
s for writing and directing between 1966 and 1984. In 2010, ''A Lie of the Mind'' was revived in New York at the same time as Shepard's new play ''Ages of the Moon'' opened there. Reflecting on the two plays, Shepard said that 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." The revival and the new play also coincided with the publication of Shepard's collection ''Day out of Days: Stories''. The book includes "short stories, poems and narrative sketches... that developed from dozens of leather-bound notebooks [Shepard] carried with him over the years."


Acting

Shepard began his film acting career when cast in a major role as the land baron in Terrence Malick's ''Days of Heaven'' (1978), opposite Richard Gere and Brooke Adams (actress), Brooke Adams. This led to other important film roles, including that of Cal, Ellen Burstyn's character's love interest in ''Resurrection (1980 film), Resurrection'' (1980), and, most notably, Shepard's portrayal of
Chuck Yeager Brigadier General Charles Elwood Yeager ( , February 13, 1923December 7, 2020) was a United States Air Force officer, flying ace, and record-setting test pilot who in 1947 became the first pilot in history confirmed to have exceeded the speed o ...

Chuck Yeager
in ''The Right Stuff (film), The Right Stuff'' (1983). The latter performance earned Shepard an Academy Award nomination for Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actor. By 1986, ''Fool for Love (film), Fool for Love'' was adapted by Robert Altman with Shepard in the lead role; ''A Lie of the Mind'' was being performed Off-Broadway (with Harvey Keitel and Geraldine Page); and Shepard was working steadily as a film actor. Together, these achievements put him on the cover of ''Newsweek''. Over the years, Shepard taught extensively on playwriting 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. In 2000, Shepard demonstrated his gratitude to the Magic Theatre by staging ''The Late Henry Moss'' as a benefit for the theatre, 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 film ''Black Hawk Down (film), Black Hawk Down''. Although he was cast 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 (band), Nirvana's song "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on her album ''Twelve (Patti Smith album), Twelve''. Although many artists had an influence on Shepard's work, one of the more significant was Joseph Chaikin, a veteran of The Living Theatre and founder of The Open Theater. The two worked together on various projects, and Shepard has stated that Chaikin was a valuable mentor. In 2011, Shepard starred in the film ''Blackthorn (film), Blackthorn''. His final film appearance is ''Never Here'', which premiered in June 2017 but had been filmed in 2014. Shepard also appeared in the television series ''Bloodline (TV series), Bloodline'' from 2014 to 2017.


Directing

At the beginning of his career, Shepard did not direct his own plays. His early 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, Shepard formed a successful playwright-director relationship with Robert Woodruff (director), Robert Woodruff, who directed the premiere of ''
Buried Child ''Buried Child'' is a play written by Sam Shepard that was first presented in 1978. It won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and launched Shepard to national fame as a playwright. The play depicts the fragmentation of the American nuclear family in ...
'' (1982). During the 1970s, Shepard decided that his vision for his plays required him to direct them himself. He directed many of his own plays from that point onward. 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

