- Samuel Shepard Rogers III
November 05, 1943 (age 78)
- Playwright, Actor, Author, Writer, Screenwriter, Film Director, Television Director, Musician, Teach
- Jessica Lange
- Jane Elaine Schook, Samuel Shepard Rogers, Jr.
Samuel Shepard Rogers III (born November 5, 1943), known professionally as Sam Shepard, is an American playwright, actor, author, screenwriter, and director, whose body of work spans over half a century. He is the author of forty-four plays as well as several books of short stories, essays, and memoirs. Shepard received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979 for his play Buried Child. He 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. New York described him as "the greatest American playwright of his generation."
Shepard's plays are chiefly known for their bleak, poetic, often surrealist elements, black humor and rootless characters living on the outskirts of American society. His style has evolved over the years, from the absurdism of his early Off-Off-Broadway work to the realism of Buried Child and Curse of the Starving Class (both 1978).
Shepard was born November 5, 1943, in Fort Sheridan, Illinois. 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.
Shepard worked on a ranch as a teenager. After graduating from Duarte (California) High School in 1961, he briefly studied agriculture at Mt. San Antonio College, where he became enamored with 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 theatre 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 and 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. Shepard's Cowboy Mouth – a collaboration with his then-lover Patti Smith – was staged at The American Place Theater in April 1971, providing early exposure for the future punk rock singer. The story and characters were loosely inspired by their relationship, and after opening night, he abandoned the production and fled to New England without a word to anyone involved. He wrote plays out of his house and 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 he created many of his notable works, including his Family Trilogy. One of the plays in the trilogy, Buried Child (1978), was the play that won him a Pulitzer Prize and marked a major turning point in his career, heralding some of his best-known work, including True West (1980), Fool for Love (1983), and A Lie of the Mind (1985). A darkly comic tale of abortive reunion, in which a young man drops in on his grandfather's Illinois farmstead only to be greeted with devastating indifference by his relations, Buried Child saw Shepard stake a claim to the psychological terrain of classic American theatre. Curse of the Starving Class (1978) and True West (1980), the other two plays of the trilogy, received their premier productions. Some critics have expanded this trio to a quintet, including 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 film roles, including that of Cal, Ellen Burstyn's love interest, in the film "Resurrection" (1980), and most notably his portrayal of Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff (1983). The latter performance earned Shepard an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. By 1986, his play Fool for Love was getting a film adaptation directed by Robert Altman, in which Shepard played the lead role; his play A Lie of the Mind was being performed Off-Broadway with an all-star cast (including Harvey Keitel and Geraldine Page); and Shepard was subsequently working steadily as a film actor – all of these achievements put him on the cover of Newsweek.
When Shepard first arrived in New York, he roomed with Charlie Mingus Jr., a friend from his high school days and the son of jazz musician Charles Mingus. He then 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). From 1970 to 1971, Shepard 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. Smith has stated: "Me and his wife still even liked each other. I mean, it wasn't like committing adultery in the suburbs or something." After ending his relationship with 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.
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 30 years; they separated in 2009. They have two children, Hannah Jane (born 1985) and Samuel Walker Shepard (born 1987). In 2003, his eldest son, Jesse, wrote a book of short stories that was published in San Francisco; Shepard appeared with him at a reading to introduce the book.