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Sam Shepard (born Samuel Shepard Rogers III; November 5, 1943) is an American playwright, actor, and television and film director. He is the author of several books of short stories, essays, and memoirs, and received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979 for his play Buried Child. Shepard was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of pilot Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff (1983). Shepard received the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award as a master American dramatist in 2009.
Born Samuel Shepard Rogers III in Fort Sheridan, Illinois, he worked on a ranch as a teenager. His father, Samuel Shepard Rogers, Jr., was a teacher and farmer who served in the United States Army Air Forces as a bomber pilot during World War II; Shepard has characterized him as "a drinking man, a dedicated alcoholic". His mother, Jane Elaine (née Schook), was a teacher and a native of Chicago, Illinois.
After graduating from Duarte High School in 1961, he briefly studied agriculture at Mt. San Antonio College, where he became enamored with the oeuvre of Samuel Beckett, jazz, and abstract expressionism. Shepard soon dropped out to join a touring repertory group, the Bishop’s Company.
After securing a position as a busboy at The Village Gate upon arriving in New York City, Shepard became involved in the Off-Off-Broadway theater scene in 1962 through Ralph Cook, the club's head waiter. Although his plays would go on to be staged at several Off-Off-Broadway venues, he was most closely connected with Cook's Theatre Genesis, housed at St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery in Manhattan's East Village. Most of his initial writing was for the stage; after winning six Obie Awards between 1966-1968, Shepard emerged as a viable screenwriter with Robert Frank's Me and My Brother (1968) and Michelangelo Antonioni's Zabriskie Point (1970). Several of Shepard's early plays (including Red Cross  and La Turista ) were directed by Jacques Levy. A habitué of the Chelsea Hotel scene of the era, he contributed to Kenneth Tynan's ribald Oh! Calcutta! (1969) and drummed sporadically from 1967 through 1971 with psychedelic folk band The Holy Modal Rounders, appearing on Indian War Whoop (1967) and The Moray Eels Eat The Holy Modal Rounders (1968).
Shepard's early science fiction play The Unseen Hand (1969) would influence Richard O'Brien's stage musical The Rocky Horror Show. Cowboy Mouth—a collaboration with then-lover, Patti Smith—was staged for one night at The American Place Theater in April 1971, providing early exposure for the future punk rock singer.After ending his relationship with Patti Smith, Shepard relocated with his wife and son to London in the early 1970s. Returning to America in 1975, he moved to the 20-acre Flying Y Ranch in Mill Valley, California where he raised a young colt named Drum and used to ride double with his young son on an appaloosa named Cody. He wrote plays out of his house and He served for a semester as Regents' Professor of Drama at the University of California, Davis.
Shepard accompanied Bob Dylan on the Rolling Thunder Revue of 1975 as the ostensible screenwriter of the surrealist Renaldo and Clara (1978) that emerged from the tour; because much of the film was improvised, Shepard's services were seldom utilized. His diary of the tour (Rolling Thunder Logbook) was published by Penguin Books in 1978. A decade later, Dylan and Shepard co-wrote the 11-minute "Brownsville Girl", included on Dylan's Knocked Out Loaded (1986) album and later compilations.
In 1975, he was named playwright-in-residence at the Magic Theatre, where many of his notable works (including his Family Trilogy: Buried Child , Curse of the Starving Class , and True West ) received their premier productions. Some critics expand this grouping to a quintet which includes Fool for Love (1983) and A Lie of the Mind (1985).
Shepard began his acting career in earnest when he was cast as the handsome land baron in Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven (1978), opposite Richard Gere and Brooke Adams. This led to other important films and roles, including the role of "Cal", Ellen Burnstyn's love interest in the film "Resurrection" (1980) and most notably his portrayal of Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff (1983), earning him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. By 1986, one of his plays, Fool for Love, was being made into a film directed by Robert Altman, in which Shepard played the lead role; his play A Lie of the Mind was Off-Broadway with an all-star cast including Harvey Keitel and Geraldine Page; he was living with Jessica Lange; and he was working steadily as a film actor—all of which put him on the cover of Newsweek magazine.
