Sam Shepard has passed away, after battling Lou Gehrig’s Disease. While most know him only as a character actor, his greater accomplishments are as one of America’s most reknowned and prolific playrights.
He had one of those storybook lives of the pure artist, a consummate Renaissance Man, who could play write, act, and play drums, and would follow whatever irrational direction his muse commanded him to.
… Shepard was best remembered for his influential plays and his prominent role in the off-Broadway movement. His 1979 play “Buried Child” won the Pulitzer for drama. Two other plays — “True West” and “Fool for Love” — were nominated for the Pulitzers as well, and are frequently revived.
“I always felt like playwriting was the thread through all of it,” Shepard said in 2011. “Theater really when you think about it contains everything. It can contain film. Film can’t contain theater. Music. Dance. Painting. Acting. It’s the whole deal. And it’s the most ancient. It goes back to the Druids. It was way pre-Christ. It’s the form that I feel most at home in, because of that, because of its ability to usurp everything.”
Years ago, I saw a rendition of his 1979 play Buried Child, and to see a rendition of True West has long been on my ever growing ‘To Do’ list.
Shepard was also, of course, a solid actor, usually playing strong, silent, stoic types. Among his high points are his Oscar-nominated performance as Chuck Yeager in Philip Kaufman’s The Right Stuff (1983), a key role in Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978), a square-jawed Major General in Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down (2001), and as Frank in Andrew Dominik’s underrated film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007).