Sam Shepard, pictured at the Cannes Film Festival in 2005, made his name writing and acting, on stage and the big screen.(Courtesy Hahn-Nebinger-Klein/Abaca Press/TNS)

Remembering Sam Shepard, man of the West

Literary, theater and film folks are mourning the death of the great Sam Shepard.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Oscar-nominated actor and author famed for pithy works about dysfunctional families and masculinity in the American West, died July 27 at his home in Kentucky from complications related to Lou Gehrig’s disease, family Chris Boneau announced on Monday. No announcement was made regarding funeral services.

Shepard, who grew up on a California ranch and wrote more than three dozen plays and many books, memoirs and short stories, was among the most influential dramatists of his generation.

In the Bay Area, he was known for staging the original 1983 production of “Fool for Love” at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre, starring Ed Harris, his friend and collaborator who starred in “Cowboy Mouth,” a 1971 one-act Shepard wrote with his then-girlfriend Patti Smith.

In it one character says, “People want a street angel. They want a saint but with a cowboy mouth” — a role the tall, handsome artist fulfilled for many.

Shepard won the Pulitzer in 1979 for his play “Buried Child” and was nominated for a best supporting actor Academy Award in 1984 for his role in “The Right Stuff” as Chuck Yeager. He was in a romantic relationship with Jessica Lange from 1982 to 2009.

In 2015, he appeared in Netflix’s dark family drama “Bloodline,” marking his final on-camera appearance.

Shepard’s Western drawl and laconic presence made him a reluctant movie star.

Among the dozens of films he appeared in include Terrence Malick’s “Days of Heaven,” “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” and 2012’s “Mud.”

He was sexy romantic lead, to Diane Keaton in “Baby Boom,” Lange in “Crimes of the Heart” and Dolly Parton in “Steel Magnolias.”

But Shepard is 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.

He also penned screenplays for Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Zabriskie Point”; Wim Wenders’ “Paris, Texas,” a 1984 Cannes Film Festival winner; and Wenders’ “Don’t Come Knocking.”

Shepard played drums in a band he formed called The Holy Modal Rounders, who were featured in “Easy Rider,” and he accompanied Bob Dylan on the Rolling Thunder Revue tour.

Ava Du Vernay, Don Cheadle, Jason Alexander, Marcia Gay Harden, and George Takei were among the celebrities quickly paying tribute to him on social media.


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