Throughout the years, Shepard has done a considerable amount of teaching on writing plays and other aspects of theatre. His classes and seminars have occurred at various theatre workshops, festivals, and universities.
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 had a notable role of General William F. Garrison in the box office hit movie Black Hawk Down. Although he was cast in a supporting role, it reinvigorated interest in Shepard among the public and critics alike.
He performed Spalding Gray's final monologue Life Interrupted for its audio release through Macmillan Audio in 2006.
Although many artists have had an influence on Shepard's work, one of the most significant has been actor-director Joseph Chaikin, a veteran of the Living Theatre and founder of a group called the Open Theatre. The two have often worked together on various projects, and Shepard acknowledges that Chaikin has been a valuable mentor.
A revival of A Lie of the Mind in New York was staged at the same time as his 2010 play, Ages of the Moon, also opened there. Reflecting on the two plays, Shepard said that the older, longer play feels to him "awkward ...[, a]ll 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 the collection Day out of Days: Stories (book title echoing a film-making term), also by Shepard. The book includes "short stories, poems and narrative sketches ... that developed from dozens of leather-bound notebooks [Shepard] has carried with him over the years." In 2011, Shepard starred in the film Blackthorn.
At the beginning of his playwriting career, Shepard did not direct his own plays. His earliest plays were directed by a number of different directors but most frequently by Ralph Cook, the founder of Theatre Genesis. Later, while living at the Flying Y Ranch in Mill Valley, just north of San Francisco, Shepard formed a successful playwright-director relationship with Robert Woodruff, who directed the premiere of Buried Child (1982), among other plays. During the 1970s, though, Shepard decided that his vision of his plays required that he should direct them himself. He has since directed many of his own plays, but with a few rare exceptions, he has not directed plays by other playwrights. He has also directed two films but apparently does not see film direction as a major interest.
When Shepard first arrived in New York, he roomed with Charlie Mingus Jr., a friend from his high school days and the son of famous jazz musician Charles Mingus. Then he lived with actress Joyce Aaron. From 1969 to 1984 he was married to actress O-Lan Jones, with whom he has one son, Jesse Mojo Shepard (born 1970). In 1970-71, he was involved in an extramarital affair with Patti Smith, who remained unaware of Shepard's identity as a multiple Obie Award-winning playwright until it was finally divulged to her by Jackie Curtis. According to Smith, "Me and his wife still even liked each other. I mean, it wasn't like committing adultery in the suburbs or something."
Shepard met Academy-Award-winning actress Jessica Lange on the set of the film Frances, in which they were both acting. He moved in with her in 1983, and they were together for nearly thirty years. They separated in 2010. They have two children, Hannah Jane (born 1985) and Samuel Walker Shepard (born 1987). In 2003, Jesse Shepard wrote a book of short stories that was published in San Francisco, and his father appeared together with him at a reading to introduce the book.
Although he played the legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager, in The Right Stuff, and he allowed the real Chuck Yeager to take him up in a jet plane in 1982 when he was preparing for his role as Yeager, Shepard has had a long-standing aversion to flying. Shepard described his flying phobia as a source for a character in his 1966 play, Icarus's Mother. He went through an airliner crash in the film Voyager (1991), and according to one account, he vowed never to fly again after a very rocky trip on an airliner coming back from Mexico in the 1960s.
In the early morning hours of January 3, 2009, Shepard was arrested and charged with speeding and drunken driving in Normal, Illinois. He pleaded guilty to both charges on February 11, 2009 and was sentenced to 24 months probation, alcohol education classes, and 100 hours of community service.
His 50-year friendship with Johnny Dark was the subject of the 2013 documentary, "Shepard & Dark" by Treva Wurmfeld.
The Sam Shepard papers at the Wittliff collections of Southwestern Writers, Texas State University, were donated by the author and comprise some 26 boxes of material. The University of Texas Libraries purchased a separate collection of his papers in 2006.
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