Sam Shepard died

I’m sad to report that actor and playwright Sam Shepard died Thursday at his home in Kentucky. He was just 73, but was the victim of ALS, a horribly cruel disease. (His death was, I believe, just announced today.)

Shepard wrote 44 plays (one of which, “Buried Child” won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979) and appeared in numerous movies. Two of my favorite performances are his portrayal of Chuck Yeager in the movie “The Right Stuff” (he was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for that one, but didn’t win) and his portrayal of the rich farmer in the underrated but beautiful movie “Days of Heaven.” He also co-wrote another good film, “Paris, Texas”, as well the screenplay for 13 other films.

Here’s a clip of Shepard as Yeager in “The Right Stuff,” an excellent movie. In this scene, after a test pilot’s funeral, Yeager sees the Bell X-1, the ship in which he’d be the first pilot to break the sound barrier:




  1. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 31, 2017 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    The cycle of “family” plays SS wrote in the late ’70s and early ’80s has taken its place in the American dramatic canon alongside those of O’Neill and Williams and Miller.

    One of the damnedest things I’ve ever come across in a magazine was an interview Shepard was commissioned by Esquire to do with Bob Dylan (the two of them started their careers at about the same time in Greenwich Village), that Shepard wrote up as a two-character one-act play, called “True Dylan.”

  2. Steve Zeoli
    Posted July 31, 2017 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    I am sad to learn this news, too. The Right Stuff is one of my favorite films, and Shepard’s portrayal of Chuck Yeager feels pitch perfect (I don’t know if Yeager feels the same). It’s a strange universe where Yeager would outlive the actor who portrayed him.

    • Mark R.
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, that was a profound bit of acting. I also enjoyed him in Thunderheart; he had some hilarious lines.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      It is too bad. That movie was the first time I saw Shepard, and he made quite an impression. (Of course, it must have helped that I did not know beforehand that Yeager had a reputation.)

  3. Barry Lyons
    Posted July 31, 2017 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    Yes, “beautiful” is exactly the right word to reach for when describing “Days of Heaven.”

  4. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted July 31, 2017 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    Shepard was for several years the “playwright-in-residence” at one of San Francisco’s finest but rather poorly publicized theatre company the “Magic Theatre”. (As opposed to better publicized ones like ACT, Berkeley Rep, Aurora Theatre, Marin Theatre, etc.)

    In 2004, they did a new play by him called “The God of Hell” which is marvelous, a terrific take-off on right-wing responses to 9/11.

  5. Jonathan Dore
    Posted August 1, 2017 at 1:12 am | Permalink

    Very sad news. The Right Stuff is one of my favourite films, and the scene at the end where the Mercury 7 barbecue in a hangar is intercut with Yaeger’s attempted altitude record is one of the most haunting and mystical I can remember in cinema.

  6. Adults Only
    Posted August 1, 2017 at 4:57 am | Permalink

    great talent & a sad loss

  7. Posted August 1, 2017 at 5:12 am | Permalink

    I LOVED him in the film Country –

    On a lighter note, I see he contributed sketches to Oh! Calcutta! – ‘The trouble with nude dancing is that not everything stops when the music does’ (Robert Helpmann)

  8. Posted August 1, 2017 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    For me it was Days of Heaven that kept me on watch for him in films. Then along came the Right Stuff, and if his name is in the players’ lists, I saw the movie! Particularly enjoyed Blackthorn (2011). Was it Buried Chil, True West, or Fool for Love that PBS showed on TV back in the day? Anyway…Sigh.

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