Accomplished actor, playwright and screenwriter Sam Shepard has died at aged 73, due to complications from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).  

Many will recognise Illinois-born Shepard from movies such as The Right Stuff, in which he played legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager, however he also leaves behind an extremely accomplished and highly influential body of work as a playwright, penning some 40-plus scripts from 1964 to 2014.

Shepard’s career began in New York theatre back in 1962, and before the turn of the decade he had been awarded six Obies. Screenwriting followed, while his plays influenced everybody from Richard O’Brien (The Rocky Horror Show) and punk singer Patti Smith, whom he dated for a period.

1978 saw Shepard getting serious about an acting career, playing ‘The Farmer’ in Terence Malick’s Days of Heaven. He paused briefly in 1979 to accept a Pulitzer Prize for his play Buried Child, before 1983 saw The Right Stuff hit, and Shepard receiving an Academy Award nomination for ‘Best Supporting Actor’.

Shepard continued to juggle writing and acting, as well as finding time to teach theatre craft at various venues.

A glance at his varied acting credits reveals Shepard’s passion for drama. Crimes of the Heart, Steel Magnolias, The Pelican Brief and Snow Falling on Cedars are all highlights of his movie work in the 20th century. The 2000s saw the likes of Swordfish, Black Hawk Down, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Safe House and August: Osage County as just drops in his vast ocean of movie work.

A true creative inspiration, a line from his play Tongues sums up Shepard’s earthiness – “When you die it’s the end of your life.” Maybe so, however the significant mark that he’s left on the world will live on. Vale Sam Shepard.

 

Sam Shepard

Sam Shepard, The Right Stuff