Theatre Icon Sam Shepard Passes at 73

obituary for Sam Shepard
Sam Shepard, one of the great lions of American Theatre, has passed.

Sam Shepard, one of America's most important playwrights has died at age 73. The New York Times reports that the cause of death was complications from ALS. He passed at his home in Kentucky, a spokesman has confirmed.

Known as Steve Rogers through his childhood and adolescence, the younger Mr. Shepard grew up on his family’s avocado farm in Duarte, Calif. Jobs in his youth included stablehand, orange picker and sheep shearer. He briefly attended Mount San Antonio College, as an agriculture student, but dropped out to move to New York in 1962, having discovered jazz and the plays of Samuel Beckett.

Mr. Shepard was soon writing plays in which characters and images melted into one another, suggesting a poetically cadenced LSD trip. (Mr. Shepard admitted to free acquaintance with drugs in that phase of his life.) Of that era in downtown Manhattan he has said, “You were right in the thing, especially on the Lower East Side. La MaMa, Theater, Genesis, Caffe Cino, all those theaters were just starting. So that was just a great coincidence. I had place to just go and put something on without having to go through a producer or go through the commercial network.”

His work extended to the music world. He wrote songs with John Cale and Bob Dylan, notably “Brownsville Girl,” from Mr. Dylan’s 1986 album “Knocked Out Loaded,” and he played drums for a time in a group called the Holy Modal Rounders, who once opened for the progressive rock group Pink Floyd. (He also had a well-publicized relationship with the singer-songwriter Patti Smith.)

Universally recognized as one of the most influential American playwrights of his generation, Shepard was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1979 for Buried Child and wrote more than 40 plays that were produced on stage. Besides his winning play, True West and Fool for Love, were also nominated for the coveted Pulitzer. As a screenwriter, he was perhaps best known for cowriting Paris, Texas, which took home the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1984.

Shepard was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as famed test pilot Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff in 1983. Mostly recently, he appeared on the Netflix Original series Bloodline.

Broadway World reports that Shepard died surrounded by his family. He is survived by three children, Jesse, Hannah and Walker Shepard, and two sisters, Sandy and Roxanne Rogers.

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