Birthday: November 5, 1943
Died At Age: 73
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Also Known As: Samuel Shepard Rogers III
Born in: Fort Sheridan, Illinois, United States
Famous as: Actor
Height: 6'2" (188 cm), 6'2" Males
Spouse/Ex-: O-Lan Jones
father: Samuel Shepard Rogers Jr.
mother: Jane Elaine Schook
siblings: Roxanne Rogers, Sandy Rogers
children: Hannah Jane Shepard, Jesse Mojo Shepard, Samuel Walker Shepard
Died on: July 27, 2017
U.S. State: Illinois
education: 1961 - Duarte High School, Mt. San Antonio College
Samuel Shepard Rogers III was an American playwright, actor, and filmmaker whose contribution to film, theatre, and literature spanned half a century. Hailing from a family of educators, Shepard developed an attraction towards the works of Samuel Beckett, jazz, and abstract expressionism during his college years. In 1962, while in New York City, he was introduced to the Off-Off-Broadway theatre scene. He finished his first play, ‘Cowboys’ in 1964. While in the initial years of his career, he was exclusively occupied with stage works, in 1969, he co-wrote the script for the family-drama ‘Me and My Brother’. Shepard ventured into acting in 1970 and over the years, established himself as a prominent character actor, first in films and later on television, even earning an Oscar nod for his performance in ‘The Right Stuff’. His impressive body of work went through distinct transformation as he matured as an author and intellectual, from the absurdism of his early days to the realism of his later plays. Regarded as one of the most influential playwrights and screenwriters of the modern age, he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979 and ten Obie Awards for writing and directing, the most received by any writer or director.
Childhood & Early Life
Born on November 5, 1943, in Fort Sheridan, Illinois, Samuel Shepard Rogers III was the only son of Jane Elaine (née Schook) and Samuel Shepard Rogers, Jr. While growing up, he was often referred to as Steve Rogers.
His father was a teacher, farmer, and a US Air Force officer who was active during the World War II as a bomber pilot; Shepard often described him as a “drinking man, a dedicated alcoholic.” His mother was also a teacher and a Chicago native. He had two sisters, Roxanne and Sandy Rogers.
He attended Duarte High School in Duarte, California, graduating in 1961. As a teenager, he had found work on a ranch. He enrolled at the Mt. San Antonio College, in Walnut, California to study animal husbandry for a brief period.
In 1962, the Bishop's Company Repertory Players, a mobile theatre company, came touring into his town. Already an ardent follower of modern-theatre movement, Shepard left home with the group, spending the next two years with them before settling in New York.
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Career as a Playwright and Screenwriter
In New York, Samuel Shepard Rogers III worked as a busboy at the Village Gate nightclub where he met Ralph Cook, the club’s head waiter, who introduced him to the world of professional theatre. During this period, he decided to adopt “Sam Shepard” as his professional name and was primarily associated with Cook’s Theatre Genesis, although his plays were staged at numerous Off-Off-Broadway venues.
He co-wrote the 1971 play ‘Cowboy Mouth’ with his then-lover Patti Smith. Inspired by their real-life relationship, Smith and Shepard played the lead protagonists, Cavale and Slim respectively, in the inaugural production of the play at The American Place Theatre in New York. After opening night, he left the production as he never felt comfortable performing before a live audience.
He also collaborated with Bob Dylan on the screenplay of latter’s directorial venture ‘Renaldo and Clara’, released in 1975.
He joined Magic Theatre as the Playwright-in-residence in 1975, and wrote some of his best plays for them, including ‘Curse of the Starving Class’ (1976), ‘Buried Child’ (1978), and ‘True West’ (1980), together known as the ‘Family Trilogy.
In response to the tragic events of September 11, 2001, Sam Shepard wrote ‘The God of Hell’, which premiered in 2004. His final work, ‘A Particle of Dread’, premiered in 2014; it was a modern adaptation of Sophocles’ ‘Oedipus Rex’.
Sam Shepard’s first major appearance as an actor on screen was in Terrence Malick's ‘Days of Heaven’ (1978). He received an Academy Award nomination for playing Chuck Yeager, Colonel, USAF, in the 1983 American epic historical drama ‘The Right Stuff’. In 1985, he starred opposite Kim Basinger in the film adaptation of his own play, ‘Fool for Love’
On the small screen, he mainly acted in television films. He made his TV debut as Snort Yarnell in 1995 in TNT’s western adventure telefilm ‘The Good Old Boys’. He starred as Sheriff Forrest and Wild Bill Hickok in the western fantasy ‘Purgatory’ in 1999 and as racehorse trainer Frank Whiteley in the ABC’s ‘Ruffian’ in 2007.
From 2015 to 2017, in a rare appearance in a television show, he was part of the main cast of Netflix original thriller–drama ‘Bloodline’.
‘Buried Child’ was Sam Shepard’s 24th play to be performed. An instant hit, it was an unapologetic depiction of the disintegration of the American nuclear family with the disillusionment and disappointment with American mythology and the American Dream providing the background. The play can also be considered as an honest observation of the 1970s’ rural economic shutdown and a heartfelt eulogy for the traditional family structures and values.
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It was one of the most successful works of Shepard’s career. Besides winning him the Pulitzer Prize and an Obie, it was nominated for five Tony Awards. It first premiered on June 27, 1978 at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco and since then has been performed all over the world, including on West End and Broadway.
Awards & Achievements
Sam Shepard won ten Obie Awards. Four of those were for the Best Distinguished Play(s) for ‘Chicago’, ‘Icarus’s Mother’, and ‘Red Cross’ in 1966;‘La Turista’ in 1967; ‘Forensic and the Navigator’ and ‘Melodrama Play’ in 1968; and ‘The Tooth of Crime’ in 1973. Two were for the Best Playwriting for ‘Action’ in 1975 and ‘Buried Child’ in 1979. Two were for the Best New American Play for ‘Curse the Starving Child’ in 1977 and ‘Fool for Love’ in 1984.
In 1979, he was conferred with the Pulitzer Prize for his play ‘Buried Child’.
He was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1994.
In 1992, he was honoured with the Gold Medal for Drama at the American Academy of Arts and Letters Awards.
In his early days in New York, Sam Shepard lived with his fellow aspiring artist and high school friend Charlie Mingus Jr. He also lived together with actress Joyce Aaron for a while.
In 1969, he married actress O-Lan Jones. The union produced a son, Jesse Mojo Shepard (born 1970). From 1970 to 1971, he was involved in a passionate affair with poet, artist, and musician Patti Smith, with whom he collaborated on several projects. After that relationship came to an end, Shepard took his family to London in the early 1970s.
Shepard returned to America in 1975. He and the Academy Award-winning actress Jessica Lange met in 1981 on the set of their film ‘Frances’. They moved together in 1983 and Shepard legally divorced Jones in 1984. With Lange, he had a daughter, Hannah Jane (1985) and a son, Samuel Walker (1987). They eventually separated in 2009.
He passed away on July 27, 2017, at the age of 73 at his home in Kentucky. He was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
From 1968 to 1971, Shepard was a member of the rock group Holy Modal Rounders. He played guitar and drums.
In 2017, his only novel, ‘The One Inside’ was published.