Monday, July 31, 2017

Sam Shepard 1943 - 2017

Sam Shepard; actor, playwright, author, and director…has passed away at 73.

Born Samuel Shepard Rogers III in Illinois, he worked on a ranch as a teenager, and briefly studied agriculture before pursuing an acting career. At just 21 years old he began writing plays Off-Broadway, and his early science-fiction play The Unseen Hand (1969) would influence the stage musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show. He was named playwright-in-residence in 1975 at the Magic Theatre where he would create many of his memorable works.

He began his acting career in 1978 when he was cast as a land baron in Terrence Malick’s DAYS OF HEAVEN. This would lead to more film roles, including RESURRECTION (1980), and the film that he would be associated with for the rest of his career, THE RIGHT STUFF in 1983. Playing the famous pilot Chuck Yeager, the first man to break the sound barrier, Shepard would earn an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, which was a feat considering the large ensemble cast in the film. Still keeping work in the theatre, his 1986 play Fool for Love would be adapted into a film, and he would play the lead.

With his striking good looks and country-boy demeanor with a touch of sophistication, Shepard would have memorable roles such as a general during a failed military operation in Ridley Scott’s BLACK HAWK DOWN (2001), and would play Frank James, the older brother of Jesse James in THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD in 2007. He would return to the old west by playing Butch Cassidy in BLACKTHORN in 2011.

Other notable film roles include COUNTRY (1984), FOOL FOR LOVE (1985), CRIMES OF THE HEART (1986), BABY BOOM (1987), STEEL MAGNOLIAS (1989), VOYAGER (1991), THUNDERHEART (1992), THE PELICAN BRIEF (1993), HAMLET (2000), THE NOTEBOOK (2004), KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2012), MUD (2012), OUT OF THE FURNACE (2013), and MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (2016). He would be nominated for a Golden Globe and an Emmy for his work in television.

He received a PEN/Laura Pets International Foundation for Theatre Award as a Master American Dramatist in 2009. New York magazine called him the “greatest American playwright of his generation”.


This Blogger was introduced to Sam Shepard in the mid 1980’s, when a new cable-service called HBO ran THE RIGHT STUFF several times a week. As a fan of the early days of the space program, the film was an easy sell, and Shepard’s portrayal of Chuck Yeager was a performance that made him a hero. He was the guy who went boldly ahead, and above the call of duty, and although his Yeager never went into space, he paved the way for others to follow. Just like his character in THE RIGHT STUFF, Shepard has set an example for others; to be excellent at a craft but to never be boxed in, which was an achievement for him balancing life on-screen and on the stage. He was excellent and memorable in every film he was in, leaving an impression without really trying. He was a quiet legend and the best of the best.

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