Sad news to report today as acclaimed playwright, actor, screenwriter, and director Sam Shepard has died at the age of 73. According to Variety, “He died on Thursday at his home in Kentucky following complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.”
Shepard, who won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1979 for his play Buried Child, was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his turn as Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff. The multi-talented Shepard devoted his life to the arts, and always found a way to make interesting contributions to the movies he was in.
In the past few years alone, while Shepard was rarely in the lead role, he left an impression, helping to elevate dramas like Midnight Special, Cold in July, and Mud. However, when he did get the lead, like the underseen and surprisingly good western Blackthorn, he completely owned the screen with his understated, gritty approach. He carried a sense of gravitas with him, and he was never a distraction. You never stopped and said, “Huh, there’s Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Sam Shepard in this movie for some reason.”
If you’ve missed out on Shepard’s filmography, especially his recent work, definitely go rent Blackthorn and Cold in July for two of his better performances, and of course check out The Right Stuff where he adds a lot of pathos to a movie that could have become mired in just a retelling of the space race. Shepard’s basically the heart of that movie as you see Yeager, the first person to ever fly at supersonic speed, get passed over for the space program.
Also, it goes without saying that you should definitely check out Shepard’s plays, whether it means seeing them or just reading them.
Our condolences go out to Sam Shepard’s family and friends for their loss. He will be greatly missed.