Actor Sam Shepard dies at 73

Los Angeles Times
July 31. 2017 9:27PM
Actor Sam Shepard talks about Discovery Channel's "Klondike" during the Winter 2014 TCA presentations in Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 9, 2014. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo)

Sam Shepard, paragon playwright of the American West, was born to roam.

With a father who was an Army officer and sometime farmer and a mother who was a teacher, Shepard _ born in 1943, the oldest of three — spent his childhood bouncing around the heartland. This would later inform his writing, which often explored the fringes of society and the failure of the nuclear family.

Shepard eventually found a home in California — in Duarte, where he would graduate high school, and in Chico, where he worked as a stable hand. But eventually his roaming would take him east, to New York City and the stage that would make him a legend.

Shepard died Thursday, surrounded by family, at his home in Kentucky of complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often called Lou Gehrig's disease. He was 73.

Chris Boneau, a spokesman for Shepard's family, confirmed Shepard's death to the Los Angeles Times in a statement. "The family requests privacy at this difficult time," he said.

Shepard made his earliest impression on the New York theater scene in 1966, when he took home Obie Awards for three plays: "Chicago," "Red Cross" and "Icarus' Mother." The playwright would go on to win 10 more Obie Awards in his distinguished career.

In 1969, Shepard married actress O-Lan Jones, with whom he had one son, Jesse Mojo Shepard, in 1970.

As Shepard continued to write, he also began dabbling in acting, appearing as the charming land baron known only as "The Farmer" in Terrence Malick's 1978 exquisite classic "Days of Heaven."

In 1982, Shepard starred in "Frances" alongside Jessica Lange, with whom he would have a decades-spanning relationship. He divorced Jones in 1984.

Lange and Shepard had two children together, Hannah Jane, in 1985, and Samuel Walker Shepard, in 1987.

Shepard starred in his most celebrated role in 1983, portraying pilot Chuck Yeager in "The Right Stuff."

"The most righteous right stuff is the private property of Air Force test pilot Chuck Yeager, played by Sam Shepard in a manner guaranteed to fill the gap created when Gary Cooper left us," Times film critic Sheila Benson said of Shepard's easy masculinity in her original review of the film.

Shepard's performance earned him an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor.

Survivors include his children, Jesse, Hannah and Walker Shepard, and his sisters Sandy and Roxanne Rogers.

Funeral arrangements remain private. Plans for a public memorial have not been determined.


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