Sam Shepard

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Sam Shepard
Sam Shepard Stealth crop.jpg
Shepard on the set of the film Stealth (2005).
BornSamuel Shepard Rogers III[1]
(1943-11-05) November 5, 1943 (age 70)
Fort Sheridan, Illinois, U.S.
OccupationActor, author, playwright
Years active1960s–present
Spouse(s)O-Lan Jones
Partner(s)Jessica Lange
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For other people with similar names, see Sam Sheppard or Sam Shepard (disambiguation).
Sam Shepard
Sam Shepard Stealth crop.jpg
Shepard on the set of the film Stealth (2005).
BornSamuel Shepard Rogers III[1]
(1943-11-05) November 5, 1943 (age 70)
Fort Sheridan, Illinois, U.S.
OccupationActor, author, playwright
Years active1960s–present
Spouse(s)O-Lan Jones
Partner(s)Jessica Lange

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.

Early years[edit]

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".[2] His mother, Jane Elaine (née Schook), was a teacher and a native of Chicago, Illinois.[3][4] Shepard was forced to support his mother and brother when his father's farm lapsed into insolvency. 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;[5] 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 [1966] and La Turista [1967]) 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; seeking to distance himself from Smith and his substance abuse, 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 [1978], Curse of the Starving Class [1978], and True West [1980]) received their premier productions.[6] Some critics expand this grouping to a quintet which includes Fool for Love (1983) and A Lie of the Mind (1985).[7]

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, 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; 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.

Shepard was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1986. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1986.[8]

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.

In 2007, Shepard contributed banjo to Patti Smith's cover of Nirvana's song "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on her album Twelve.

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[9] 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."[10] 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.[11] 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."[10]

Shepard starred in the 2011 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.

Personal life[edit]

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.[12] They have two children, Hannah Jane (born 1985) and Samuel Walker Shepard (born 1987).[13] 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.[14][15]

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.[16][17] Shepard described his flying phobia as a source for a character in his 1966 play, Icarus's Mother.[18] He went through an airliner crash in the film Voyager (1991), and according to one account,[19] 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.[20] 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.[21]

His 50-year friendship with Johnny Dark was the subject of the 2013 documentary, "Shepard & Dark" by Treva Wurmfeld.[22]

Awards and honors[edit]

YearNominated work(s)CategoryResult
1966Chicago, Icarus's Mother, Red CrossObie Award for Best Distinguished Play(s)Won
1967La TuristaWon
1968Forensic and the Navigator, Melodrama PlayWon
1973The Tooth of CrimeWon
1975ActionObie Award for Best PlaywritingWon
1977Curse of the Starving ClassObie Award for Best New American PlayWon
1979Buried ChildObie Award for Best PlaywritingWon
Pulitzer Prize for DramaWon
1980HimselfObie Award for Sustained AchievementWon
1984Fool for LoveObie Award for Best New American PlayWon
Obie Award for Best DirectionWon
The Right StuffAcademy Award for Best Supporting ActorNominated
1985Paris, TexasBAFTA Award for Best Adapted ScreenplayNominated
1986A Lie of the MindDrama Desk Award for Outstanding PlayWon
New York Drama Critics' Circle for Best PlayWon
Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway PlayWon
1992HimselfAmerican Academy of Arts and Letters – Gold Medal for DramaWon
1994American Theater Hall of FameInducted
1996Buried ChildTony Award for Best PlayNominated
1997Hallmark Hall of Fame: "Lily Dale"Lone Star Film & Television Award for Best TV Supporting ActorNominated
1999Dash and LillyEmmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a MovieNominated
2000Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Miniseries or TV FilmNominated
True WestTony Award for Best PlayNominated
2001Black Hawk DownPhoenix Film Critics Society Award for Best Acting EnsembleNominated
2008RuffianSAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a TV Movie or MiniseriesNominated


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.[23] The University of Texas Libraries purchased a separate collection of his papers in 2006.[24]


