Sam Shepard, Prolific Actor/Writer, Dies at 73

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Sam Shepard, right, with Bob Dylan during 1975’s Rolling Thunder Revue

With a résumé that included writing and acting credits galore—including connections to the likes of Bob Dylan, Patti Smith and psychedelic folkies the Holy Modal Rounders—Sam Shepard was one of the most prolific and colorful figures in the arts over the past half-century. He died July 27 at his Kentucky home from complications of ALS. He was 73.

Shepard was a playwright, actor, director, author and more, first finding recognition in the early 1960s. In the world of rock music, with which he was tangentially involved, he is best known, perhaps, for his collaborations with Bob Dylan in the mid-’70s: he accompanied Dylan on the whirlwind 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue tour and was co-credited as a writer of the critically maligned film that came from it, Renaldo and Clara. He later co-wrote the epic track “Brownsville Girl,” which appeared on Dylan’s 1986 Knocked Out Loaded album.

Earlier, in 1971, he and then-lover Patti Smith co-wrote and co-starred in the play Cowboy Mouth.

In all, Shepard authored 44 plays, one of which, Buried Child, won him the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in in 1979. He was also nominated for Pulitzer Prizes for the plays Curse of the Starving Class and A Lie of the Mind. Shepard often directed his own plays and directed two films, Far North (1988) and Silent Tongue (1994). Shepard had a long-term relationship with actress Jessica Lange, whom he met on the set of the film Frances in 1982.

Sam Shepard in 2014 (Photo from his website)

Born Samuel Shepard Rogers III on Nov. 5, 1943, Shepard dropped out of college in the early ’60s to join a touring repertory group. Moving to New York, he became involved in the city’s Off-Off-Broadway theater scene, where several of his plays were staged. Shepard won six Obie Awards between 1966-68 and he contributed a sketch to the risqué show Oh! Calcutta! in 1969. He also became involved in screenwriting—his credits included the Michelangelo Antonioni film Zabriskie Point (1970).

Shepard befriended and worked with members of the city’s folk and rock music community, drumming for the Holy Modal Rounders and appearing on two of that group’s albums, Indian War Whoop and The Moray Eels Eat the Holy Modal Rounders.

The early ’70s found him involved with Smith and then Dylan—he also produced a diary of the Dylan tour, Rolling Thunder Logbook, which was published in 1978.

Related: Dylan archives open in Tulsa

The Right Stuff features Shepard (L) as test pilot Chuck Yeager

Acting became another occupation of Shepard’s, as he followed the Renaldo and Clara roll with parts in such films as Days of Heaven, The Right Stuff (which earned him a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Chuck Yeager) and Steel Magnolias. More recently, he appeared in the television drama Bloodline.  He also played Allie’s father in The Notebook. His other acting credits included August: Osage County, alongside Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. Shepard wrote the 1984 film Paris, Texas, which featured a soundtrack by Ry Cooder.

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Watch “A Conversation with Sam Shepard” from the Sundance Film Festival

Watch Shepard with Patti Smith in Dublin in 2012

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  1. peaches
    #1 peaches 2 August, 2017, 05:47

    So sorry to hear this. He went way too soon. Somehow, I thought his beauty would go on forever, indestructible……

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