When Shepard first arrived in New York City, he roomed with Charlie Mingus, Jr., a friend from high school 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 The Obie Awards or Off-Broadway Theater Awards are annual awards originally given by ''The Village Voice ''The Village Voice'' was an American news and culture paper, known for being the country's first alternative newsweekly. Founded in ...
-winning playwright until it was divulged to her by Jackie Curtis. Smith said "Me and his wife still even liked each other. I mean, it wasn't like committing adultery in the suburbs or something." Joni Mitchell wrote two songs about her affairs with Shepard during Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue tour of 1975. In "Coyote (song), Coyote" she recounts Shepard's seduction of Mitchell at a period while he was both married and having an extramarital affair with the tour manager Christine O’Dell with the lines “He’s got a woman at home, another woman down the hall, but he seems to want me anyway.” Shepard met actress Jessica Lange on the set of the 1982 film ''Frances (film), Frances'', in which they were both acting. He moved in with her in 1983, and they were together for 27 years; they separated in 2009. They had two children, Hannah Jane Shepard (born 1986) and Samuel Walker Shepard (born 1987). In 2003, Shepard's elder son, Jesse, wrote a book of short stories, and Shepard appeared with him at a reading at City Lights Bookstore. In 2014 and 2015, Shepard dated actress Mia Kirshner. Despite having a longstanding aversion to flying, Shepard allowed Chuck Yeager to take him up in a jet plane in 1982 in preparation to play the pilot in the film ''The Right Stuff (film), The Right Stuff''. Shepard cited his fear of flying as a source for a character in his 1966 play ''Icarus's Mother''. He went through an airliner crash in the film ''Voyager (film), Voyager'', and apparently vowed never to fly again after a turbulent trip on an airliner returning from Mexico in the 1960s. In the early morning hours of January 3, 2009, Shepard was arrested and charged with speeding and drunk driving in Normal, Illinois. He pleaded guilty to both charges on February 11, 2009, and was sentenced to 24 months probation, alcohol education classes, and 100 hours of community service. On May 25, 2015, Shepard was arrested again in Santa Fe, New Mexico for aggravated drunk driving. Those charges were later dismissed as having no likelihood of success at trial. His 50-year friendship with Johnny Dark, stepfather to O-Lan Jones, was the subject of the 2013 documentary ''Shepard & Dark'' by Treva Wurmfeld. A collection of Shepard and Dark's correspondence, ''Two Prospectors'', was also published that year.


Death

Shepard died on July 27, 2017 at his home in Midway, Kentucky, aged 73, from complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Patti Smith paid homage to their long collaboration in ''The New Yorker''. Fellow actor Matthew McConaughey learned of Shepard's death during a TV interview and seemed shocked by the news and ended the interview with saying "See you in the next one, Sam".


Archives

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


Bibliography

;Collections * 1973: ''Hawk Moon'', Black Sparrow Press; * 1983: ''Motel Chronicles'', City Lights Bookstore, City Lights; * 1984: ''Seven Plays'', Dial Press, 368 pages; * 1984: ''Fool for Love and Other Plays'', Bantam Books, 320 pages; * 1996: ''The Unseen Hand: and Other Plays'', Vintage Books, 400 pages; * 1996: ''Cruising Paradise'', Vintage Books, 255 pages; * 2003: ''Great Dream of Heaven'', Vintage Books, 160 pages; * 2004: ''Rolling Thunder Logbook'', Da Capo Press, 176 pages (reissue); * 2004: ''Day Out of Days: Stories'', Alfred A. Knopf, Knopf, 304 pages; * 2013: ''Two Prospectors: The Letters of Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark'', University of Texas Press, 400 pages; ;Novels * 2017: ''The One Inside'', Alfred A. Knopf, Knopf, 172 pages; * 2017: ''Spy of the First Person'', Knopf, 96 pages (published posthumously);


Filmography


Awards and nominations


See also

* List of members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters Department of Literature * List of playwrights from the United States


References


Further reading

* Radavich, David. "Back to the (Plutonian) Midwest: Sam Shepard's ''The God of Hell''". ''New England Theatre Journal'' 18 (2007): 95–108. * Radavich, David. "Rabe, Mamet, Shepard, and Wilson: Mid-American Male Dramatists of the 1970s and '80s". ''The Midwest Quarterly'' XLVIII: 3 (Spring 2007): 342–58. * * * *


External links

*
The Flying Y Ranch

Sam Shepard Papers
at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin
Sam Shepard
at Bucknell University * * * * * *
Carol Benet collection of Sam Shepard research materials, 1970–1995
Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
Shepard's page on La MaMa Archives Digital Collections
{{DEFAULTSORT:Shepard, Sam 1943 births 2017 deaths 20th-century American male actors 21st-century American male actors 20th-century American dramatists and playwrights American male dramatists and playwrights American male film actors American male screenwriters American male short story writers American male stage actors Fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Deaths from motor neuron disease Neurological disease deaths in Kentucky Male actors from Illinois Male Western (genre) film actors Members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters Mt. San Antonio College alumni People from Fort Sheridan, Illinois Postmodern writers Pulitzer Prize for Drama winners Theatre of the Absurd 20th-century American male writers Screenwriters from Illinois The Holy Modal Rounders members