The world of performing arts has lost one of its prominent, accomplished, and multitalented creators. Academy Award nominee and Pulitzer Prize winner Sam Shepard has died.
The actor, screenwriter, playwright, and director reportedly died July 30 at his home in Kentucky due to complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was 73 years old.
Shepard is perhaps best known for his portrayal of famous pilot Chuck Yeager in director Philip Kaufman’s 1983 film The Right Stuff, an adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s book of the same name that chronicled the experiences of the test pilots involved in aeronautical research at Edwards Air Force Base in California, and the astronauts selected for the first manned spaceflight by the United States, Project Mercury. The performance earned Shepard an Academy Award nomination in the “Best Supporting Actor” category.
According to BroadwayWorld, which first reported Shepard’s death, the actor died peacefully, surrounded by his children and sisters.
A celebrated playwright, Shepard is the author of 44 plays spanning more than half a century of theater work. He also authored multiple collections of short stories and memoirs, and his work influenced several generations of prominent musicians, playwrights, and artists in a range of mediums. His 1969 science-fiction stage play The Unseen Hand, for example, is widely believed to be a strong influence on Richard O’Brien’s famous musical The Rocky Horror Show after O’Brien appeared in a 1973 performance of The Unseen Hand in London.
In 1979, Shepard won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play Buried Child, and went on to write some of his most famous stage plays in the years that followed, including Fool for Love, True West, and A Lie of the Mind. He received two more Pulitzer nominations for Fool for Love and True West. Years later, New York magazine declared Shepard to be “the greatest American playwright of his generation.”
Shepard’s on-screen work began with a featured role in Terrence Malick’s 1978 film Days of Heaven. His most recent projects included the Netflix series Bloodline, in which he played the patriarch of the Rayburn family. He was nominated for both a Golden Globe Award and a Primetime Emmy Award for his portrayal of writer Dashiell Hammett in the 1999 television movie Dash and Lilly, and was nominated for a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award for the screenplay he penned for 1984’s Paris, Texas.
Shepard is survived by his three children — Jesse, Hannah, and Walker Shepard — and his sisters, Sandy and Roxanne Rogers. Funeral arrangements for Shepard remain private at this time, as do any plans for a public memorial.