Ac­tor Sam Shep­ard, Pulitzer-win­ning play­wright, dead at 73

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - JAKE COYLE

Sam Shep­ard, the Pulitzer Prize-win­ning play­wright, Os­car-nom­i­nated ac­tor and cel­e­brated au­thor whose plays chron­i­cled the ex­plo­sive fault lines of fam­ily and mas­culin­ity in the Amer­i­can West, has died. He was 73.

Fam­ily spokesper­son Chris Boneau said Mon­day that Shep­ard died Thurs­day at his home in Ken­tucky from com­pli­ca­tions re­lated to Lou Gehrig’s dis­ease, or amy­otrophic lat­eral scle­ro­sis.

The tac­i­turn Shep­ard, who grew up on a Cal­i­for­nia ranch, was a man of few words who nev­er­the­less pro­duced 44 plays and nu­mer­ous books, mem­oirs and short sto­ries. He was one of the most in­flu­en­tial play­wrights of his gen­er­a­tion: a plain-spo­ken poet of the mod­ern fron­tier who com­bined rugged­ness with lyri­cism.

In his 1971 one-act “Cow­boy Mouth,” which he wrote with his then girl­friend, mu­si­cian and poet Patti Smith, one char­ac­ter says, “Peo­ple want a street an­gel. They want a saint but with a cow­boy mouth” — a role the tall and hand­some Shep­ard ful­filled for many.

“I was writ­ing ba­si­cally for ac­tors,” Shep­ard told The Associated Press in a 2011 in­ter­view. “And ac­tors im­me­di­ately seemed to have a han­dle on it, on the rhythm of it, the sound of it, the char­ac­ters. I started to un­der­stand there was this pos­si­bil­ity of con­ver­sa­tion be­tween ac­tors, and that’s how it all started.”

Shep­ard’s West­ern drawl and la­conic pres­ence made him a re­luc­tant movie star, too. He ap­peared in dozens of films — many of them Westerns — in­clud­ing Ter­rence Mal­ick’s “Days of Heaven,” “Steel Mag­no­lias,” “The As­sas­si­na­tion of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” and 2012’s “Mud.” He was nom­i­nated for an Os­car for his per­for­mance as as­tro­naut Chuck Yea­ger in 1983’s “The Right Stuff.” Among his most re­cent roles was the Florida Keys pa­tri­arch of the Net­flix se­ries “Blood­line.”

But 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 restaged.

“I al­ways felt like play­writ­ing was the thread through all of it,” Shep­ard said in 2011. “The­atre, re­ally when you think about it, con­tains ev­ery­thing. It can con­tain film. Film can’t con­tain the­atre. 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.”


Shep­ard: “The­atre, re­ally when you think about it, con­tains ev­ery­thing.”

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