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Sunday 17 November 2019

Playwright and actor Sam Shepard dies aged 73

Sam Shepard was 73 (Charles Sykes/AP)
Sam Shepard was 73 (Charles Sykes/AP)

Sam Shepard, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Oscar-nominated actor and celebrated author whose plays chronicled the explosive fault lines of family and masculinity in the American West, has died aged 73.

Shepard died on Thursday at his home in Kentucky from complications related to Lou Gehrig's disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, family spokesman Chris Boneau said.

The taciturn Shepard, who grew up on a California ranch, was a man of few words who nevertheless produced 44 plays and numerous books, memoirs and short stories.

He was one of the most influential playwrights of his generation: a plain-spoken poet of the modern frontier who combined ruggedness with lyricism.

In his 1971 one-act Cowboy Mouth, which he wrote with his then girlfriend, musician and poet Patti Smith, one character says: "People want a street angel. They want a saint but with a cowboy mouth" - a role the tall and handsome Shepard fulfilled for many.

"I was writing basically for actors," Shepard told the Associated Press in a 2011 interview.

"And actors immediately seemed to have a handle on it, on the rhythm of it, the sound of it, the characters. I started to understand there was this possibility of conversation between actors and that's how it all started."

Shepard's Western drawl and laconic presence made him a reluctant film star, too.

He appeared in dozens of films - many of them Westerns - including Terrence Malick's Days Of Heaven, Steel Magnolias, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford and 2012's Mud.

He was nominated for an Oscar for his performance as astronaut Chuck Yeager in 1983's The Right Stuff.

Among his most recent roles was the Florida Keys patriarch of the Netflix series Bloodline.

But Shepard was best remembered for his influential plays and his prominent role in the off-Broadway movement.

His 1979 play Buried Child won the Pulitzer for drama.

Two other plays - True West and Fool For Love - were nominated for the Pulitzers as well, and are frequently restaged.

"I always felt like playwriting was the thread through all of it," Shepard said in 2011.

"Theatre, really, when you think about it, contains everything. It can contain film. Film can't contain theatre. Music. Dance. Painting. Acting. It's the whole deal. And it's the most ancient. It goes back to the Druids. It was way pre-Christ.

"It's the form that I feel most at home in, because of that, because of its ability to usurp everything."


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