Sam Shepard began his acting career in earnest when cast in a major role as the land baron in Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978), opposite Richard Gere and Brooke Adams. This led to other important film roles, including that of Cal, Ellen Burstyn’s love interest, in the film Resurrection (1980), and most notably his portrayal of Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff (1983). The latter performance earned Shepard an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. By 1986, his play Fool for Love was getting a film adaptation directed by Robert Altman, in which Shepard played the lead role; his play A Lie of the Mind was being performed Off-Broadway with an all-star cast (including Harvey Keitel and Geraldine Page); and Shepard was subsequently working steadily as a film actor – all of these achievements combined to put him on the cover of Newsweek. Throughout the years, Sam Shepard did a considerable amount of teaching on writing plays and other aspects of theatre. His classes and seminars occurred at various theatre workshops, festivals, and universities. Shepard was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1986. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1986. In 2000, Shepard decided to repay a debt of gratitude to the Magic Theatre by staging his play The Late Henry Moss as a benefit in San Francisco. The cast included Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, Woody Harrelson, and Cheech Marin. The limited, three-month run was sold out. In 2001, Shepard played General William F. Garrison in the box office hit Black Hawk Down. Although he was cast in a supporting role, it reinvigorated interest in Shepard as an actor.
Sam Shepard performed Spalding Gray’s final monologue Life Interrupted for its audio release through Macmillan Audio in 2006. In 2007, he contributed banjo to Patti Smith’s cover of Nirvana’s song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on her album Twelve. Although many artists had an influence on Shepard’s work, one of the most significant was actor-director Joseph Chaikin, a veteran of The Living Theatre and founder of a group called the Open Theatre. The two often worked together on various projects, and Shepard acknowledged that Chaikin was a valuable mentor. In 2010, a revival of A Lie of the Mind was staged in New York at the same time as Shepard’s play Ages of the Moon (2010) opened there. Reflecting on the two plays, Shepard said that, to him, the older play felt “awkward”, adding, “All of the characters are in a fractured place, broken into pieces, and the pieces don’t really fit together,” while the newer play “is like a Porsche. It’s sleek, it does exactly what you want it to do, and it can speed up but also shows off great brakes.” The revival and new play also coincided with the publication of Shepard’s collection Day out of Days: Stories (the title echoes a filmmaking term). The book includes “short stories, poems and narrative sketches… that developed from dozens of leather-bound notebooks [Shepard] carried with him over the years.” In 2011, Shepard starred in the film Blackthorn. The most recently released film featuring Shepard was Never Here which premiered in June 2017 but had been filmed in the fall of 2014. Sam Shepard died on July 27, 2017, at his home in Kentucky, aged 73, from complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Patti Smith paid homage to their long collaboration in The New Yorker.
- November, 05, 1943
- Fort Sheridan, Illinois
- July, 27, 2017
- Midway, Kentucky
Cause of Death
- Complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis