Sam Shepard in Steel Magnolias, 1989. Photo by Rastar Films.

Inducted 2020

Born: November 5, 1943, Fort Sheridan, Illinois
Died: July 27, 2017, Midway, Kentucky

Sam Shepard was the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of 44 plays whose work reimagined the landscape and people of the American West. He became one of the best-known playwrights of his generation.

Shepard also wrote short stories, essays, screenplays, and memoirs. He was a movie star, whose Oscar-nominated acting and rugged good looks made him a celebrity. If that wasn’t enough, Shepard also was a musician and a horse breeder who lived much of his last 17 years on a small farm near Midway, Kentucky.

He was born Nov. 5, 1943 in Fort Sheridan, Illinois, as Samuel Shepard Rogers III. He was named for his father, a teacher and farmer, and was called Steve. His mother, Jane Schook Rogers, also was a teacher. Shepard grew up in Duarte, California, around horses, riding in rodeos and working on a ranch and as a hotwalker at Santa Anita Park racetrack.

After briefly studying animal husbandry at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California, Shepard joined a touring repertory company. He moved to New York in 1962, became involved in the off-off-Broadway theater scene and adopted the name Sam Shepard.

The first plays Shepard wrote were performed at small, experimental theaters. His science fiction play, The Unseen Hand, was said to have later influenced Richard O’Brien’s musical, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Shepard and then-lover Patti Smith wrote Cowboy Mouth (1971). As a screenwriter, he contributed to Robert Frank’s Me and My Brother(1968) and Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point(1970).

As playwright in residence at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre, Shepard wrote some of his most notable plays, including Buried Child(1978), which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was nominated for five Tony Awards. Two other plays, True West(1980) and Fool for Love(1983) were nominated for the Pulitzer. He won 10 Obie Awards for writing and directing between 1966 and 1984.

Shepard attracted attention as an actor when he played a farmer in Days of Heaven(1978). His portrayal of test pilot Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff(1983) earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. When Robert Altman made his 1985 movie of Fool for Love, Shepard wrote the screenplay and played the lead. Among his other movie appearances: Frances(1982), Steel Magnolias(1989), Black Hawk Down(2001), Blackthorn(2011), and Never Here (2017), which was filmed in 2014. Shepard appeared in the Netflix television series Bloodline, 2014-2017.

Shepard and Bob Dylan co-wrote the song “Brownsville Girl.” He performed occasionally as a drummer with the psychedelic folk band The Holy Modal Rounders and later played banjo on Smith’s cover of the Nirvana song “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

Shepard was married from 1969 to 1984 to actress O-lan Jones, with whom he had a son, Jesse Mojo Shepard. From 1983 until 2009, he was in a relationship with actress Jessica Lange, with whom he had two children, Hannah Jane Shepard and Samuel Walker Shepard.

Shepard was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1986.

In 2000, Shepard bought Totier Creek Farm in Scott County near Midway. He bred Thoroughbreds, including multiple stakes winners Two Trail Sioux and China. He lived a quiet, private life in Kentucky and was often spotted alone in the town’s restaurants. Parts of the 1999 movie Simpatico, based on Shepard’s 1994 play, were filmed in Kentucky.

Shepard died July 27, 2017 at his farm from complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Selected bibliography

The Rock Garden (1964)
Chicago (1965)
Icarus’s Mother (1965)
4-H Club (1965)
Red Cross (1966)
La Turista (1967)
Cowboys #2 (1967)
Forensic & the Navigators (1967)
The Unseen Hand (1969)
Oh! Calcutta!Contributed sketches. (1969)
The Holy Ghostly (1970)
Operation Sidewinder (1970)
Mad Dog Blues (1971)
Back Bog Beast Bait (1971)
Cowboy Mouth Written with Patti Smith. (1971)
The Tooth of Crime (1972)
Geography of a Horse Dreamer (1974)
Action (1975)
Angel City (1976)
Suicide in B Flat (1976)
Inacoma (1977)
Curse of the Starving Class (1978)
Buried Child (1978)
Tongues Written with Joseph Chaikin. (1978)
Seduced: a Play in Two Acts (1979)
True West (1980)
Savage/Love Written with Joseph Chaikin (1981)
Fool for Love (1983)
A Lie of the Mind (1985)
A Short Life of Trouble (1987)
The War in Heaven (1987)
States of Shock (1991)
Simpatico (1993)
Tooth of Crime (Second Dance) (1996)
Eyes for Consuela (1998)
The Late Henry Moss (2000)
The God of Hell (2004)
Kicking a Dead Horse (2007)
Ages of the Moon (2009)
Heartless (2012)
A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations) (2014)

The One Inside.  New York: Knopf, 2017
Spy of the First Person (published posthumously). New York: Knopf, 2017

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