The Rock Garden
Icarus's Mother
4-H Club
1966Red Cross
1967La Turista
Cowboys #2
Forensic & the Navigators
1969The Unseen Hand
Oh! Calcutta!contributed sketches
1970The Holy Ghostly
Operation Sidewinder
1971Mad Dog Blues
Back Bog Beast Bait
Cowboy Mouthwith Patti Smith
1972The Tooth of Crime
1974Geography of a Horse Dreamer
1976Suicide in B Flat
Angel City
1978Buried Child
Curse of the Starving Class
Tongueswith Joseph Chaikin
1980True West
1981Savage Lovewith Joseph Chaikin
1983Fool for Love
1985A Lie of the Mind
1987A Short Life of Trouble
1991States of Shock
1994Safe Passage
1998Eyes for Consuela
2000The Late Henry Moss
2004The God of Hell
2007Kicking a Dead Horse
2009Ages of the Moon


1973Hawk MoonPAJ Books, ISBN 0-933826-23-0
1983Motel ChroniclesCity Lights, ISBN 0-87286-143-0
1984Seven PlaysDial Press, 368 pages, ISBN 0-553-34611-3
Fool For Love and Other PlaysBantam, 320 pages, ISBN 0-553-34590-7
1996The Unseen Hand: and Other PlaysVintage, 400 pages, ISBN 0-679-76789-4
1997Cruising ParadiseVintage, 255 pages, ISBN 0-679-74217-4
2003Great Dream Of HeavenVintage, 160 pages, ISBN 0-375-70452-3
2004Rolling Thunder LogbookDa Capo, 176 pages, reissue, ISBN 0-306-81371-8
2010Day out of Days: StoriesKnopf, 304 pages, ISBN 978-0-307-26540-1



1963Apples in the TreeUnknown
1970Brand XUnknown
1978Renaldo and ClaraRodeo
1978Days of HeavenThe Farmer
1980ResurrectionCal Carpenter
1981Raggedy ManBailey
1982FrancesHarry York
1983The Right StuffChuck YeagerNominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
1984Paris, Texasunconfirmed
1984CountryGil Ivy
1986Crimes of the HeartDoc Porter
1987Baby BoomDr. Jeff Cooper
1989Steel MagnoliasSpud Jones
1990Bright AngelJack
1991VoyagerWalter Faber
1992ThunderheartFrank Coutelle
1993The Pelican BriefProfessor Thomas Callahan
1994Safe PassagePatrick Singer
1995Streets of LaredoPea Eye Parker
1997The Only ThrillReece McHenry
1999Snow Falling on CedarsArthur Chambers
1999PurgatorySheriff ForrestTelevision movie
1999Dash and LillyDashiell HammlettTelevision movie
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
2000HamletThe Ghost
2000All the Pretty HorsesJ.C. Franklin
2001Black Hawk DownWilliam F. GarrisonNominated—Phoenix Film Critics Society Award for Best Cast
2001After the HarvestCaleb Gare
2001Shot in the HeartFrank GilmoreTelevision movie
2001SwordfishSenator James Reisman
2001The PledgeEric Pollack
2003Blind HorizonSheriff Jack Kolb
2004The NotebookFrank Calhoun
2005Don't Come KnockingHoward
2005BandidasBill Buck
2005StealthCapt. George Cummings
2006Walker PayneSyrus
2006The ReturnEd Mills
2006Charlotte's WebNarrator
2007RuffianFrank WhiteleyTelevision movie
Nominated—Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie
2007The Assassination of Jesse JamesFrank James
2008The Accidental HusbandWilder
2008FelonGordon Camrose
2009BrothersHank Cahill
2010InhaleJames Harrison
2001Fair GameSam Plame
2011BlackthornButch Cassidy
2012Darling CompanionSheriff Morris
2012MudTom Blankenship
2012Safe HouseHarlan Whitford
2012Killing Them SoftlyDillon
2013August: Osage CountyBeverly WestonHollywood Film Festival Award for Best Cast
2013SavannahMr. Stubbs
2013Cold in JulyBen Russell
2013Out of the FurnaceGerald "Red" Baze


