Playwright, actor and director Sam Shepard has died at the age of 73, Broadway World reports.
Shepard died Thursday, July 27, his family told the Associated Press. His death was the result of complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a family spokesman told the New York Times.
Shepard had been battling ALS for “some time,” according to Broadway World, and died peacefully while surrounded by his children and sisters.
“The family requests privacy at this difficult time,” spokesman Chris Boneau told Broadway World. Funeral arrangements will be private and plans for a public memorial haven’t been determined, Boneau said.
Here is what you need to know about Shepard:
1. Shepard Spent His Childhood Moving From Military Base to Military Base as the Son of an Army Officer
Sam Shepard was born Samuel Shepard Rogers III on November 5, 1943, in Fort Sheridan, Illinois. His father was an officer in the U.S. Army, and the family traveled from base to base when he was a child, according to The Guardian. As a child, he went by the name Steve Rogers, and lived in Italy, South Dakota, Utah, Guam, the Philippines and then California, where they settled in the small town of Duarte.
His father was a “drinking man, a dedicated alcoholic,” who was confrontational, Shepard told The Guardian in 2003.
“My father had a real short fuse,” Shepard told the newspaper. “He had a tough life – had to support his mother and brother at a very young age when his dad’s farm collapsed. You could see his suffering, his terrible suffering, living a life that was disappointing and looking for another one. My father was full of terrifying anger.”
He had two younger sisters, Roxanne and Sandy.
“He was a school cheerleader who was bright, polite, and pleasant. His troubled childhood left him feeling permanently paranoid,” Playbill wrote in April 2017 ahead of the release of John J. Winters biography Sam Shepard: A Life. “Physically, this never showed. Shepard never looked like ‘Gary Cooper in denim’ who was coming apart at the seams—but that troubling inner unrest was ever-present in his plays, making him one of the greats.”
2. He Briefly Studied to Become a Vet Before Joining a Theater Company & Moving to New York
Shepard graduated from Duarte High School in Los Angeles County, California, in 1961 and briefly studied agriculture at Mt. San Antonio Junior College, with hopes of becoming a veterinarian, according to The Guardian.
He told Playbill in April 2017 he wanted to be “a veterinarian with a flashy station wagon and a flashy blonde wife, raising German shepherds in some fancy suburb.”
But he soon became interested in writing and acting.
“I happened to get into a literature class, I don’t know how exactly,” he told the newspaper, “with a lot of guys from that area whom I had never had any contact with; for lack of a better word they were beatniks. They lived in this big old house and one of them was a painter and they were smoking a lot of dope out there, and they had stuff lying around like Beckett plays, Jackson Pollock reproductions, which I’d never heard of. That was the first encounter I had with Beckett, with jazz, abstract expressionism. And then I just left [college].”
He then joined a touring theater group.
“We did little short plays, adaptations of literature mostly and we did them in churches. It amazed me that you could just get a bunch of people together and write some stuff and do it and get an audience,” he told The Guardian in 2003. “People would actually come and see it. From nothing, you could make something brand new.”
While in New York on a tour, he decided to stay. Shepard worked as a busboy while writing and performing in Off-Off-Broadway plays. He told The New Yorker, “I just dropped out of nowhere,” when he arrived in New York at 19 in 1963. “It was absolute luck that I happened to be there when the whole Off-Off Broadway movement was starting.”
The New Yorker’s John Lahr wrote in 2010, “Shepard was homespun and handsome, with a strong jaw and a dimpled chin. He exuded the mystery and swagger of a movie star, which he would eventually become. … His almond-shaped blue eyes looked out at the world with wry detachment; they imposed on his passionate nature a mask of cool. His smile was tight-lipped—half knowing, half strategic (it hid a mouthful of craggy teeth). Years of living with invasive family aggression—’The male influences around me were primarily alcoholics and extremely violent,’ he said—had taught Shepard to play things close to his chest: to look and to listen.”
Shepard eventually moved to San Francisco, becoming the playwright-in-residence at the Magic Theater in 1975.
3. Shepard Won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979 With His Play ‘Buried Child,’ Which Is Among the 44 He Wrote
Shepard authored 44 plays, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Buried Child in 1979. He also wrote several books and short stories. Two other plays, True West and Fool for Love, both Broadway productions, were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. His other notable plays include Curse of the Starving Class and A Lie of the Mind, which “captured and chronicled the darker sides of American family life,” according to the New York Times.
“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,” BroadwayWorld writes.
The New York Times called Shepard, “one of the most important and influential early writers in the Off Broadway movement.”
4. He Appeared in Several Movies & TV Shows & Was Nominated for an Academy Award for ‘The Right Stuff’
Along with his career as a playwright, Shepard was as an actor in dozens of movies, including The Right Stuff, which earned him an Academy Award nomination in 1983 for his portrayal of pilot Chuck Yeager.
His other films include Steel Magnolias, The Pelican Brief, All the Pretty Horses, Blackhawk Down, Swordfish, The Notebook and Brothers, according to IMDB. His most recent movie was Never Here, which was released earlier this year.
He also recently appeared in several episodes of the Netflix show Bloodline, as Robert Rayburn.
Shepard wrote several films as well, including Paris, Texas, Fool for Love, Don’t Come Knocking and Simpatico.
5. Shepard, Survived by His 3 Children, Was Married Once & Had a Long Relationship With Jessica Lange
Along with his two sisters, Sandy and Roxanne Rogers, Shepard is survived by his three children: Jesse Mojo Shepard, 47, from his marriage to O-Lan Jones, and Hannah Jane Shepard, 31, and Samuel Walker Shepard, 30, from his longtime relationship with actress Jessica Lange.
Shepard and Lange met in 1982 on the set of the film Frances, according to The Guardian. He was still married to Jones at the time, and she was in a relationship with Mikhail Baryshnikov.
“I’d seen Sam in Resurrection  and there was something about him that struck such a familiar chord,” she told The Guardian. “I immediately felt I knew something about him, that wildness, that typically American wildness, a no-restraints outlaw quality.” She continued:
When we were together we were so wild – drinking, getting into fights, walking down the freeway trying to get away – I mean, just really wild stuff. I didn’t want to keep going in that direction. So we quit talking. Then, through the work of some good friends, we got back in touch and that was it. He left his wife and we drove to New Mexico; and that’s where we settled. He’s a great man, a natural man, which is rare. I’ve known a lot of men. And you know I’ve had romances with what you’d call famous men, and none compares to Sam in terms of maleness.
Shepard also had a longtime working relationship, an and an affair, with Patti Smith.
Discuss on Facebook