By Sopan Deb
Sam Shepard, the celebrated avant-garde playwright and Oscar-nominated actor, died at his home in Kentucky on Thursday of complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, a spokesman for the Shepard family announced Monday. He was 73.
One of the most important and influential early writers in the off-Broadway movement, Shepard captured and chronicled the darker sides of American family life in plays like “Buried Child,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1979, and “Curse of the Starving Class” and “A Lie of the Mind.”
He was widely regarded as one of the most original voices of his generation, winning praise from critics for his searing portraits of spouses, siblings and lovers struggling with issues of identity, failure and the fleeting nature of the American dream. He was nominated for two other Pulitzers, for “True West” and “Fool for Love,” which both received Broadway productions.
Shepard was also an accomplished actor, nominated for an Academy Award for his supporting role in “The Right Stuff.” His most recent work was in the Netflix show “Bloodline,” where he appeared as the character of Robert Rayburn. He also appeared on New York stages, winning strong reviews for his performance in the off-Broadway production of Caryl Churchill’s “A Number” in 2004.
Working at off-Broadway landmarks like La MaMa and Caffe Cino, Shepard almost immediately received critical acclaim upon embarking on his career, winning Obie Awards for “Chicago” and “Icarus’s Mother” in 1965 and then “Red Cross” and “La Turista” in 1966. He would win seven more.
He is survived by his children – Jesse, Hannah and Walker Shepard – and his sisters, Sandy and Roxanne Rogers.