As screenwriter
1968Me and My BrotherRobert Frank
1970Zabriskie PointMichelangelo Antonioni
1984Paris, TexasWim Wenders
1985Fool for LoveRobert Altman
1988Far NorthHimself
1994Silent TongueHimself
2005Don't Come KnockingWim Wenders


As director
1988Far Northalso screenplay
1994Silent Tongue


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ O'Mahony, John (October 11, 2003). "The write stuff". The Guardian (London). 
  3. ^ "Sam Shepard Biography". filmreference. 2008. Retrieved November 25, 2008. 
  4. ^ Petri Liukkonen; Ari Pesonen (2008). "Sam Shepard". Pegasos. Retrieved February 16, 2009. 
  5. ^ Gary Botting, The Theatre of Protest in America, Edmonton: Harden House, 1972.
  6. ^ Simard, Rodney. “American Gothic: Sam Shepard's Family Trilogy.” Theatre Annual 41 (1986): 21–36.
  7. ^ Roudané, Matthew (2002). The Cambridge Companion to Sam Shepard. Cambridge University Press, ISBN 9780521777667
  8. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter S". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved April 22, 2011. 
  9. ^ "THEATER REVIEW: Home Is Where the Soul Aches" by Ben Brantley, The New York Times, February 19, 2010. Retrieved 2010-02-19.
  10. ^ a b Patrick Healy, "Getting Faster With Age: Sam Shepard’s New Velocity", The New York Times, February 12, 2010 (Feb 13, 2010, on p. C1 of NY ed.). Retrieved 2010-02-13.
  11. ^ Walter Kirn, "Sam Shepard: The Highwayman" Review of Day out of Days: Stories by Sam Shepard 282 pp. (Alfred A. Knopf); The New York Times Book Review, January 14, 2010, (Jan 17, 2010, p. BR1 NY ed.). Retrieved 2010-02-13.
  12. ^ Johnson, Zach. (2011-12-19) Rep: Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard Have Separated. Retrieved on 2012-05-22.
  13. ^ About Sam – The Sam Shepard Web Site. (1943-11-05). Retrieved on 2012-05-22.
  14. ^ Sullivan, James (April 26, 2003). "THE SCENE: Sam Shepard joins Jesse Shepard for a reading at City Lights / Father and son share a moment, but without the literary drama". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 24 April 2013. 
  15. ^ "Sam Shepard: A Preliminary Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Center". Separated Material: VHSs of This So-Called Disaster, November 2002, and Jesse and Sam Shepard at City Lights, April 24, 2003. Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved 24 April 2013. 
  16. ^ Kirn, Walter (May 13, 1996). "Tales of Two Hipsters". New York Magazine. Retrieved 24 April 2013. 
  17. ^ Lang, Peter (2007). Dis/figuring Sam Shepard. Peter Lang. p. 42. ISBN 9789052013527. 
  18. ^ Bottoms, Stephen J. (1998). The Theatre of Sam Shepard: States of Crisis. Cambridge University Press. p. 41. ISBN 9780521587914. 
  19. ^ Callens, Mark (1998). Sam Shepard V8, Part 4. Taylor & Francis. p. 79. ISBN 9780203989890. 
  20. ^ "Actor Sam Shepard arrested for DUI in Illinois". The Chicago Tribune. Associated Press. February 11, 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-16. 
  21. ^ Sam Shepherd Guilty of Very Drunken Driving, February 11, 2009
  22. ^ DeMara, Bruce (March 7, 2013). "Shepard & Dark a testament to friendship: review". Toronto Star. Retrieved 24 April 2013. 
  23. ^ "Sam Shepard Papers, 1972 - 1999". Wittliff Collections, Texas State University-San Marcos. Retrieved 24 April 2013. 
  24. ^ "Sam Shepard: A Preliminary Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Center". Retrieved 24 April 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

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