Prolific playwright Sam Shepard, whose works include the Pulitzer Prize-winning Buried Child, the Tony-nominated True West, and Fool for Love, has died at the age of 73 following complications from ALS. He was surrounded by his family at the time of his death at his home in Kentucky July 27.
Born November 5, 1943, in Fort Sheridan, Illinois, Shepard began his career as a writer after briefly studying at Mt. San Antonio College and touring with a repertory theatre company. His early works primarily played Off-Off-Broadway venues, such as Theatre Genesis at St. Mark’s Church and the American Place Theatre.
From 1966 through 1968, Shepard won six Obie Awards in the Best Distinguished Plays category for 1966’s Chicago, Icarus’s Mother, and Red Cross, 1967’s La Turista, and 1968’s Forensic and the Navigator and Melodrama Play. He would go on to win seven more Obie Awards honoring his Off-Broadway achievements, including Best Playwriting for Buried Child (1979), Best New American Play and Best Direction for Fool For Love (1984), and a Sustained Achievement Award in 1980.
Buried Child, Shepard’s landmark postmodern drama, was penned in 1978 as part of Shepard’s “Family Trilogy” as he served as Magic Theatre’s playwright-in-residence in San Francisco. Later that year, the play received its New York premiere at Theater for the New City before transferring to the Theatre de Lys (now the Lucille Lortel). In 1979, the play earned Shepard the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Two additional plays of his—True West and Fool for Love—were later recognized as finalists for the honor.
Look Back at the Works of Sam Shepard On the Stage
Shepard made his Broadway debut as a writer in 1969 by contributing sketch material to the musical revue Oh! Calcutta!. The following year, his play Operation Sidewinder played a brief run at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. His three plays that earned Pulitzer recognition did not play Broadway until years following their original premieres. Most recently, Fool for Love played Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman in 2015; Buried Child and True West earned Tony nominations for Best Play in 1996 and 2000, respectively.
As a performer, Shepard appeared in numerous films, including 1983’s The Right Stuff, for which he earned an Academy Award nomination. His additional screen credits included an Emmy-nominated performance in Dash and Lilly, Black Hawk Down, Mud, Swordfish, Netflix’s Bloodline (marking his final screen appearance), and the film adaptation of fellow Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County. Shepard also wrote for the screen, including an adaptation of his Fool for Love, in which he also starred as Eddie.
In addition to his Pulitzer Prize, Obie Awards, and Tony nominations, Shepard's numerous accolades include the Gold Medal for Drama from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award, and an induction into the Theater Hall of Fame.
Shepard is survived by his children Jesse, Hannah, and Walker Shepard, and his sisters Sandy and Roxanne Rogers. Funeral arrangements remain private; no plans have yet been determined for a public memorial.